Pot sur­vey sparks de­bate over mes­sages to youths

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - BY CH­ERYL WETZSTEIN

In 2010, Amer­i­can teens’ past­month use of mar­i­juana rose high enough to eclipse their use of cig­a­rettes, ac­cord­ing to a na­tional re­port on teen sub­stance abuse — a find­ing that the White House and pub­lic-health of­fi­cials blamed in part on drug-le­gal­iza­tion ef­forts.

The grow­ing pop­u­lar­ity of mar­i­juana — pos­si­bly fu­eled by the idea that “mar­i­juana is medicine” — alarms na­tional lead­ers who point to the drug’s side ef­fects and its role as a “gate­way drug.”

Not only does mar­i­juana use ad­versely af­fect learn­ing, judg­ment and mo­tor skills in de­vel­op­ing minds, “but re­search tells us that about one in six peo­ple who start us­ing it as ado­les­cents be­come ad­dicted,” said Dr. Nora D. Volkow, di­rec­tor of the Na­tional In­sti­tute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).

NIDA funds the Mon­i­tor­ing the Fu­ture sur­vey, which was re­leased Dec. 14.

“No young per­son in to­day’s com­pet­i­tive world is go­ing to be helped by us­ing mar­i­juana” or other il­licit drugs, said R. Gil Ker­likowske, di­rec­tor of the Of­fice of Na­tional Drug Con­trol Pol­icy.

“Mixed mes­sages about drug le­gal­iza­tion, par­tic­u­larly mar­i­juana, may be to blame” for in­creases in drug use, the White House’s “drug czar” said.

Ac­cord­ing to the sur­vey, which is based on in­ter­views with more than 46,000 stu­dents, 21.4 per­cent of 12th-graders, 16.7 per­cent of 10th-graders and 8.0 per­cent of eighth-graders said they had used mar­i­juana or hashish in the pre­vi­ous 30 days. These fig­ures sur­pass past-month cig­a­rette use, which was 19.2 per­cent of 12thgrader­s, 13.6 per­cent of 10thgrader­s and 7.1 per­cent of eighth­graders.

Anti-smok­ing cam­paigns, re­duc­tion of cig­a­rette ad­ver­tis­ing to youths and ris­ing cig­a­rette prices helped re­duce youth­ful use of smok­ing, said Lloyd Johnston, prin­ci­pal in­ves­ti­ga­tor of Mon­i­tor­ing the Fu­ture.

How­ever, the mes­sages about mar­i­juana have been any­thing but clear.

In Novem­ber, Cal­i­for­nia came close to le­gal­iz­ing mar­i­juana for adults when more than 46 per­cent of the elec­torate voted in fa­vor of Propo­si­tion 19. Back­ers of the mea­sure were elated with their near-suc­cess and have promised to try again in 2012.

Nu­mer­ous cities and states, mean­while, have le­gal­ized the med­i­cal uses of mar­i­juana, and the pro-le­gal­iza­tion po­si­tion, whether for med­i­cal use or for any pur­pose, is an in­creas­ingly main­stream part of po­lit­i­cal dis­course.

In the mean­time, mar­i­juana use in­creased in 2010 over 2009 by ev­ery yard­stick — daily, in the past 30 days, in the past year or ever — and at all three mea­sured grade lev­els.

The news about ris­ing youth use of mar­i­juana re­in­forces the idea that it’s time for a na­tional con­ver­sa­tion about mar­i­juana le­gal­iza­tion, said Mike Meno, com­mu­ni­ca­tions di­rec­tor for the Mar- ijuana Pol­icy Project.

“No­body wants young peo­ple us­ing mar­i­juana; that’s a com­mon goal,” he said.

Al­though fed­eral pol­icy makes re­duc­ing youth use of mar­i­juana a pri­or­ity, the lat­est num­bers and those in pre­vi­ous years show that the pol­icy “failed ab­so­lutely” to do that, Mr. Meno said.

If mar­i­juana were le­gal, it could be taxed and reg­u­lated to bar its sale to youths, as hap­pens with al­co­hol and to­bacco, he added. “Drug deal­ers don’t check ID.”

The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion is ag­gres­sively ad­dress­ing the threat of drug use and needs par­ents to talk with their chil­dren about the risks and harms of il­le­gal drug use, Mr. Ker­likowske said.

An of­fi­cial at NIDA added that her agency is of­fer­ing a wealth of Web-based ma­te­ri­als for teens, in­clud­ing the “Sara Bel­lum” blog about drugs and “chat ses­sions” with sci­en­tists who an­swer teens’ ques­tions about drugs.

Mar­i­juana has been the most widely used il­licit drug in the 35year his­tory of the Mon­i­tor­ing

The grow­ing pop­u­lar­ity of mar­i­juana — pos­si­bly fu­eled by the idea that “mar­i­juana is medicine” — alarms na­tional lead­ers who point to the drug’s side ef­fects and its role as a “gate­way drug.”

the Fu­ture sur­vey, though it re­mains dwarfed by the use of al­co­hol. To­bacco is still more pop­u­lar among teens by some of the sur­vey’s nu­mer­ous yard­sticks.

An­nual mar­i­juana use reached its his­tor­i­cal peak among 12thgrader­s in 1979, when 51 per­cent of high school se­niors said they had smoked pot at least once within the pre­vi­ous year. It bot­tomed out in 1992, with 21.9 per­cent an­nual use, and has been in the 30s for more than 15 years. Un­like mar­i­juana, the use of al­co­hol and to­bacco have de­clined nearly con­tin­u­ously since the 1990s.

Be­cause mar­i­juana is more preva­lent than any other il­licit drug, trends in its use tend to drive the in­dex of any il­licit drug use, the sur­vey said. Other high­lights of the re­port:

Com­pared with 2009, rates fell re­gard­ing teen abuse of the pre­scrip­tion drug Vi­codin, co­caine, binge drink­ing and use of “fla­vored al­co­holic bev­er­ages.”

The us­age rate of the “club drug” Ec­stasy rose in all three grades. This sug­gests that the dan­ger­ous drug is ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a resur­gence, es­pe­cially among younger teens.

Rates of many il­licit drugs, such as metham­phetamine, crack co­caine and heroin stayed at low lev­els. Mr. Johnston said the use of in­halants has not risen as feared, and the abuse of cough and cold medicines also has stalled.

Thus the most wor­ri­some as­pects of the 2010 data were the upticks in mar­i­juana use and weak­en­ing at­ti­tudes about the harm­ful­ness or dis­ap­proval of pot.

“We should ex­am­ine the ex­tent to which the de­bate over med­i­cal mar­i­juana and mar­i­juana for adults is af­fect­ing teens’ per­cep­tions of risk,” Dr. Volkow said. Teens need to know that “mar­i­juana use can harm their short-term per­for­mance, as well as their long-term po­ten­tial.”

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