Did you know that prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) drugs are the most commonly abused substances by high school seniors (after marijuana and alcohol)? Some medications have psychoactive (mind-altering) properties and, because of that, are sometimes abused—taken for reasons or in ways not intended by a doctor, or taken by someone with no prescription.
In all my years as a medical doctor and scientist who studies drug abuse, I have never met anyone who wanted to get addicted. Sometimes, addiction comes from a lack of knowledge. For example, people often think that prescription and OTC drugs are safer than illicit drugs, but that’s only true when they are taken exactly as prescribed and for the purpose intended. When abused, prescription and OTC drugs can be addictive and lead to other bad health effects, including overdose—especially when taken along with other drugs or alcohol.
We have a cool infographic on Monitoring the Future stats—Check it out.
Hello! I am just back from speaking at a news conference about NIDA’s 2010 Monitoring the Future Survey (MTF)—a big crowd of reporters showed up to hear the latest numbers with regard to teens and drug use. I wrote about MTF last year, remember? To remind you, MTF is an anonymous survey of more than 46,000 8th, 10th and 12th graders around the country. The survey measures drug and alcohol use. It also assesses teens’ attitudes about drugs by asking these questions: “Do you think drugs are harmful?” “Do you disapprove of drugs?” And… “How available are they?” This year we had some surprising changes that have me worried.
For one thing, marijuana use is going up, especially among 8th graders. The survey also showed that fewer teens think marijuana is harmful. This is one of the biggest drug myths out there. Not only does marijuana affect learning, judgment, and motor skills, but research tells us that about 1 in 11 people who use marijuana even once will later become addicted to it. AND, the younger people start, the more likely this will happen. Therefore, I am especially concerned by survey results showing that daily marijuana use increased significantly among all three grades, so that in 2010, 6.1 percent of high school seniors, 3.3 percent of 10th-graders, and 1.2 percent of 8th-graders were daily marijuana users.
In some cases it looks as if marijuana is becoming more popular than cigarettes. In 2010, 21.4 percent of high school seniors used marijuana in the past 30 days, while 19.2 percent smoked cigarettes. The good news is there are still a lot of wise teens who stay away from both marijuana and cigarettes. Research shows that these kids will be more successful in school, and in life.
(note: Video is from 2009)
The MTF Survey also tells us that abuse of prescription drugs remains high. That is when you use a medication not prescribed for you or in a way not intended—such as taking ADHD drugs before a test or taking a pain reliever to get high. In fact, 6 of the top 10 drugs abused by 12th-graders in the past year were prescribed or purchased over- the- counter. Prescription pain relievers (opioids) are a particular problem, with many more overdoses occurring than in the past.
NIDA would like to hear your feedback—why do you think more teens are using marijuana, and fewer are disapproving of its use?
This post, which originally appeared on SBB in October 2009, answers one of the most common questions NIDA hears from teens. The stats here come from the 2012 Monitoring the Future study.
Lots of teens are asking questions about drugs. That's why each year NIDA scientists spend a day chatting online with high school students and answering their questions.
During one Drug Facts Chat Day, ims604cb asked:
“How many teens are on drugs?"
The best way to find out if high school kids do drugs is to ask them. That's exactly what NIDA does every year in its annual Monitoring the Future study. This survey of more than 46,000 teens—8th, 10th, and 12th graders to be exact—showed that 13% of 8th graders, 30% of 10th graders, and 40% of 12th graders say they have used a drug at least once in the past year.
So, what is the most commonly used illegal drug?—Marijuana. More than a quarter of 10th graders say they have tried it in the past year. You can see the numbers for each major drug type in this report (PDF‒2.25 MB).
But, to answer the question, not that many kids in high school do drugs, although marijuana is the most common. Even though it may sometimes seem like "everyone's doing it," know that not everyone really is.
For more details on specific results from the Monitoring the Future study, browse an overview of the results.
Never underestimate the power of a bright white smile. NIDA’s 2008 Monitoring the Future Survey found that the vast majority of teens—75% of high school seniors—would “prefer to date people who don’t smoke.”
According to scientists at the University of Michigan, “teens should take note that becoming a smoker will make them less attractive to the great majority of the opposite sex—a high price to pay.” You can say that again! Dating is hard enough already—why smoke cigarettes and make it even harder?
Smokeless tobacco is the latest nicotine-based product to drift into the marketplace and try to catch the attention of young people.
Snus pouches are a new version of snuff, or chewing tobacco laced with nicotine. Instead of putting a loose wad of tobacco inside the upper lip or between the cheek and gums, snus pouches look like small tea bags. These products are “spitless”, making their use easy to hide. Some tobacco companies even add flavors – like vanilla, peppermint, or spearmint – along with a sweetener.
These flavors are more likely to make the product appeal to young people.
Isn’t snus safer than cigarettes?
Snus has a similar effect on your brain, acting as a stimulant. Although it is marketed as an alternative to cigarettes, the little packets of wet tobacco are just as addictive. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other public health agencies have determined that smokeless tobacco products:
- Cause serious diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, and other diseases of the mouth, gums, and teeth;
- May increase the risk of serious diseases when used in combination with smoking;
- Cause adverse reproductive effects and should not be used during pregnancy; and
- Are not a safe alternative to smoking.
So don’t let a clever name, fun packaging, or candy flavors fool you. By the way, here’s the un-fun part of the package, but that’s because it’s required by law:
Warning: This product is not a safe alternative to cigarettes.
Who’s using snus?
According to NIDA’s 2009 Monitoring the Future survey of teens (PDF, 1.34 MB), the use of smokeless tobacco is increasing significantly among 10th and 12th graders. The percentage of 12th graders reporting past-month smokeless tobacco use increased from 6.1 percent in 2006 to 8.4 percent in 2009, a 38 percent increase, while the percentage of 10th graders reporting smokeless tobacco use increased from 4.9 percent in 2004 to 6.5 percent in 2009, a 33 percent increase.
ots of teens have questions about drugs. That’s why each year, NIDA scientists spend a day chatting online with high school students and answering their questions.
At NIDA’s last Drug Facts Chat Day, ham223 asked this question:
“What types of drugs are most used by high school students?”
According to NIDA’s Monitoring the Future Survey—which looks at the different drugs that teens are using—alcohol is number one (yes, it’s a drug), followed by tobacco and marijuana, which are pretty equal. Turns out, though, that not many teens are using most illegal drugs. The survey shows that in 2008, fewer than 1 in 6 10th graders reported that they used any illegal drug in the past month. And the numbers are still going down.
Questions about drugs? Lots of teens are asking. That's why each year NIDA scientists spend a day chatting online with high school students and answering their questions.
At our last Drug Facts Chat Day, Livelaughlove94 asked:
"Do many kids in high school do drugs?"
The best way to find out if high school kids do drugs is to ask them. That's exactly what NIDA does every year in its annual Monitoring the Future Study. This survey of more than 46,000 teens—8th, 10th, and 12th graders to be exact—showed that only about 3 percent, or 3 in 100 teens have used cocaine or Ecstasy in the last year, and only about 1 in 100 used methamphetamine. That's not a lot. Teens also said they were smoking a lot less now than teens used to smoke in the '90s—like 3x less if you're a 10th grader. So, what is the most commonly used illegal drug?—Marijuana. About a quarter of 10th graders say they have tried it in the past year. You can see the numbers for each major drug type in this report (PDF, 971.57KB).
So, to answer your question, not that many kids in high school do drugs, although marijuana is the most common. So even though it may seem like "everyone's doing it," know that not everyone really is.
For more details on specific results from the Monitoring the Future Study, feel free to browse an overview of the results.
How Many Teens Actually Smoke, Drink, or Do Drugs?
It’s natural to be curious about your peers—especially when it comes to things that we know can be dangerous, like alcohol and drug use. You’ve probably heard rumors of kids drinking beer at a party or may have a friend who smokes cigarettes.
You may wonder how many teens actually smoke, drink, or do drugs. It’s a question we hear frequently from teens. During NIDA’s 2011 Drug Facts Chat Day, students from the around the country asked NIDA scientists questions such as:
- “How many teens smoke every year?”
- “Has the number of people who abuse drugs increased or decreased in the past 5 years? And why?”
- “What percent of teens has tried drugs?”
- “How many kids are doing drugs?”
In December 2011, NIDA released the 2011 Monitoring the Future Study, and it seems that more teens are making better decisions when it comes to smoking and alcohol use, but not so much when it comes to using marijuana and abusing prescription drugs.
Here’s a glimpse at the most recent trends in teen drug and alcohol use.
Cigarette and Alcohol Use at Historic Low
Teen smoking has declined in all three grades included in the study—grades 8, 10, and 12. Still, almost 19 percent of 12th graders reported current (past-month) cigarette use.
This decline shows that more teens realize the harm smoking does to your body and are making the decision not to start. Also, teens’ attitudes about smoking have changed. They increasingly prefer to date nonsmokers and believe smoking to be a dirty habit.
Likewise, among nearly all grades, trends over the past 5 years showed significant decreases in alcohol use—including first-time use, occasional use, daily use, and binge drinking. As with smoking, this decline may be the result of more teens understanding the risk of drinking alcohol and disapproving of this behavior.
Marijuana Use Continues To Rise
Unlike cigarettes and alcohol, marijuana use is increasing. Among 12th graders, 36.4 percent reported using marijuana at least once in the past year, up from 31.5 percent 5 years ago. This accompanies a decrease in the number of 12th graders who perceive that smoking marijuana is harmful. For example, only 22.7 percent of high school seniors saw great risk in smoking marijuana occasionally, compared to 25.9 percent 5 years ago.
Of course, we know the risks: marijuana can affect memory, judgment, and perception, and it can harm a teen’s developing brain.
Prescription Drug Abuse Remains Steady
Prescription drug abuse hasn’t changed much since 2010. Abuse of the opioid painkiller Vicodin and the nonmedical use of Adderall and Ritalin, stimulants meant to treat ADHD, remained about the same as last year. Also, the abuse of the opioid painkiller OxyContin remained steady for the past 5 years across all 3 grades surveyed.
To drive this trend downward, NIDA recently launched PEERx, a prescription drug abuse awareness campaign that gives teens science-based information about the harmful effects of prescription drug abuse on the brain and body.
When teens understand the health risks of abusing drugs, they do it less. So, tell us, how would you convince your peers that marijuana use and prescription drug abuse are harmful?
These estimates come from the Monitoring the Future Study's national surveys of approximately 47,000 students in about 400 secondary schools each year. The survey was conducted in classrooms earlier this year. View all of the 2011 data.
Last February, NIDA held its first "Covering Addiction" Roundtable discussion for college journalists. Fifteen students from universities around Washington, D.C. picked the brains of NIDA scientists and professional health reporters, asking them about careers in science and health journalism. The student journalists got tips from pros who have worked for ABC News, the Associated Press, and the Washington Post on how to write about sensitive health topics like drug abuse and addiction.
Overall, students said they got a lot out of the experience, but some said they would have liked more time for questions about addiction and the health effects of drugs. So to follow up, here are some answers to common questions about drug use in college.
-Is everyone using illegal drugs in college?
No. Many college students drink alcohol, but most of them are not using other drugs.
-How common is drug use in college?
It really depends on the drug. The most common drug used in college is alcohol (yes, it's a drug). A survey asking college students about their past-month drug use found that about 2 out of 3 drink alcohol, and about 1 in 5 students smoke cigarettes. Marijuana comes in third, with about 1 in 6 students smoking it in college. (Interesting fact: full-time college students actually use less tobacco and marijuana on a regular basis than people of the same age who don't go to college.) As for other illegal drugs, very few college students are using them. For example, fewer than 1 in 100 college students have ever used heroin or steroids.
-How do you know?
NIDA's Monitoring the Future Survey asks middle school students, high school students and high school graduates about drug use. If you want to see the real data for yourself, you can go to the Monitoring the Future website and look at all the 2007 results for college students (PDF, 2.13MB).
If you're studying for a journalism career in college, or planning to study journalism when you go, stay tuned! We'll announce the next college journalist roundtable here at the Sara Bellum Blog.
The Government banned cigarette commercials on television in 1970 after the 1964 Surgeon General’s report found that smoking cigarettes increased your chances of getting lung cancer. This was a big deal, considering the strong smoking culture in the United States at the time. However, this ban didn’t stop smoking on television. Forty-years later, characters on television shows continue to smoke.
And, what if we told you that teens are one of the primary audiences for some of those shows?
Researchers from Columbia University and Legacy (formerly the American Legacy Foundation), an anti-tobacco group that produces the “Truth” anti-smoking ad campaign, teamed up to find out how often tobacco use shows up on TV shows popular with teens. The shows included:
“Gossip Girl,” “Heroes,” “American Dad,” “Desperate Housewives,” “Family Guy,” “House,” and “The Simpsons.” They also looked at reality shows like “America’s Next Top Model” to measure depictions such as smoking, or even showing a pipe or pack of cigarettes on screen.
TV Shows Still Smokin’
Researchers watched every episode of the season. Of the 73 episodes in the analysis, 40 percent contained at least one depiction of tobacco (mainly cigarettes), double the rate from a similar study 10 years earlier. In all, there were 271 depictions, which worked out to an average of 4.4 depictions an hour.
Published in February 2011, the researchers concluded in their study:
Substantial tobacco use was observed in television shows popular among youth. It is projected that almost 1 million youth were exposed to tobacco depictions through the programming examined. Tobacco use on television should be a cause for concern, particularly because of the high volume of television viewing among younger audiences.
Other research on the connection between hours spent watching TV and young people taking up smoking, it was found that tweens and teens who watched 5 or more hours of TV each day were almost six times more likely to take up smoking than those who watched less than 2 hours.
Why Does It Matter?
Seeing other teens and young adults—celebrities, entertainers, and musicians—smoking can make it seem “cool” or popular. In fact, tobacco companies are counting on it and have invested a lot of time and money to find out the best places to reach teens. Just because the tobacco companies are banned from showing commercials on television doesn’t mean they can’t influence the content of TV shows in other, more subtle ways, or use other tools to influence smoking behavior.
Fortunately, NIDA’s 2011 Monitoring the Future survey of 8th, 10th and 12th graders found that smoking is decreasing to historically low rates among teens, so it appears most young people are smarter than the tobacco marketers had hoped.
Which Program Had the Most Smoking-Related Depictions?
Meanwhile, can you guess which primetime program that the Columbia University and Legacy researchers studied showed the highest incidence of smoking-related depictions? Was it (a) “Gossip Girl,” (b) “Heroes,” or (c) “America’s Next Top Model”? If you picked (c), the reality-based show “America’s Top Model,” you got it right.
Kind of ironic that a show about being beautiful and glamorous shows young girls using an addictive product that eventually will make their teeth yellow, cause premature wrinkling, and possibly lead to cancer, emphysema, or heart disease—none of which is very glamorous!
What do you think about depictions of smoking on TV? To answer the question, you can either write your response in the “Leave a Reply” box below or send us a message. As always, we read all comments and consider all feedback! We look forward to hearing from you.
To learn more about the effect of product placement on teens, check out Drugs: Shatter the Myths.
Lots of teens have questions about drugs. Each year, NIDA scientists spend a day chatting online with high school students and answering their questions.
At the last Drug Facts Chat Day, soccerstar0 asked:
“On average how old are kids who start using drugs?”
Research shows that drug use often starts in the teen years. You might have heard that, but here’s something you may not know—the science shows that the younger you are when you start using drugs, the more likely you are to get addicted later on. Doing drugs can also cause problems with friends, in sports, and in school.
Let’s face it—when someone tells us not to do something, that sometimes makes it seem more exciting. But drugs can really do some not-so-exciting things to your body. NIDA researchers discovered that drugs can literally change the way your brain works. And since your own brain won’t finish growing until you’re 25, you probably don’t want to mess with that process by doing drugs.
More people understand now the harmful effects that smoking has on the body as well as the addictive effects of nicotine. The good news is that teens seem to be getting the message—SBB recently reported that smoking rates among 8th-, 10th-, and 12th-graders are at an all-time low.
But many teens are still smoking—according to the 2011 Monitoring the Future Study PDF [230 KB], 19 percent of high school seniors reported smoking in the past month.
New NIDA research gives yet another reason for teens to avoid lighting that first cigarette—nicotine may “prime” the brain to enhance cocaine’s effects, making it a very dangerous “gateway drug.” That means it could open the door to other drug use.
Science Suggests that Nicotine Changes the Brain
Evidence shows that most people who tried drugs like cocaine were first tobacco or alcohol users. This concept of “gateway drugs” has been controversial, mostly because people question whether prior use of drugs like nicotine, alcohol, or marijuana actually leads to later drug use. Before now, studies have not been able to show a biological reason why smoking or other nicotine use could increase a person’s chances of using illegal street drugs.
That changed when NIDA researchers found that mice exposed to nicotine in their drinking water for at least 7 days showed an increased response to cocaine. Why did this happen? Researchers recognized that nicotine actually changes the structure of your DNA, it reprograms how certain genes are expressed—in particular a gene that has been related to addiction—and ultimately, it enhances the response to cocaine.
Why did this happen? Researchers recognized that nicotine actually changes the structure of your DNA, it reprograms how certain genes are expressed—in particular a gene that has been related to addiction—and ultimately, it enhances the response to cocaine.
Moving on from mice, researchers looked at statistics in humans—in particular at when people began nicotine use and their degree of cocaine dependence: Among cocaine users who smoked cigarettes before starting cocaine, the rate of cocaine dependence was higher compared with those who tried cocaine first (before smoking cigarettes).
The study doesn’t mean that every person who smokes cigarettes will eventually become addicted to cocaine. But it does suggest that if a person who smokes cigarettes tries cocaine, their brains may have been changed by nicotine to make it more likely that they will become addicted to cocaine.
Need help quitting smoking? Take a look at these resources from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
It's that time of year again-time to announce the results of NIDA's annual Monitoring the Future survey. For the 34th year, researchers went into classrooms all over the country and asked young people to fill out surveys about their drug use. This year 46,097 8th, 10th and 12th graders participated—that's a lot of teens! As the Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, this is one of my favorite times of the year because we hold a big news conference at the National Press Club in Washington, DC to let the public know what the researchers learned. Here's the news this year, good and bad.
The good news is that methamphetamine use is at its lowest since the survey started tracking it 10 years ago. At that time, 4.7% of teens said they had tried meth in the previous month, but this year, just 1.2% said they had used it. Teens are also smoking cigarettes less than they used to. About 1 in 10 high school seniors say they smoke every day, compared to 4 in 10 in 1999. This drop translates to longer, healthier lives for today's teens.
But of course the survey also shows some not-so-good things. So while cigarette smoking is down, it looks as if more kids are chewing tobacco. Believe it or not, more than 6% of 10th graders say they use smokeless tobacco. Smokeless tobacco products contain many toxins, as well as high levels of nicotine (3-4 times more than cigarettes), which makes them addictive. Not to mention what it does to your teeth and breath. Here are some more facts.
Also, too many teens are still abusing prescription drugs, which is not good. Unless a medicine is prescribed for you and you take it the way your doctor tells you to, prescription pills can be as dangerous as street drugs. In fact, more people are dying from accidental overdoses of prescription drugs than from cocaine and heroin combined. We have done some blogs about this in the past.
And for the first time, NIDA's Monitoring the Future survey asked 12th graders about their use of salvia, an herb common to southern Mexico and Central and South America—5.7% of high school seniors had abused it in the past year. People who abuse salvia typically experience hallucinations or episodes that resemble a type of mental illness known as psychosis (sigh-ko-sis), which can really be scary.
For more information on this year's survey results, go to the NIDA home page and click on the "Monitoring the Future" link.
This is a guest post from the Director of NIDA, Dr. Nora Volkow.
For anyone who resolves to stop smoking, help is as close as your cell phone.
According to NIDA’s 2011 Monitoring the Future survey results, teen smoking rates are currently at their lowest since the survey began in 1975. However, many teens continue to take up the habit—19 percent of 12th-graders reported past-month cigarette use.
By now, we all know that smoking has negative health effects. These include lung and heart disease and particularly cancer—since cigarettes contain chemicals that are carcinogenic, or cancer-causing. However, when it comes to quitting, the main problem is nicotine. Nicotine is addictive and makes quitting notoriously hard.
To help teens quit, the National Cancer Institute (NCI) recently launched SmokefreeTXT, a free text-to-quit service that sends text messages with encouragement, advice, and tips directly to teens’ cell phones.
How It Works
Sign up at www.teen.smokefree.gov or text “QUIT” to “iQUIT” (47848) and provide the date you smoked last. After that, you’ll receive text messages for up to 6 weeks. Research shows that support for quitting continues to be important beyond the first few weeks.
The text-to-quit campaign is just one feature of a broader effort to encourage teens to quit smoking. NCI’s new Smokefree Teen Web site features information, quizzes, comics, and other resources to help teens understand the decisions they make and to take control of their health.
Smokefree Teen also offers a free smartphone app, QuitSTART—an interactive guide that provides mood management tips, tracks cravings, and monitors quit attempts.
You can find Smokefree Teen on several social media pages to connect other teens with tools to help them quit.Think about “liking” Smokefree Teen on Facebook, even if you don’t smoke, to show support for your friends or family who are trying to quit.
Is 2012 the year of texting for healthy living? Let us know if you think campaigns like these can help you stay committed to your resolutions.
In a recent Drug Facts Chat Day, Jiacalone_01 from Cashmere High School in Washington asked: What percentage of 9th graders smoke marijuana?
Most teens are not smoking marijuana. We know this from asking teens themselves. How? Through the annual survey of teen drug use called Monitoring the Future, which surveys 8th, 10th, and 12th graders about their drug use and attitudes. The survey found that about 12% of 8th graders reported marijuana use in 2009 compared to about 27% of 10th graders and 22% of 12th graders. The survey also showed that marijuana use has declined steadily since the mid-1990s until about 2002. Since then, it’s kind of leveled off, so the people here at NIDA are trying to figure out why, and how to get things back to a downward trend.
One reason for the leveling off may be something else the survey found—which is a change in attitudes among teens toward marijuana smoking—that they consider it to be less harmful than they did in years past.
The thing is, marijuana is more than just a mix of dried leaves from the cannabis sativa plant. It actually contains a chemical called delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, along with about 400 other chemicals. Although many of these can affect your health, THC is the main psychoactive (i.e., mind altering) ingredient. (In fact, marijuana’s strength or potency is related to the amount of THC it contains, which is something people who use marijuana won’t know since it is an illegal substance.)
THC alters the way your brain functions, which can be bad news for teen brains since they’re still developing. For example, THC can disrupt what goes on in your hippocampus, which can lead to problems with learning and memory—since that’s what this brain area gets involved in. Disrupting its normal functioning can lead to problems studying, learning new things, and recalling recent events. You can read more on marijuana here:
- Marijuana: Facts for Teens
- Facts on Drugs: Marijuana
- NIDA for Teens: Marijuana FAQ
- Marijuana: Topics in Brief
PS—Some people argue that marijuana is not addictive. Wrong! In 2007, the majority of youth (age 17 or younger) entering drug abuse treatment reported marijuana as their primary drug abused. We admit that, we still don’t know everything that marijuana use does to teens. But we do know that adolescents’ brains are still growing and changing—so is it really worth the risk?
March 18–24, 2012, marks the 20th observance of National Inhalants and Poisons Awareness Week. The good news is that fewer teens are inhaling poisons and chemicals to get high, according to NIDA’s 2011 Monitoring the Future study. Use has been declining since about the mid-2000s, especially among 8th and 11th graders.
Still, even one person using an inhalant is too many. Here are some facts about inhalant use that you might not know.
Helium isn’t harmless. You may have seen people inhale helium out of a balloon at a party to make their voices sound funny. But doing so can be dangerous, and in rare cases it can even cause sudden death. This happened recently to a 14-year-old in Oregon who inhaled helium out of a tank.
Inhalants can affect speech. Inhalants rob cells of oxygen, which can harm your brain. Using inhalants repeatedly can affect the hippocampus—a brain area that helps control memory—so that a person may lose the ability to learn new things or have a hard time carrying on a simple conversation.
Even if a person stops using, the damage may already be done. Some effects of inhalant use may never go away. These include hearing loss, limb spasms, and damage to the bone marrow and to the central nervous system (or brain).
Inhalants can be addictive. Although not very common, some people may become addicted to inhalants after long-term use.
And never forget about sudden sniffing death, which can result from irregular and rapid heart rhythms caused by sniffing inhalants. It can occur the first time or 100th time a person uses inhalants. Read other SBB posts that address inhalants.
Get this: There are more than one billion smokers on planet Earth. Yep, that’s a billion people around the world whose nicotine addiction is leading to high rates of cancer and emphysema, increased air pollution and death. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, smoking causes more deaths each year than HIV, illegal drug use, alcohol use, motor vehicle injuries, suicides, and murders combined!
So what to do about it? For starters, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared May 31 as “World No Tobacco Day.” For this year’s theme, WHO is focusing on women and girls—who make up about 20% of all smokers worldwide. That’s more than 200 million women and girls who may not be getting all the facts!
But fortunately, the trend with teens is going in the right direction. The latest Monitoring the Future report of teens in 8th, 10th and 12th grades found that Cigarette smoking among U.S. teens is at its lowest point since the survey started in 1975. That’s a fact worth celebrating, since smoking is the leading preventable cause of death and disease in this country, which means the best way to avoid these negative consequences is not to start.
Other trends are not so good, including the one showing that advertisers are targeting more girls outside the U.S., who may not know as much about the dangers of smoking.
Everyone can take a step toward making May 31 tobacco-free—in your family, your school, your community, or the world. If you or someone you love smokes, get the facts. The American Cancer Society is a good place to start, with a Guide to Quitting Smoking.
Make every day a No-Tobacco Day!
Ask NIDA scientist Marilyn A. Huestis, Ph.D., what she wants to tell young people about the synthetic (manmade) marijuana called Spice, and she responds with passion. In a recent interview with SBB, Dr. Huestis shared a news story about teens in Dallas who went to the ER with chest pains, only to learn that they had had heart attacks. All of them had recently smoked Spice.
Dr. Huestis said that dangerous health effects from Spice are possible because of the drug’s potency. “Using Spice is very dangerous because the chemicals and compounds that are in it vary from batch to batch. You might buy a package one week, go back to the same place and buy the exact same package the next week, and the ingredients may be completely different. Not only are the ingredients unknown, but so is the strength of the drug,” she said.
“Because its makeup varies so widely, studying Spice is a challenge,” said Dr. Huestis. “Essentially, if you use it, you’re experimenting on yourself.”
That experimentation could result in other life-threatening health complications. According to a recent news story out of Wyoming, three young people were hospitalized with kidney failure from using blueberry-flavored Spice. A dozen other people got sick. Everyone affected was in their late teens or early 20s.
Use Is Expanding
NIDA’s Monitoring the Future study asked teens about synthetic marijuana for the first time in the 2011 survey. What they found: Approximately 1 in every 10 high school seniors reported use in the past 12 months. Teens and young adults may be drawn to Spice because sometimes it comes in flavors.
Even though it’s illegal in the United States, Spice is still available in some truck stops and other places that market it as incense. Dr. Huestis said this is because manufacturers are constantly changing the ingredients to attempt to get around the bans. However, the United States does have an “analog law,” which bans drugs with chemistry and effects similar to illegal drugs.
“We’re learning more about Spice and how it works in the body and brain every day,” said Dr. Huestis. “Research is focusing on the body’s cannabinoid system, which regulates hunger, memory, and heart rate, among many other important functions. Spice and marijuana hijack this system.”
Read more about Spice.
At NIDA’s Drug Facts Chat Day, we get great questions from teens all over the country about drugs. Here’s one from “hhentze,” representing Junction City High School in Oregon:
What drug is most often used by teens in the USA?
Every year since 1975, the Monitoring the Future Study has surveyed teens to better understand their drug use rates, attitudes, and beliefs. Looking over the past 10 years, data show that more and more teens are saying no to drugs, period. They are not even trying them once.
Still, to answer the question, statistics from 2009 (PDF, 362.76KB) show that the drug most often abused by teens in 8th, 10th, and 12th grades is alcohol, followed by marijuana. The third most abused drug varies by grade—for 8th graders, it’s inhalants. For 10th and 12th graders, it’s Vicodin (a prescription medication for pain). Here’s a little more info:
So, even though alcohol might be the drug most abused by teens, the good news is that the number of teens who report drinking in the last 30 days has gradually declined by as much as 40% over the past 35 years. You go, Gen Y!
Seems marijuana use is slowly creeping upwards after a steady decline that lasted almost 10 years. What’s up with that? The answer may have to do with the fact that young people are seeing marijuana as less risky than before and are more accepting of its use in general.
- Inhalants and Vicodin
With both inhalants and Vicodin, the rates of abuse among teens are about the same as they have been for the past 2-3 years. That’s pretty positive, especially since the study only recently started looking at trends in prescription drugs.
Carry out your own mini-study and see what drugs friends, relatives, or teachers think are most often abused by teens. Feel free to share what you found out with us in the comments. Spread the word, and help set the record straight.
Knowing the health risks that come with using or abusing drugs convinces most teens (and adults) to stay away from them. But what if you don’t think certain drugs are unsafe?
In December 2012, NIDA released the results of the 2012 Monitoring the Future (MTF) study (involving 8th, 10th, and 12th graders). The findings show that fewer teens believe abusing marijuana and Adderall is bad for their health. This belief is contributing to higher rates of abuse of these drugs.
Over the last 5 years, current (past-month) marijuana use has gone up significantly among 10th and 12th graders. In fact, current marijuana use among high school seniors is at its highest point since the late 1990s. Daily marijuana use has climbed significantly across all three grades. The study also found that fewer teens now believe using marijuana is harmful.
However, the science shows otherwise. People who smoke a lot of pot risk injuring their lungs with the chemicals found in the smoke, and may also experience depression and anxiety. New research has found smoking marijuana heavily in your teen years and continuing into adulthood can actually lower your IQ!
Also in the 2012 MTF study, 12th graders reported increased nonmedical use of the prescription stimulant Adderall—commonly prescribed to people with ADHD. As with marijuana, fewer teens perceive that abusing Adderall is risky. If that trend continues, Adderall abuse will probably continue to increase as well.
Abusing a stimulant medication like Adderall may increase blood pressure, heart rate, and body temperature; decrease appetite and sleep; and cause feelings of hostility and paranoia.
Perception of Risk
Studies have found that when teens think a drug can be harmful, they are less likely to abuse it. In the case of marijuana and Adderall, it appears that some teens don’t see the risk. Tell us: Do you think these drugs are dangerous? If you agree they are, what can we do to help people you know get the message?
Other notable findings from the 2012 MTF study:
- Most of the top drugs abused by 12th graders are legal substances, like alcohol, tobacco, over-the-counter drugs, and prescription drugs.
- Abuse of synthetic marijuana—K2 or Spice—remained stable in 2012.
- Most teens who abuse prescription drugs get them from family and friends.
- Alcohol use and cigarette smoking are steadily declining.
Check out this cool infographic to learn more.
These drug abuse estimates come from the Monitoring the Future study’s national surveys of approximately 45,000 students in about 400 secondary schools each year. View all of the 2012 data.
Many teens have questions about drugs. On Drug Facts Chat Day, NIDA scientists get to listen in and answer these questions from students all across the country.
Here’s one from “zippy do da” from Kingswood Middle School in New Hampshire:
Why do teens who smoke think they are so cool?
There could be many reasons why teens who smoke think they’re cool—maybe their friends smoke, maybe their parents told them not to smoke, maybe they think it gives them an edgy look, or a temporary high. But the truth is, as far as your health goes—smoking is so not cool.
And who defines cool anyway? What’s cool to one person may not be cool to another. Just as beauty is in the eye of the beholder, coolness is an individual decision. Not everyone thinks that doing something illegal or unhealthy because your friends are doing it is cool. Lots of teens would say it's cooler to hold a pen, paintbrush, or drum stick between your fingers, instead of a cigarette.
When our parents were younger, many of them thought “the Fonz” from the hit TV show "Happy Days" was the epitome of cool. Pretty dorky now.
Today it seems like a lot of teen smokers are figuring out that smoking is not very cool at all. According to a 2007 survey from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 50% of all high school smokers are actively trying to quit. And, according to the recent NIDA-funded Monitoring the Future study of 8th, 10th and 12th graders, smoking among American teens is at an all time low.
Coolness is a funny thing. Some things are cool one year (or one minute!), and not the next. Other things are cool no matter how much time has passed. What’s cool is also influenced by your gender, age, where you live, and, most of all, by who you are. Check out how one high school student examined the cool factor as a science fair project—it even won her a cool prize. But don’t take our word for it—you decide.