Connect with us

Flash

The Truth is Out There

A national survey shows teen marijuana use on the rise? Not so fast
 

By David Burton

 

From the headlines, you’d think our nation’s schools had become public hash bars:

“Marijuana use rising among young adults,” declared one newspaper. “New survey shows rise in illicit drug use among teens,

Avatar

Published

on

A national survey shows teen marijuana use on the rise? Not so fast

 

By David Burton

 

From the headlines, you’d think our nation’s schools had become public hash bars:

“Marijuana use rising among young adults,” declared one newspaper. “New survey shows rise in illicit drug use among teens,” heralded another. “Young adults drinking less, smoking more marijuana,” the website for a CBS television affiliate stated.

The breathless headline writers were reacting to the latest National Survey on Drug Use and Health, which showed a general rise in cannabis use among Americans. The federally sponsored survey is an annual snapshot of data randomly collected from some 67,500 interviews of Americans 12 years and older.

According to this year’s survey results, illegal drug use is down in almost every category except one: marijuana. About 6.9 percent of the population admitted using in America regularly in 2010, up 1.1 percent from 2007.

But most sensationally, the survey’s authors noted in their “Highlights” section, a reported increase in marijuana use among teens. Some 7.4 percent of surveyed teens ages 12 to 17 used cannabis in 2010—up from 6.7 percent in 2006. That 7/10ths-of-a-percent reported increase was enough to prompt U.S. drug czar Gil Kerlikowske to declare that medical marijuana laws were despoiling our nation’s children.

“People keep calling it medicine, and that’s the wrong message for young people to hear,” Kerlikowske told USA Today.

But as much as Kerlikowske would like us to believe our children are turning to pot, a closer look at the survey shows the rate of cannabis use among teens 12 to 7 was virtually static compared to 2009 statistics. More surprising, a comparison between previous federal drug surveys and the one just released shows that teen pot use has actually decreased since the first compassionate-use laws were enacted in 1996.

According to the just-released survey, 7.4 percent of teens 12 to 17 used pot in 2010, representing a statistically irrelevant increase of a tenth of a percent over 2009. Unfortunately for supporters of medical cannabis, that was enough to send the U.S. drug czar and America’s headline writers into hyperbolic orbit.

More statistically relevant is the 2010 number’s comparison to teen pot use back in 1995—a year before California became the first state to approve medical marijuana. Some 8.2 percent of teens ages 12 to 17 admitted to smoking pot that year. In 1996, the rate dropped by more than a full percentage point, to 7.1 percent.

Nevertheless, Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance in Washington, D.C., cautioned against reading too much into the ever-fluctuating cannabis-use numbers.

“Marijuana use and drug use in general goes up and it goes down—it fluctuates,” Piper says. “It would be really hard to come up with a contributing factor, because there doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to it. But there’s definitely been a lot of studies around the world that have shown what doesn’t make a difference are the relative severity of punishments associated with using or selling marijuana.”

When asked by phone for comment on the national survey’s results, Carrie Goldberg, manager of public affairs for the anti-illegal-drug group The Partnership at Drugfree.org (previously The Partnership for a Drug-Free America) responded by emailing CULTURE a press release for a different survey.

That report, described as the 22nd annual Partnership Attitude Tracking Study, or PATS, also purportedly provided a snapshot of teen drug use in 2010. The findings, however, flew directly in the face of the 2010 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, claiming a whopping 22-percent increase in marijuana use among teens from 2008 to 2010.

That finding, however, may have been a typo: The PATS survey puts teen drug use at 32 percent in 2008 and 39 percent in 2010—and calculates the difference as 22 percent.

 

 

 

 

 

This is Your Brain on Drugfree

 

When asked by phone for comment on the national survey’s results, Carrie Goldberg, manager of public affairs for the anti-illegal-drug group The Partnership at Drugfree.org (previously The Partnership for a Drug-Free America) responded by emailing CULTURE a press release for a different survey. That report, described as the 22nd annual Partnership Attitude Tracking Study, or PATS, also purportedly provided a snapshot of teen drug use in 2010. The findings, however, flew directly in the face of the 2010 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, claiming a whopping 22-percent increase in marijuana use among teens from 2008 to 2010. That finding, however, may have been a typo: The PATS survey puts teen drug use at 32 percent in 2008 and 39 percent in 2010—and calculates the difference as 22 percent.