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Teen Health

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Teen Marijuana Use at All-Time High

This Is Your Brain on Marijuana continued...

“Findings are suggestive of a neurotoxic effect of cannabis on the adolescent brain and highlight the importance of prevention and policy efforts targeting adolescents,” the researchers concluded.

Washington and Colorado voters approved measures legalizing possession of up to an ounce of marijuana by people 21 and older. Washington’s law went into effect Dec. 6, while Colorado’s is set to become effective Jan. 5. Medical use of marijuana is legal in 18 states and the District of Columbia.

Although marijuana is illegal under federal law, President Obama told ABC’s Barbara Walters in a Dec. 11 interview that going after recreational users in states where marijuana is legal should not be a “top priority” of federal law enforcement officials.

Illegal Drug Use Overall Fell

Use of other illegal drugs declined among teens, the survey shows. The proportion who said they’d used an illegal drug other than marijuana in the past year was at its lowest level for all three grades: 5.5% for eighth graders, 10.8% for 10th graders, and 17% for 12th graders.

The 2012 survey was the first to ask about “bath salts,” stimulant-like drugs that can be addictive. Less than 1% of eighth and 10th graders, and only 1.3% of high school seniors said they had used bath salts in the previous year.

At a press conference about the findings, Lloyd Johnston, PhD, who has led the survey since its inception in 1975, speculated that use of bath salts might have been higher previously.

Prescription Drugs, Alcohol, and Tobacco

Nonmedical use of Vicodin, a prescription narcotic painkiller, in the past year by 12th graders was 7.5%, down from 10% in 2010. But nonmedical past-year use of the stimulant Adderall, prescribed to treat ADHD, rose from 5.4% in 2009 to 7.6% in 2012 among 12th graders.

“We do not know if they are abusing it because they think it is going to make them smarter or if they think it is going to make them high,” Volkow says.

Alcohol use has been declining steadily, with reported use in 2012 the lowest it’s been since the survey began measuring rates. Cigarette smoking continued to decline among students in all three grades. Still, nearly 1 in 5 high school seniors said they’d smoked cigarettes in the previous month. Teens also are turning to other forms of tobacco, such as small candy-flavored cigars and products that dissolve like mints, Howard Koh, MD, MPH, assistant secretary for health at the Department of Health and Human Services, said at the press conference.

“We should remember that of all these agents, tobacco remains the leading cause of preventable illness and death in the United States,” Koh said.

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