1 in 9 high school seniors using synthetic marijuana
December 14th, 2011
10:02 AM ET

1 in 9 high school seniors using synthetic marijuana

Teenage drinking and cigarette smoking is at a historic low, but marijuana use and prescription drug abuse continue at high rates, according to a new report looking at trends among teens.

And there's a new substance raising concerns.

For the first time the study looked at the use of synthetic marijuana, also known as Spice or K2, by 12th graders. More than 11% admitted using it over the last year, information Gil Kerlikoeske, Director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), calls shocking.

"One in nine 12th graders in America have used synthetic marijuana in the last year. Spice and K2 now rank as the second most frequently used illegal drug among high school seniors, second only to marijuana," Kerlikowske said. "Make no mistake. These drugs are dangerous and can cause serious harm. Poison control center data across America have shown as substantial rise in the number of calls from victims suffering serious consequences from these synthetic drugs."

ONDCP says poison control centers have fielded nearly 6,000 calls so far this year - already double last year's number.

According to Kerlikowske, up until a few months ago synthetic marijuana was being sold legally as an alternative to marijuana in convenience stores across the country. That's when the Drug Enforcement Administration banned the sale of the chemicals used to make it.

Now, he's calling on parents to talk to their kids about the serious consequences of marijuana, K2 and Spice use.

"We must be clear with our young people," says Kerlikowske. "Smoked marijuana is not an FDA approved medicine and the National Institute of Health has long documented the harms of marijuana use. Science shows it is addictive. Research shows it impairs driving. Studies show it can degrade academic performance."

Kerlikowske says ONDCP is working on a federal response to Spice/K2 that includes working with public health agencies to share data and coordinate a response. They are also working with Congress to get new laws passed that will ban these drugs.

The Monitoring the Future (MTF) survey has been tracking students from secondary school to young adults for nearly four decades, measuring their drug, alcohol and cigarette use. Each year the study chronicles the behaviors and attitudes of nearly 50,000 8th, 10th and 12th graders.

Researchers say the drop in alcohol and cigarette use has occurred gradually for a number of years.

"That cigarette use has continued to decline to historically low rates is welcome news given our concerns that decline may have slowed or stalled in recent years," said NIDA Director Dr. Nora Volkow, Director, National Institute on Drug Abuse who funded the study. "Tobacco and alcohol cause more disability and death in this country than any other drug , so we are heartened that efforts made by the public health community to educate teens and prevent drug abuse seem to be having an impact."

Fourteen years ago about 75% of 12th-graders admitted drinking alcohol. In 2011, 63.5% say they did. This year almost 27% of eighth-graders surveyed used alcohol compared to approximately 47% in 1994. Over the last 5 years, binge drinking - defined as having five or more drinks in a row over a two-week period - fell among all three grades.

Teen smoking fell in all three grades as well. A little more than 10% of 12th graders say they smoke daily - down significantly from 24.6% in 1997; while just 2.4% of 8th graders reported smoking every day.

"This is very good news for the health and longevity of these young people," states Lloyd Johnston, research scientist at the University of Michigan and the principal investigator of the study. "Even a reduction of only one percentage point can translate into thousands of premature deaths being prevented."

Teen smoking peaked in 1996-1997. Since then, the levels have dropped significantly - 71% for 8th graders, 61% in 10th graders and 49% in seniors. In fact, the number of students who have tried smoking at all fell dramatically.

Marijuana use, on the other hand, continues to rise at a steady pace, researchers found. More than 36% of seniors reported using the drug over the past year; almost 7% say they use it daily. Researchers say the rise in use is tied to the perception that the drug is not harmful.

The study also tracked prescription drug trends. Use of the painkiller Vicodin dropped among sophomores, and remained unchanged - but at levels considered high - among seniors.

Researchers say the fact that OxyContin use has remained steady for all three grades over the last five years is cause for concern. Another cause for alarm - amphetamine use is up among high school seniors. They saw no change in the use of Adderall and Ritalin, both ADHD medications, over the last year. But they did see a considerable drop in the number of 8th graders abusing over-the-counter cough medication.

The study was funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, part of the National Institutes of Health. Volkow says the institute is launching an updated prescription drug section on their teen website in an effort to educate teenagers about the dangers of prescription drug abuse.

"Teens can go to our PEERx pages to find interactive videos and other tools that help them make healthy decisions and understand the risks of abusing prescription drugs."

soundoff (603 Responses)
  1. Frank

    Why did they write so much of this article about smoking cigarettes? Ohhhh.... it's for guys like "mort", who wrote "the really horrible part of this is that so many of these kids will also smoke cigarettes. And that is disgusting." Oh, yes – a Nicotine Nazi!

    December 15, 2011 at 08:54 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Annie

      Smoking cigarettes *is* disgusting.

      December 15, 2011 at 11:55 | Report abuse |
  2. Magan

    So what, the other 8 in 9 are smoking real pot, what else is knew.

    December 15, 2011 at 09:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Barry G.

    I'm starting to understand why we're falling so far behind the rest of the world academically.

    December 15, 2011 at 09:36 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Jataka Buddha

      Maybe if American culture would praise learning and compassion over gangs and violence they're children wouldn't be so stupid.

      December 15, 2011 at 11:23 | Report abuse |
    • teepee

      right you are Jataka

      December 15, 2011 at 16:28 | Report abuse |
    • rick

      you misspelled "their"

      December 18, 2011 at 08:17 | Report abuse |
    • Gramma Natsi

      She did not misspell "they're". She used it incorrectly in a sentence.
      Write 1000 times: Spelling errors are different from grammar errors.

      December 19, 2011 at 07:20 | Report abuse |
    • Gramma Police

      Spelling errors are different from grammar errors, should be in quotations because you are telling him to say "Spelling errors are different from grammar errors."

      December 31, 2011 at 17:10 | Report abuse |
  4. Barry G.

    "Fifteen-year-olds in the U.S. ranked 25th among peers from 34 countries on a math test and scored in the middle in science and reading, while China’s Shanghai topped the charts, raising concern that the U.S. isn’t prepared to succeed in the global economy."

    See: article by John Hechinger

    December 15, 2011 at 09:39 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Me

      meanwhile there are companies in China that you pay a fee to and they will totally forge your grades, recommendation letters, accolades, etc so that you can get accepted to a American University.

      December 16, 2011 at 13:24 | Report abuse |
    • keef

      20 years ago the average hs gpa was 2.50, now it's 3.40. Are we smarter or does every school have to perform at a certain level to get state funding and to prove they aren't sloshes? Or do we just do the easy thing, and say everyone is smarter!!!

      December 16, 2011 at 14:43 | Report abuse |
  5. Barry G.

    But in all fairness to today's youth in the US, they sure do excel in certain areas: playing video games, using cell phones and i-phones constantly (like their parents), watching hours-and-hours of TV, playing on Facebook and other computer sites, eating junk food, and inactivity.

    In these areas China and other countries can’t even come close to us!

    So you have to give today's youth in the US some credit.

    December 15, 2011 at 09:53 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Annie

      The key phrase here is "like their parents". I am school teacher, and I have learned that you can't blame a 10 or 11 year old for not doing their homework. Especially when mom and dad sit on computers or their iphones all night long.

      December 15, 2011 at 11:58 | Report abuse |
    • Dontask

      10 and 11 year olds should be playing after going to school for 6 hours a day not doing homework another 2 hours. Homework is so wrong.

      December 15, 2011 at 16:05 | Report abuse |
    • teepee

      you aint lying Barry...

      December 15, 2011 at 16:30 | Report abuse |
    • keef

      please don't mistake kids smoking weed or alternates to kids who smoke weed/snort coke/get drunk/do bad in school. I know plenty of people who never did drugs or drank and they weren't brilliant. And I know plenty of people who do a lot of things and they are MIT grads. Smoking weed does not equal being dumb and not smoking does not equal being smart. The events are not mutually exclusive.

      December 16, 2011 at 14:40 | Report abuse |
  6. KalvinKobra

    Is this article saying that making things illegal doesn't stop people from using it? That's news to me.....

    December 15, 2011 at 12:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Milton Platt

    Addicting, impairs driving, degrades academic performance??? Sounds like alchohol.......oh, wait....that's a legal drug.........

    December 15, 2011 at 12:54 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Karen


      December 15, 2011 at 17:24 | Report abuse |
    • keef

      The one big difference is that alcohol is physically addictive where weed is mentally addictive. Soo . . . prohibition for all and let's get high.

      December 16, 2011 at 14:42 | Report abuse |
  8. Mike

    The real problem lies in the way people talk about marijuana use and associate it with much worse drugs. It is considered a gateway drug, but that is simply because kids try it and realize that, in actuality, its not nearly as bad as what they've heard. This leads them to wonder what other drugs arent nearly as harmful as parents and the government actually say (unfortunately most of those other drugs are much more harmful). It's time we stop trying to make everyone fear everything by blowing it all our of proportion and instead teach REAL facts.

    December 15, 2011 at 16:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. teepee

    Drug use never seems to end...one generation to the next.

    December 15, 2011 at 16:27 | Report abuse | Reply
    • rick

      man wants to alter his perception. nothing new. nothing will stop it

      December 18, 2011 at 08:19 | Report abuse |
  10. gstlab3

    Never mind all the facts and the long historical use dating back thousands of years.,
    including many modern medicines.,well up untill 1937 when our ever so smart federal government decided their friends in the petro chemical manufacturing industry knew better than mother nature how to make these same things made from Hemp and Marijuana!!!!
    Now scientific evidence that marijuana is actually good for some things like making people hungry who otherwise would just puke all day from chemo or for those who cannot take opiate pain killers or for those who do not want to use man made chemicals.,
    What about those people???
    Do they have rights to use natural medicines?


    December 15, 2011 at 17:00 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. This is you

    First, "science" has not found marijuana to be addictive. Science HAS found tobacco and alcohol to be highly addictive, yet they are and will always be legal. NIH has found marijuana to be less harmful than tobacco and alcohol. The truth is that marijuana is LESS harmful than tobacco and alcohol. I do not use marijuana, so I don't really care about it... but it always disturbs me to see the press distort the facts regarding its use and comparison to the 2 legal and lethal drugs in America... tobacco and alcohol.

    December 15, 2011 at 17:03 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Allie

      Yes, I find it disturbing that the Director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy tells lies.

      The truth is that synthetic cannibinoids anecdotally seem to have addictive properties that marijuana doesn't, but NO ONE HAS DONE ANY STUDIES ON THEM. So any statement beginning "science has proven," in connection to these drugs, is a lie.

      December 16, 2011 at 13:19 | Report abuse |
    • rick

      allie: do you really expect truth from him?

      December 18, 2011 at 08:21 | Report abuse |
  12. J Zamora

    Such a shame Organic Cannabis Sativa is so healthy and beneficial.

    December 15, 2011 at 19:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Larry

    OF course synthetic marijuana is worse than the real thing. We didn't need a skewed study from the govmint to tell us that. How much did this cost taxpayers? Legalize it and kids won't be able to get a hold of it.

    December 16, 2011 at 04:09 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Me

    10,000 studies won't convince me why cigarettes are legal and pot is not.

    Unless you've ever smoked alot of it (in the past), you don't have a valid opinion. I was never addicted to pot, I never had an accident after I smoked pot and I never did anything stupid after smoking pot.

    Purtian misinformation continues.

    December 16, 2011 at 13:29 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Jose

      Hellllo ! ?Pramod Biligiri you know somethhing, has ydobany told you this in the past ? you suck BIG TIME!!!i mean where did you grow up man!? you don\'t deserve to be writing such a column in the 1st place.you talk about legalization this is India,here the corruption levels are at a high(no pun intended) you expect them to do something that the west follows,it will be termed as against their rich culture tradition!!! most of our lawmakers politicians don\'t have aclue about Indian history, forget about world history..so,let\'s not even go down that lane ..All the Indians Politicians should be made to stand in a line be executed one by one.they don\'t deserve to be taking care of thingsDid you know or can you guess waht are the credentials our great President !?? She was a Domestic help or the main Kitchen chef at the Rashtrapathi Bhavan,Delhi during the then Prime Minister Ms.Indira Gandhi .get the link !!?? she was a special one!now,after more than 25 years or so she is still as qualified as a housewife what more can you Xpect when a woman as illerate as Rabri Devi wins the elections not once but for 2nd time as well .i mean 2 times in a row!! wow! ..it only happens in India !P.s. please don\'t write such things as you\'ve never seen a DJ in your life,makes you appear even more sad than you already look your profile pic.(change that please) go out get some fresh air please A Concerned but Hopeless Citizen

      March 5, 2012 at 21:05 | Report abuse |
  15. Sanslee33

    "Studies show it can degrade academic performance." Tell that to the 4.0's my boyfriend and I made this semester.

    December 16, 2011 at 14:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. you

    so if marijuana impairs your driving then why are there rarely any reports of people crashing while high?

    December 18, 2011 at 01:01 | Report abuse | Reply
    • rick

      not much to report at 3 m.p.h.

      December 18, 2011 at 08:22 | Report abuse |
    • mandy

      ikr how r u

      December 21, 2011 at 13:17 | Report abuse |
  17. Pet Sounds

    I think it would be interesting to see how much these K2 companies racked in over the years and how much tax revenue was generated in sales. If it's a large sum we could get a glimpse of how much tax revenue could be generated with the legalization of real cannabis. It's not going anywhere so we might as well put money from the sale of legalized cannabis in our governments pocket instead of the hands of the cartels and street gangs. It's a no-brainer... LEGALIZE, TAX, REGULATE!

    December 18, 2011 at 06:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. mandy

    y do teens like to smoke pot????

    December 21, 2011 at 13:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. Dude

    You call marijuana drug? That's like calling an apple a drug because they both come from the same place...the ground.

    January 15, 2012 at 12:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. Leap

    As a high school teacher, I know that, while kids are not smoking, they are chewing tobacco. I'm not which is worse. But, I suppose the chew is easy to hide and they can utilize it in school.
    As always, I have students that advocate for the legalization of marijuana, but they are mostly just being rebellious. I anticipate that the most common of drugs used are those for ADHD, since everyone seems to have it. It makes me very annoyed that so many people use ADHD as an excuse for being lazy and not doing work.

    February 1, 2012 at 20:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. Sonomi

    Until the Whitehouse, DEA, and others descaslify Marijuana as a Schedule One narcotic listed on par with Heroin, Methamphetamine, Cocaine and LSD, any respect for their opinions on Marijuana and its effects will never be considered valid and accurate.Scare tactics and Reefer Madness just don't work any more. When young people find out that using Marijuana is not what the government has said it was, it causes the question to be raised that the government doesn't have a clue about Marijuana or any other drugs for that matter.The government is drinking it's own Kool-Aid.We the People aren't.

    March 5, 2012 at 22:23 | Report abuse | Reply
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