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Popularity of youth vaping a concern in annual drug use survey :

December 15, 2017

While most substance use by middle and high school students is the lowest it’s ever been, an uptick in marijuana use and an increase in the popularity of vaping are growing concerns.

Those are among the results of the 2017 Monitoring the Future study, which surveyed about 45,000 students in grades eight, 10 and 12 attending public and private secondary schools across the country. The study of drug use and attitudes is designed and conducted at the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research and funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).

In the latest survey, marijuana use edged upward in 2017, which is statistically significant only when the data from all three grades are combined (from 1.3% to 24%). In grades eight, 10 and 12, the respective increases were 0.8% (to 10.1%), 1.6% (to 25.5%) and 1.5% (to 37.1%).

Marijuana use has historically gone up as adolescents see less risk of harm in using it, according to Richard Miech, Ph.D., the study’s principal investigator.

“It’s something we need to watch,” Marsha Lopez, M.D., of NIDA, said in a telebriefing, but another year or two of survey results will help investigators more fully understand the direction marijuana use is going. In addition, she noted, looking at data from combined years in this case “doesn’t reflect the strength of the study.”

Other than marijuana, past-year use of illicit drugs held steady at the lowest levels in more than two decades: 5.8% among eighth-graders, 9.4% among 10th-graders and 13.3% among 12th-graders. These are down from the peak rates in these grades of 13.1% in 1996, 18.4% in 1996 and 21.6% in 2001, respectively.

“The good news from the survey is that, for most of the drugs, we’re seeing some of the lowest numbers recorded for many years,” said NIDA Director Nora D. Volkow, M.D. However, there are “patterns of use in teenagers still unacceptably high. So a lot of work needs to be done.”

That is especially true with vaping. Nearly 28% of youths in 12th grade said they vaped in the year leading up to the survey; 18.8% of seniors reported vaping nicotine, 9.5% said they were vaping marijuana and 20.6% reported vaping “just flavoring.”

In the younger grades, past-year vaping was reported by 23.9% of 10th-graders and 13.3% of eighth-graders.

There is a “pretty substantial number of eighth-graders vaping nicotine,” Dr. Lopez said, and the “majority think they are (just) taking in flavoring.” This is concerning, she said, because it is creating a smoking behavior that could lead to other smoking-type behaviors.

Many researchers worry that e-cigarettes are re-normalizing smoking behavior among teens, introducing many of them to nicotine, which could lead to addiction. A NIDA news release on the drug survey quoted a Pediatricsstudy in which young people who used e-cigarettes were much more likely to start using conventional cigarettes later.

In other results, the survey found that among 12th-graders — as has been the case historically — use of alcohol was most prevalent, followed by marijuana. Although alcohol use has declined over the past two decades in all three grades, the declines have slowed.

Use of inhalants also plateaued instead of continuing to decrease in the past several years, and they are misused mainly by younger students. In the past year, 4.7% of eighth-graders reported getting high after using an inhalant; this is higher than in 2016 when 3.8% used inhalants, but much lower than in 1995 when as many as 12.8% reported using these substances.

Other survey highlights include the following:

  • Heroin and opioid use remained low among adolescents. Heroin use by teens has always been low and did not change significantly in 2017, with use levels at 0.4% or lower in all three grades. Misuse of prescription opioids, reported only for 12th-graders, continued a decade-long decline in 2017, though it was not statistically significant.
  • Cigarette smoking continued to decline in 2017, with all measures at historic lows for the three grades combined. Use of hookah pipes to smoke tobacco has fallen by more than half since 2014, but use of flavored little cigars and regular little cigars were down only modestly.
  • Misuse of prescription stimulants was described as mostly stable compared to last year; 5.5% of 12th-graders reported past-year misuse of Adderall, a big drop from five years ago when it peaked at 7.6%. In addition, past-year misuse of Ritalin in that grade was 1.3%, a record decrease from 2001 when it was first measured at 5.1%.

The Monitoring the Future study, conducted since 1975, is the only large-scale federal government survey that releases findings the same year data are collected. For more information, visit

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