While tobacco use is at an all time low among teenagers the use of marijuana is on the rise. According to the annual 2012 Monitoring the Future Survey (which is administered annually to over 45,000 students grades 8-2 in both public and private schools) marijuana is the number 1 drug used by students in 8-12th grades.
The 2012 survey showed that about 35% of high school seniors said they had smoked marijuana (pot, weed) in the past year, with daily use among seniors of about 7%. Of some concern is the declining numbers of teens who view marijuana use as risky. Only 20% of seniors thought that occasional uses was harmful and while more younger teens viewed marijuana smoking as risky, those numbers are also declining.
While I have always talked to my adolescent patients about smoking I am now making sure that I am asking not only about cigarette use (which is almost gone in my practice) but specifically marijuana use as well, and anecdotally I can say that the numbers of older teens using weed is on the rise for sure.
One of the concerns is that teens perception of marijuana use and harmful effects may be squelched due to the ongoing debate and legalization of medical marijuana in some states. For many teens, legal drugs such as prescription painkillers and ADHD meds, even when used recreationally and inappropriately, are not as harmful. Their perceptions are NOT accurate, and teen painkiller abuse is one the rise as well.
Ongoing studies about daily marijuana use in teenage years has shown that marijuana contributed to lower IQ scores and impaired mental abilities. There is growing concern that regular or daily use of marijuana may affect a teens ability to achieve and/or excel in school or jobs.
Obviously, more data is needed, but among my teen patients with drug abuse issues, they will all admit to the fact that they started out using marijuana. I dont have any patients that I can recall who started using meth or cocaine prior to having used marijuana (most fairly regularly). I still have concerns that for some people marijuanas seems to be a gateway drug.
As the debate about legalizing marijuana continues it is becoming more important to discuss marijuana use with your teen and stay tuned for more studies on its effects (beneficial/detrimental). Like so many issues, it doesnt seem to be black and white.