Teens are vaping marijuana more, even as they engage in other illicit drug use, drink and smoke less, according to survey results released Wednesday by the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
The annual Monitoring the Future survey of more than 42,000 eighth-, 10th- and 12th-graders from nearly 400 schools across the country showed that although use of all other categories of illicit drugs, as well as alcohol and tobacco, remained steady or declined over last year, marijuana vaping among young people climbed.
“Any substance use has the potential for harm, particularly in young people, because the drugs affect their (developing) brain,” said Jack Stein, chief of staff at NIDA, part of the National Institutes of Health. But vaping is “kind of unique. Vaping is a technology, and it’s a way to administer substances that came to the surface only a handful of years ago.”
That technology has become appealing to teens because the sleek vaping devices are easy to hide, whether they’re vaping marijuana or nicotine, Stein said. But education and prevention have yet to catch up to the spread of the trend.
The trend also worries public health officials given a mysterious, vaping-related respiratory illness that researchers now think could be tied to black-market, marijuana vaping. So far, more than 2,400 people have been hospitalized and at least 52 have died, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
And as the Jan. 1 legalization of marijuana looms in Illinois, those who work in addiction worry that access will only improve for teens.
The survey, led by a University of Michigan researchers, asks teens about drug use in the previous month as well as the previous year.
The report showed past-month vaping in 12th-graders nearly doubled from 7.5% last year to 14% this year -- the second largest one-year jump the survey has recorded since it started in 1975. Results also showed 20.8% of 12th-graders, 19.4% of 10th-graders and 7% of eighth-graders said they’d vaped marijuana in the past year. Overall, past-year vaping has more than doubled since 2017, according to the report.
For all secondary students, the increase in marijuana vaping means at least 1 million more marijuana vapers in 2019, compared with the year prior, researchers said.
For the first year, the survey also asked teens if they vape marijuana daily, and found that 3.5% of 12th-graders, 3% of 10th-graders and 0.8% of eighth-graders said they did.
Jim Brunetti, director of clinical services at the Renz Addiction Counseling Center in Elgin, works on education and prevention for youth, specifically surrounding vaping. He said he’s not surprised by the results, and it’s a sign people in his field need to reach teens when they’re younger.
There should also be a shift in how school administrators deal with catching a student vaping, whether it’s marijuana or nicotine.
“They need to make it not as much of a punitive thing if someone gets caught,” he said, and rather “give them the right tools.”
That means counseling and education on the dangers of vaping, Brunetti said, adding that he’s also concerned the upcoming legalization of the product will send teens “the wrong message.”
There’s also a continued increase in vaping nicotine products among young people, according to the survey.Those results were released early, in September, as researchers wanted to sound the alarm on the teen vaping epidemic. They showed 2019 use of nicotine e-cigarettes more than doubled since 2017 in all three grades with more than 25% of 12th-graders, more than 20% of 10th-graders, and about 9% of eighth-graders vaping nicotine in the previous month.
Marijuana use, in general, continues to be the most commonly used illicit drug by teenagers, according to researchers, and although use has remained stable for “many years," the latest survey recorded an increase in daily marijuana use among eighth- and 10th-graders at 1.3% and 4.8%.
But Stein also pointed to positive news in other substance abuse trends tracked by the survey, particularly in the use of prescription drugs among teens, given the ongoing opiate crisis. The survey recorded the lowest level of use for Oxycontin among 12th-graders (at 1.7%) since the drug was first measured in 2002. Similarly, past-year use of Vicodin among 12th-graders at 1.1% also was the lowest percentage recorded.
“This probably reflects better education out there, as well as more vigilance by the health care profession” in limiting the accessibility of prescription drugs, Stein said.
Teen drinking is also on a downward trend. The survey recorded a five-year drop among 10th- and 12th-graders, now at 37.7% and 52.1% who say they consume alcohol. Binge drinking, defined as five or more drinks in a row in the past two weeks, has also decreased among that group, with 14.4% of 12th-graders saying they engaged in that behavior in 2019, compared with 19.4% in 2014. For 10th-graders, 8.5% said they engaged in binge drinking, compared with 12.6% five years ago.
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