Adolescent Smoking and Drinking at Historic Lows

But use of marijuana is on the rise.
July 2012

Rates of adolescent cigarette smoking and alcohol drinking stood at historic lows in 2011, but marijuana use trended upward, according to the 2011 Monitoring the Future (MTF) survey. The findings reflect the responses of 46,773 8th-, 10th-, and 12th-graders in 400 public and private secondary schools nationwide.

In all three grades, rates of smoking and alcohol consumption were the lowest that they have been in the survey’s 37-year history. Binge drinking was also reported at record lows.

Illicit drug use by adolescents, however, has risen gradually from 2008 through 2011, driven by the increase in marijuana use over the 4-year period. One in four students surveyed reported past-year marijuana use in 2011, an increase of nearly 17 percent since 2007.

NIDA officials point to two worrisome findings. Daily use of marijuana rose in all three grades and, among 12th-graders, stood at its highest rate (6.6 percent) in 30 years. In addition, the perception of harm associated with marijuana use declined in all three grades—an indication that use is likely to continue to rise.

Two graphs, a bar graph and a line graph, show a dramatic rise in the number of calls to poison control centers relating to synthetic marijuana from 2010 to 2011 and during the first 10 months of 2011. Calls Received by Poison Control Centers Relating to Synthetic Marijuana
Source: American Association of Poison Control Centers, Synthetic Marijuana Data, Updated November 3, 2011. Data for both years are preliminary.

Questions on synthetic marijuana, also known as K2 and spice, were added to the survey in 2011, allowing researchers to quantify the growing popularity of products called herbal mixtures—plant materials sprayed with synthetic chemicals that mimic the effects of marijuana. In the survey, 11.4 percent of high school seniors said they had used synthetic marijuana in the past year.

This rate is “very high and unexpected” given that synthetic marijuana is a new drug, says NIDA Director Dr. Nora D. Volkow. “The students’ willingness to experiment at such a high level with a drug for which there is not much experience underlies the urgency of addressing this problem so that we can prevent further escalation,” she adds.

Percentage of Students Reporting Past-Month Substance Abuse*
  2007 2008 2009 2010 2011
Any illicit drug
All grades 14.8 14.6 15.8 16.7 17.0
8th grade 7.4 7.6 8.1 9.5 8.5
10th grade 16.9 15.8 17.8 18.5 19.2
12th grade 21.9 22.3 23.3 23.8 25.2
All grades 13.6 12.6 12.7 12.8 11.7
8th grade 7.1 6.8 6.5 7.1 6.1
10th grade 14.0 12.3 13.1 13.6 11.8
12th grade 21.6 20.4 20.1 19.2 18.7
All grades 12.4 12.5 13.8 14.8 15.2
8th grade 5.7 5.8 6.5 8.0 7.2
10th grade 14.2 13.8 15.9 16.7 17.6
12th grade 18.8 19.4 20.6 21.4 22.6
All grades 30.1 28.1 28.4 26.8 25.5
8th grade 15.9 15.9 14.9 13.8 12.7
10th grade 33.4 28.8 30.4 28.9 27.2
12th grade 44.4 43.1 43.5 41.2 40.0
*In this table, only two of the changes from 2010 to 2011 are statistically significant: 10th grade cigarette smoking and alcohol consumption in all three grades combined.

Poison control centers across the nation received 5,741 calls pertaining to synthetic marijuana in the first 10 months of 2011, nearly twice the number of calls received in all of 2010.

Last year, the Drug Enforcement Administration added five of the chemicals used in synthetic marijuana to its list of controlled substances, making it illegal to possess or sell them. The U.S. House of Representatives approved legislation to ban the sale of synthetic marijuana in 2011; a similar bill is pending in the U.S. Senate. At least 18 states have banned the sale of synthetic marijuana.

 “Next year’s survey results should tell us a lot more about how successful these new control efforts are,” says Dr. Lloyd Johnston of the University of Michigan, lead investigator of the survey.

Further details on the survey are available at

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