Marijuana and the thinking teenager

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Paul Danish/Sue France

The anti-marijuana-legalization movement has made the claim that legalization will lead to an eruption in teenage marijuana use a central part of its narrative.

But it turns out that the kids didn’t get the memo.

The University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research is out with its latest national survey of teenage drug use, including marijuana use, and what it found was that since 2012, the year that Colorado and Washington state legalized pot, teenage drug use is down, not up.

What’s more, it found that the current cohort of American teenagers smokes less tobacco, drinks less alcohol, and does fewer drugs generally than any since the survey began in 1975.

The survey, which is now in its 42nd year, queries about 45,000 eighth, 10th and 12th grade students in some 380 public and private secondary schools around the country about personal drug use.

This year, it found that since 2012 the percentage of eighth and 10th grade students who reported ever using marijuana had dropped from 15.2 percent to 12.8 percent in 2016 for eighth graders and from 33.8 percent 29.7 percent for 10th graders. For 12th graders the numbers were 45.2 percent in 2012 and 44.5 percent in 2016.

The percentage of teens that had used marijuana in the past 30 days was also down for each class from 2012 to 2016: from 6.5 percent to 5.4 percent for eighth graders, 17.0 percent to 14 percent for 10th graders, and 22.9 percent to 22.5 percent for 12th graders. (The numbers for 12th graders were essentially flat; the 2016 number was up from 21.3 percent in 2015, but still below the 2012 percentage.)

During the same period tobacco use dropped more than 50 percent among eighth and 10th graders and nearly 50 percent among 12th graders. And compared to 20 years ago, tobacco use among high school students has collapsed. For instance, in 1996, 22.2 percent of high school seniors reported smoking cigarettes daily. For 2016, the figure is 4.8 percent.

There was a similar downward trend in alcohol use as well. Between 2012 and 2016, the number of teens who had had a drink during the previous 30 days dropped by a third to a half depending on the class.

All of which left the folks conducting the study and other supposed substance abuse experts at a loss to explain the trends.

“The question is: Why is all this happening?” said Lloyd Johnson, who has directed the University of Michigan survey since its inception. “Even though we have some hypotheses, I don’t know that we necessarily have the right ones.”

He said he thinks the decline in smoking may have played a part in the broader decline, because tobacco is the gateway drug to alcohol and other drug use for teenagers.

Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, suggested that social media and video games may have played a role — by keeping kids busy at home and away from peer pressure to drink and use drugs.

“There may be a protective effect brought about by the fact that they don’t have so many occasions to get together where the use of drugs would be facilitated,” she told USA Today, but also said that she didn’t have hard data to support the idea.

This is more than a little ironic, since the country’s nanny-statist busy bodies also attack video games and social media as addictive and isolating.

Actually, I think Ms. Volkow may have a point about the role of social media in discouraging teenage drug use, but not in the way she thinks.

It may be that social media has given teenagers unprecedented access to information about the actual effects and risks, both good and bad, of various recreational drugs — and that this has allowed them to distinguish between use and abuse, and to make rational, informed decisions about drug use.

Interesting, isn’t it that the head of the National Institute of Drug Abuse finds the internet valuable in fighting drug use not because it informs and allows people to reason together, but because it isolates. It tells you a lot about why the war on drugs has been a colossal failure. 

  • Laura Woodside

    Where are these questions conducted at for the kids? In schools? My son took one last year and it was through a survey being done through a teacher. Most all kids were afraid to be honest in spite of it being done “anonymously” .

  • malcolmkyle

    “All laws which can be violated without doing any one any injury are laughed at. Nay, so far are they from doing anything to control the desires and passions of men that, on the contrary, they direct and incite men’s thoughts the more toward those very objects, for we always strive toward what is forbidden and desire the things we are not allowed to have. And men of leisure are never deficient in the ingenuity needed to enable them to outwit laws framed to regulate things which cannot be entirely forbidden… He who tries to determine everything by law will foment crime rather than lessen it.”
    ― Baruch Spinoza 1632 – 1677

    Nobody can be expected to obey bad laws that infringe on logic as well as the fundamental right to decide on what medicine or poison an individual adult may ingest. The violence and the deaths ultimately arising from such bad public policy should always rest squarely on the shoulders of those who are responsible for implementing or supporting such foolishness.

  • Miles Monroe

    “Thinking” and “Teenager” are mutually exclusive …

    • jim heffner

      Nah, they think. It’s impulse control and the decision making processes that haven’t developed. But in common usage I’d have to call “Thinking Teenager” an oxymoron. Now on the other hand look at adult ‘thinking’. Back in November roughly half of the voting adults didn’t. Still on subject: would the increase in juvenile emancipation by the courts indicate that some teens are better at thinking and decision making than some adults?
      I hate online surveys that must be answered before getting access to a page so much that I always do my best to skew the results with contrary answers. I wonder how many others do the same with those and offline surveys. Has anyone ever lined up Vegas odds against survey results where applicable and seen which were more accurate?
      Just for the record, preparing to leave the nest entails a certain amount of rebellion to authority and it’s rules and I’d prefer to have those acts of rebellion be Cannabis use rather than alcohol use.

  • ernie_oertle

    Perhaps if progs would make dope growing & smoking mandatory across the whole state – instead of just BoulderCounty – brain-activity would equally-cease across the state’s whole population & progs would acquire better results on BallotDay.