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National Study: Teen “Heavy” Marijuana Use Up 80 Percent Since 2008, One in Ten Teens Reports Using Marijuana at Least 20 Times a Month

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Only Half of Teens, 51 Percent, Now Say They See “Great Risk” in Using Marijuana Regularly

~Teen Abuse of Rx and Over-The-Counter Medicines Remain at Dangerous Levels~


New York, NY – May 2, 2012 – New, nationally projectable survey results released today by the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids and MetLife Foundation found that past-month marijuana use – particularly heavy use – has increased significantly among U.S. high school students since 2008. [READ FULL REPORT HERE]

The Partnership Attitude Tracking Study, sponsored by MetLife Foundation, found that 9 percent of teens (nearly 1.5 million) smoked marijuana heavily (at least 20 times) in the past month. Overall, past-month heavy marijuana use is up 80 percent among U.S. teens since 2008.

Concerning Trends in Teen Marijuana Use According to the New PATS Data (2008-2011)

  • Past-month use is up 42 percent (up from 19 percent in 2008 to 27 percent in 2011, which translates to about 4 million teens).
  • Past-year use is up 26 percent (up from 31 percent in 2008 to 39 percent in 2011, which translates to about 6 million teens).
  • Lifetime use is up 21 percent (up from 39 percent in 2008 to 47 percent in 2011, which translates to nearly 8 million teens).

This marks an upward trend in teen marijuana use over the past three years. The last time marijuana use was this widespread among teens was in 1998 when past month use of marijuana was at 27 percent.

“These findings are deeply disturbing as the increases we’re seeing in heavy, regular marijuana use among high school students can spell real trouble for these teens later on,” said Steve Pasierb, President and CEO of the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids. “Heavy use of marijuana – particularly beginning in adolescence – brings the risk of serious problems and our data show it is linked to involvement with alcohol and other drugs as well. Kids who begin using drugs or alcohol as teenagers are more likely to struggle with substance use disorders when compared to those who start using after the teenage years.”

Teen Marijuana Use Has Become a Normalized Behavior

Teens now report seeing more of their peers smoking marijuana and only 26 percent agree with the statement, “in my school, most teens don’t smoke marijuana” (down from 37 percent in 2008). Also, 71 percent of teens say they have friends who use marijuana regularly (up from 64 percent in 2008).

Teen past-month “heavy” marijuana users are significantly more likely than teens who have not used marijuana in the past year to:

  • use cocaine/crack (30 times more likely)
  • use Ecstasy (20 times more likely)
  • abuse prescription pain relievers (15 times more likely)
  • abuse over-the-counter medicines  (14 times more likely)

Social disapproval of marijuana among teens remained the same, with 61 percent of teens saying they disapprove of their peers using marijuana. (About 41 percent say they ‘strongly disapprove’). The PATS data also found an erosion of anti-marijuana attitudes among teens, with only about half of teens (51 percent) saying they see “great risk” in using marijuana, down significantly from 61 percent in 2005.

“We have also seen a considerable decline over the past five years in the proportion of teens seeing great risk associated with marijuana use,” says Professor Lloyd Johnston, the principal investigator of the nationwide Monitoring the Future study conducted at the University of Michigan. “We believe that this decline in perceived risk has played an important role in the increases in teen use of marijuana, as it has done in the past. The fact that perceived risk is still falling portends a further increase in use.”

As teen drug use takes a turn for the worse, a heavier burden is placed on the shoulders of parents to play a more active role in protecting their kids from the health risks posed by drug and alcohol abuse. The removal of critical pieces of our national prevention infrastructure across the country – The National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign, which was highly focused on educating youth about the dangers of teen marijuana use, and the elimination of the Safe and Drug-Free Schools Program – left a gaping hole where drug and alcohol education resources should be.

“The latest findings showing an increase in marijuana use among teens is unsettling and should serve as a wake-up call to everyone in a position to prevent unhealthy behavior,” said Dennis White, President and CEO of MetLife Foundation. “While it may be difficult to clearly understand just how dangerous marijuana use can be for teens, it is imperative that we all pay attention to the warning signs and intervene anyway we can. Early intervention is critical to helping prevent teens from drug abuse and addiction.”

Teen Rx Medicine Abuse Remains High, but Relatively Unchanged, Parents Not Safeguarding Medicines at Home and Misusing Rx Medications Themselves

While the new PATS data did not show similar increases in teen abuse of medicines, prescription (Rx) and over-the-counter (OTC) drug abuse remain at unacceptably high levels, which lead to considerable damage to young lives. The study showed teen lifetime abuse of medicines is holding steady at 17 percent for Rx drugs and 12 percent for OTC cough and cold medicines. Among teens, past year abuse of the prescription pain relievers Vicodin and OxyContin, for example, has plateaued at about 10 percent.

However, it’s important to note that parental action does not appear to be contributing to the relative flattening of teen abuse of medications, as fewer parents report safeguarding Rx medications at home. The number of parents who agree with the statement “anyone can access prescription medicines in the medicine cabinet” is up from 50 percent in 2010 to 64 percent 2011, meaning the medications are more readily available to anyone in their homes. Fewer parents also report communicating the risks of getting high, or any other reason for abuse, from prescription medicines with their children; down from 82 percent who said they communicated the risks of Rx drug abuse to their kids in 2009 to 69 percent in 2011. The number of parents who say they “keep alcohol locked in a cabinet at home” is also down from 32 percent in 2009 to 25 percent in 2011.

PATS also found that an increased number of parents report misusing or abusing prescription medications themselves. More than one in ten parents (15 percent) say they’ve used an Rx medication not prescribed for them at least once in the past year, a 25 percent increase from 2010 to 2011.

Teen Boys and Hispanic Teens Leading Marijuana Increases, Fewer Teen Girls Abusing Rx Medicines

The PATS survey confirms that teen boys are leading the overall increases in marijuana use. Past year use among teen boys is up 24 percent (from 34 percent in 2008 to 42 percent in 2011) and past month use among teen boys is up 38 percent (from 21 percent in 2008 to 29 percent in 2011). Additionally, boys’ heavy use – smoking marijuana at least 20 times a month – is higher than that of their female counterparts (11 percent for teen boys vs. 6 percent for teen girls) and boys’ heavy marijuana use is up an alarming 57 percent, from 7 percent in 2008 to 11 percent in 2011.

According to the new data, half of Hispanic teens (50 percent) report that they have used marijuana in the past year (versus 40 percent for African Americans and 35 percent for Caucasians). This means Hispanic teens are nearly twice as likely (43 percent) as Caucasian teens to have smoked marijuana in the past year (50 percent vs. 35 percent) and 25 percent more likely than African-American teens.

The study also found that fewer teen girls are abusing Rx medications. Teen girls’ abuse of a prescription drug “to get high or alter your mood” is down 30 percent since 2010 (from 23 percent in 2010 to 16 percent in 2011) and is down a total of 24 percent since 2009 (21 percent in 2009). Rx drug abuse among teen boys has remained relatively flat over the same time period.

Teens are starting to view medicine abuse as less socially acceptable and the percentage of teens who “strongly disapprove” of peers using prescription drugs to get high has gone up significantly – from 52 percent in 2010 to 58 percent in 2011. Fewer also say it’s “very” or “fairly” easy for teens to get prescription pain relievers, down 25 percent from 57 percent in 2008 to 43 percent in 2011.

“These data set the scene for a ‘perfect storm’ that will threaten the health of a generation of American teens,” said Pasierb. “Science has shown that adolescent brains are still developing and are more easily harmed by drug and alcohol use than fully developed adult brains. Dramatic increases in teen marijuana use, coupled with entrenched behavior of abuse of Rx and OTC drugs, puts teens at greater risk for substance use disorders, academic decline and other problems. With government budgets slashing the national prevention infrastructure and many prevention programs already eliminated, parents must step up to fill those voids, to protect their children’s health and futures.”

Mixed Results on Teen Abuse of Cigarettes, Inhalants, Alcohol, Meth, Cocaine/Crack, Ecstasy

  • Smoking rates have declined with 22 percent of teens reporting smoking cigarettes in the past month – this is down 19 percent from 27 percent last year.
  • Past-year inhalant abuse dropped from 10 percent in 2010 to 7 percent in 2011, yet only 64 percent of teens strongly agree that “sniffing or huffing things to get high can kill you,” significantly less than the 70 percent of teens who said the same in 2008.
  • Past-year alcohol use is holding steady at 56 percent and past month is at 38 percent. (since 2008)
  • Past-year methamphetamine use is holding at 4 percent. (since 2008)
  • Past-year cocaine/crack use remains at 7 percent. (since 2008)
  • Past-year use of Ecstasy is up 50 percent since 2008 (from 6 percent in 2008 to 9 percent in 2011).

New Resource for Parents to Help Prevent Adolescent Drug and Alcohol Use in Their Families

the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids, in collaboration with the Philadelphia-based Treatment Research Institute (TRI), has released a new tool to help parents and caregivers possibly prevent adolescent drug and alcohol problems. TheSix Components of Effective Parenting,” based on scientific research, is the product of the new Parents Translational Research Center – a National Institute on Drug Abuse-funded center involving the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids and TRI. The resource is comprised of “how-to” parenting tips organized around six principles specifically designed for parents, guardians and other caregivers who can play an active role in helping prevent substance abuse in their families.

the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids Announces New “Wake Up to Medicine Abuse” Initiative

the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids is launching a first-of-its-kind, week-long public education and mobilization campaign, “Wake Up to Medicine Abuse,” this fall. This initiative will bring the public and private sectors together in a national education effort and call to action to curb the abuse of medicine, one of the biggest drug problems in the United States today. “Wake Up to Medicine Abuse Week” will take place September 23-29, 2012, and will both encourage and help parents and the public-at-large to take action: first, by talking with the kids in their lives about the dangers of abusing Rx and OTC medicines, and second, by safeguarding and properly disposing of unused medications.

PATS Methodology

The 23rd annual Partnership Attitude Tracking Study (PATS) of 3,322 teens in grades 9-12 and 821 parents is nationally projectable with a +/- 3.0 percent margin of error for the teen sample and +/- 3.4 percent for the parent sample. Conducted for the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids and MetLife Foundation by GfK Roper Public Affairs & Corporate Communications, the 2011 PATS teen survey was administered in private, public and parochial schools, while the parent survey was conducted through in-home interviews by deKadt Marketing and Research, Inc.

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About the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids

Ninety percent of addictions start in the teenage years. The Partnership at Drugfree.org is dedicated to solving the problem of teen substance abuse. Together with experts in science, parenting and communications, the nonprofit translates research on teen behavior, addiction and treatment into useful and effective resources for both individuals and communities. Working toward a vision where all young people will be able to live their lives free of drug and alcohol abuse, the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids works with parents and other influencers to help them prevent and get help for drug and alcohol abuse by teens and young adults. The organization depends on donations from individuals, corporations, foundations and the public sector and is thankful to SAG/AFTRA and the advertising and media industries for their ongoing generosity.

About MetLife Foundation

MetLife Foundation was established in 1976 to continue MetLife’s longstanding tradition of corporate contributions and community involvement. Our commitment to building a secure future for individuals and communities worldwide is reflected in our dedication to empowering older adults, preparing young people and building livable communities. Since it was established, MetLife Foundation has provided more than $530 million in grants to nonprofit organizations addressing issues that have a positive impact in their communities. For more information visit www.metlife.org

16 Responses to this article

  1. Avatar of Anonymous
    Anonymous / November 16, 2012 at 10:06 am

    Drugs or alcohol its going to screw up your life just read beautiful boy or go ask alice.They’re true stories and they are scary ones too.

  2. Avatar of mexwood
    mexwood / August 20, 2012 at 7:51 pm

    I am concerned that the criterion given above for “heavy use” (20 or more “tines” a month) does not distinguish between (a) a 500-mg hot burning joint full of carbon monoxide and combustion toxins, and (b) A 25-mg single toke in a vaporizer or “one-hitter”– or expressly recommend any harm-reduction approach short of abstinence.

  3. Avatar of Logo
    Logo / July 26, 2012 at 3:34 am

    If you dont notice an incredible incrase in marijuana use, your blind. I did ONE YEAR at a university and i watched as almost 98% of my peers go from non-smokers to Heavy pot smokers. The beginning of freshman year, very few people smoked. But as they year went by, many of my friends tried it once and got hooked. I watched as a high precentage of them became hooked on the drug. Not to say that being hooked on the drug is a bad thing. i love marijuana! but to watch everyone you hang out with go from “hey, lets go shoot hoops” to “Hey, lets have a big session tonight!” is kinda weird.

  4. Avatar of all about the why
    all about the why / May 6, 2012 at 1:00 pm

    Wish there was more focus on why people start using any substance to alter their mood and more done to help direct people to better ways of naturally feeling better so that the ones who are going to be heavy users or addicted to substances can find a better less detrimental road to take.

  5. phatpooch / May 4, 2012 at 2:07 pm

    DRUG “ADDICTION PREVENTION” VIDEO

    Addiction: Chaos in Vancouver

    arch1 on November 11, 2011 at 3:43 am
    Thanks for the feedback guys . H and C share your ideals and hopes that by highlighting your work it will bring awareness to this, as you put it, “horrendous lifestyle”. If it was left to us we would show your film at every school in Vancouver. We are firm believers in firstly focusing on prevention prorammes rather than treatment. North Americas present prevention policies (locking people in prison and so called “drugs war”) have clearly failed and wasting money. Its time for a new approach. I think there should be integration of addiction education programs within the school curriculum, beginning at primary education, run with assistance from people with your background and firsthand knowledge. Just an idea.
    VANCOUVER / ADDICTION / HOMELESS / CHAOS / POVERTY
    THE HARSH REALITY OF ADDICTION
    The producers of this short film are both recovering addicts who have both spent time living and indulging with drug addiction in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.
    Today they are both clean and sober with multiple years of recovery
    teaching / prevention etc.contact email ppp@live

  6. Avatar of ann
    ann / May 3, 2012 at 9:05 am

    What you are seeing is youth disengaged from society in general. You are seeing a youth who have become left out and now beginning to take up their own values or values outside the norm. I know our schools are teaching the harmful teachings of genetics in ability. Many students through this false teaching have given up trying to do well in school and are now taking up with other cultures they will find more love/honor from.
    We must begin providing hope to our students instead of the harmful teachings of genetics in ability that is killing thousands of students/adults each year from drug/alcohol abuse and suicide. This is where it all begins, in the school where hope is given or taken away. Learning theory will help many students and provide tools for students to improve their lives.

  7. Avatar of Dave
    Dave / May 3, 2012 at 12:51 am

    better cannabis then alcohol and anti-depressant drugs. hopefully the new generation keeps it natural.

  8. Avatar of Concerned citizen
    Concerned citizen / May 2, 2012 at 4:32 pm

    Drug dealers don’t check ID. Dispensaries do.

  9. pfroehlich2004 / May 2, 2012 at 6:26 am

    The claim of an 80% increase strikes me as highly dubious, to put it mildly.

    According to Monitoring the Future, the longest-running survey of drug use trends among US teens, daily marijuana use among 12th-graders increased 22.2% between 2008 and 2011, while past-month use increased 16.5%.

    Meanwhile, daily and past-month use of alcohol declined 25% and 7% respectively. These figures suggest that overall substance use by teens has been largely stable, with marijuana displacing alcohol as a drug of choice. Given marijuana’s superior safety profile, this is a net benefit to public health.

    These figures can be found at the following URLs:
    http://monitoringthefuture.org/data/11data/pr11t18.pdf
    http://monitoringthefuture.org/data/11data/pr11t17.pdf

  10. Avatar of mliriano
    mliriano / May 2, 2012 at 4:47 pm

    Just to clarify – as the researcher at The Partnership – the 80% increase specifically refers to the change in heavy marijuana use since 2008, when only 5% of teens said they smoked 20X or more per month. Currently 9% say they have done so, therefore showing an 80% increase. Hope that clarifies!

  11. Avatar of Leo
    Leo / May 2, 2012 at 8:57 pm

    I agree. Marijuana is much safer than alcohol.

  12. Avatar of BishopRon
    BishopRon / May 2, 2012 at 11:16 pm

    What would you rather have, a cobra or rattle snake. Which is safer?

  13. Avatar of A real researcher
    A real researcher / May 3, 2012 at 3:03 pm

    ~83,000 death a year from alcohol, 0 from marijuana…..more like a cobra and a garter snake there “Bishop”

  14. Avatar of Bobo
    Bobo / May 29, 2012 at 8:42 am

    How many people die horrific deaths in the Mexican cartel wars to bring that crap up here? If you’re going to consider the full scope of deaths related to alcohol, you had best include the world of drug mules and the medieval violence that follows cannabis production. It isn’t all grown by gentle dreadlocked hippies in Boulder, kids. You are supporting wanton slaughter and social instability abroad. Pathetic.

  15. Avatar of Ray Martinez
    Ray Martinez / October 1, 2012 at 11:11 pm

    That is so untrue….learn about the indictments in Colorado against the medical marijuana stores that are selling out the back door…ID’s are not being checked anymore than they are legally selling.

  16. Avatar of peter
    peter / May 2, 2013 at 3:01 am

    Agreed 100% percent, ann. This is kind of attitude makes fertile ground for these ideas: “I’m invincible, none of that which you’re talking will ever happen to me.” That’s not the kids’ fault tho, the educational system is to blame, for failing to provide these kids with decent theoretical background.
    We shower our kids daily on the news, at school, even at home with statistics we don’t even know if they understand.
    Kids and teenagers should be better taught the concept of RISK.

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