This week, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) released its annual 2016 Monitoring the Future (MTF) survey results, which are an indicator of how teenagers consume various substances, including cannabis.
The MTF survey was designed and carried out by researchers at the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research and is funded by both the NIH and the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). The survey asks roughly 45,000 teenagers in 8th, 10th, and 12th grade at roughly 380 public and private secondary schools to open up about their use of cannabis, alcohol, tobacco, and some prescription medications. Overall, teen use of other substances like alcohol, tobacco, and prescription medications “declined significantly” and are at their lowest rates in decades.
But what about cannabis? Are teenagers using cannabis more often, now that recreational and medical cannabis laws have spread across the country, which could lead to more exposure? First, cannabis and e-cigarettes are more popular among teenagers than tobacco cigarettes, according to the MTF survey. And while cannabis use in the last month dropped from 6.5 percent to 5.4 percent among eighth graders, and daily use dropped from 1.1 percent in 2015 to .7 percent this year, the story is a bit different among high school seniors. A total of 22.5 percent of high school seniors said they consumed cannabis in the past month, and six percent said they consumed cannabis every day. These statistics remain similar to last year’s data.
Interestingly, the survey points out that high school seniors in states with medical cannabis laws consume cannabis at higher rates than 12th graders in states that do not have such laws. This year, 38.3 percent of 12th graders in states with a medical cannabis law said they consumed cannabis in the past year, while 33.3 percent of 12th graders in states without a law noted that they used cannabis in the past 12 months, which, the survey noted, reflected “previous research that has suggested that these differences precede enactment of medical marijuana laws.”
It also appears that teenagers are consuming more cannabis-infused edibles in states that have medical cannabis laws. Of those high school seniors who said they used cannabis in the past year, 40.2 percent consumed edibles, compared to 28.1 percent in states without a medical cannabis law.
Teenagers don’t think cannabis is as harmful of a substance than they used to, either. But that doesn’t necessarily correlate with increased use. The MTF survey notes that 44 percent of high school sophomores think that regular consumption of cannabis is detrimental to their health–or a “great risk”–and only 2.5 percent of sophomores consumed cannabis every day this year. A decade ago, 64.9 percent of sophomores thought cannabis use was harmful and 2.8 percent consumed cannabis every day. A total of 34.6 percent of the youngest teenagers surveyed, eighth graders, said cannabis was “easy to get;” it is more difficult for eighth graders to obtain cannabis today than ever before in the 42-year history of the survey.
“Clearly our public health prevention efforts, as well as policy changes to reduce availability, are working to reduce teen drug use, especially among eighth graders,” Nora Volkow, director of NIDA, said in a statement. “However, when 6 percent of high school seniors are using marijuana daily, and new synthetics are continually flooding the illegal marketplace, we cannot be complacent. We also need to learn more about how teens interact with each other in this social media era, and how those behaviors affect substance use rates.”