The 1995 Marijuana Rescheduling Petition

Monitoring the Future - Teenage Marijuana Use Levels and Trends


This project is also known as the National High School Senior Survey, and is conducted for NIDA annually by the Social Research Institute of the University of Michigan. The purpose of the project is to closely monitor drug use by young people. While the project reports on drug use among school aged youths and college aged young adults, their data on high school drug use receives the most public attention.

In 1964 college marijuana use became a national media sensation, and by the 1970's marijuana use became a persistent feature among high school teen life. The trend toward decriminalizing marijuana was halted in the late 1970's. The existence of criminal penalties for marijuana sale and cultivation over the last forty years was supposed to have eliminated the threat of marijuana to school aged children. Concern over the dangers of exposing school aged children to marijuana led to federal mandatory minimum sentences for marijuana sales enacted in the mid 1950's.

While many of laws concerning possession of small amounts of marijuana were liberalized during the 1970's, severe penalties have always been available for other marijuana related crimes.

According to the Monitoring the Future Project, from 1975 to 1994 nearly all of 12th grade students, 85%, rated marijuana as easy to get. From 1976 to 1987 over 50% of high school students had used marijuana prior to graduation; since 1988 that figure has dropped to a low of 32.6% in 1992. In 1994 the project reported that 38.2% of 12th graders had tried marijuana.

The problem that has everyone concerned is that the age of first use of drugs is dropping. A significant percentage of school children are using inhalants, alcohol, tobacco, and marijuana by the time they finish the 8th grade.

Table 4. Prevalence of Marijuana, Alcohol, and Inhalant Use among 8th, 10th and 12th grade

Marijuana Use:

 

Lifetime

Last year

Last Month

Daily

8th Grade

16.7

13.0

7.8

.7

10th Grade

30.4

25.2

15.8

2.2

12th Grade

38.2

30.7

19.0

3.6

More than a few sips of alcohol:

 

Lifetime

Last Year

Last Month

Daily

8th Grade

55.8

46.8

25.5

1.0

10th Grade

71.1

63.9

39.2

1.7

12th Grade

80.4

73.0

50.1

2.9

5+ Drinks in the last 2 weeks:

8th Grade

14.5

10th Grade

23.6

12th Grade

28.2

Been Drunk:

 

Lifetime

Last Year

Last Month

Daily

8th Grade

25.9

18.2

8.7

.3

10th Grade

47.2

38.0

20.3

.4

12th Grade

62.9

51.7

30.8

1.2

Inhalant Use:

 

Lifetime

Last Year

Last Month

Daily

8th Grade

19.9

11.7

5.6

.2

10th Grade

18.0

9.1

3.6

.1

12th Grade

17.7

7.7

2.7

.1

Source: 1994 Monitoring the Future Results, 12/94

By the 8th grade, nearly 20% of students have tried inhalants, 25% have been drunk, 14.5% have had 5 or more drinks of alcohol within the last two weeks, and over 55% have had more than a few sips of alcohol in their very young lives. The fact that 16.6% of 8th graders have also smoked marijuana in their young lives should not come as much of a shock or surprise. Unacceptable, yes, surprising, no.

There is hardly much support for the argument that adult marijuana use contributes to teenage drug abuse. The predominant drug abuse problem among teenagers is the use of alcohol. While school age children are trying illegal drugs at increasingly earlier ages, their use of legal drugs are occurring at earlier ages and at even higher incidence.

It is true that teenage alcohol use has come under greater scrutiny over the last ten years, and prevention programs are increasingly treating the legal and illegal drugs with similar weight.

The use of alcohol, tobacco, and marijuana has become a routine part of high school life over the last twenty years. The high prevalence of alcohol and tobacco use among school aged youth could contribute considerably more to teenage marijuana use than the influence of adult marijuana use.

(The relationship of marijuana use to other drug use will be discussed further in section 6 below regarding the public health risk of marijuana use.)

The Monitoring the Future Project stopped providing data on tobacco use during the 1990's. Table 5 provides data from the Monitoring the Future Project during the years 1975 to 1990, when data on tobacco use was included in the report.

Table 5. Prevalence of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Marijuana Use Among High School Seniors, 1975 - 1990.

    Ever Used       Last 30 Days       Daily Use  

Year

Al

Cig

Mj

 

Al

Cig

Mj

 

Al

Cig

Mj

1990

89.5

64.4

40.7

 

57.1

29.4

14.0

 

3.7

19.1

2.2

1989

90.7

65.7

43.7

 

60.0

28.6

16.7

 

4.2

18.9

2.9

1988

92.0

66.4

47.2

 

63.9

28.7

18.0

 

4.2

18.1

2.7

1987

92.2

67.2

50.2

 

66.4

29.4

21.0

 

4.8

18.7

3.3

1986

91.3

67.6

50.9

 

65.3

29.6

23.4

 

4.8

18.7

4.0

1985

92.2

68.8

54.2

 

65.9

30.1

25.7

 

5.0

19.5

4.9

1984

92.6

69.7

54.9

 

67.2

29.3

25.2

 

4.8

18.7

5.0

1983

92.6

70.6

57.0

 

69.4

30.3

27.0

 

5.5

21.2

5.5

1982

92.8

70.1

58.7

 

69.7

30.0

28.5

 

5.7

21.1

6.3

1981

92.6

71.0

59.5

 

70.7

29.4

31.6

 

6.0

20.3

7.0

1980

93.2

71.0

60.3

 

72.0

30.5

33.7

 

6.0

21.3

9.1

1979

93.0

74.0

60.4

 

71.8

34.4

36.5

 

6.9

25.4

10.3

1978

93.1

75.3

59.2

 

72.1

36.7

37.1

 

5.7

27.5

10.7

1977

92.5

75.7

56.4

 

71.2

38.4

35.4

 

6.1

28.8

9.1

1976

91.9

75.4

52.8

 

68.3

38.8

32.2

 

5.6

28.8

8.2

1975

90.4

73.6

47.3

 

68.2

36.7

27.1

 

5.7

26.9

6.0

Source: NIDA

The Monitoring the Future Project also collects survey data on the intensity and duration of the highs experience as indirect measures of dose or quantity used, and to help characterize drug-using events. The drugs with the most intense highs tend to result in the longest highs; marijuana is once again an exception. The "Degree of (Marijuana) High Attained" by recent users in the class of 1990 were 5% not at all high, 25% a little high, 40% moderately high, and 30% very high. (8)

"The highs achieved with marijuana, although intense for many users, tend to be relatively short-lived in comparison with many other drugs. Fewer than 6% stay high for seven hours or more. The majority of users usually stay high two hours or less, and the modal time is one to two hours (53% of users); however, one third (33%) report usual highs lasting 3-6 hours."(9)

Interestingly, the duration of the highs obtained in practice by marijuana and alcohol are similar, however, more users sustain a stronger duration of high with marijuana than with alcohol.

"For a given individual we would expect more variability from occasion to occasion in the degree of intoxication achieved with alcohol than with most other drugs."(10)

These observations may explain why some individuals prefer marijuana to alcohol, especially when recognizing that the nausea does not accompany marijuana use.

This data on duration and intensity of high allows the project to make the following observation:

"Not only are fewer high school students now using marijuana [in 1990], but those who are using seem to be using less frequently and to be taking smaller amounts (and doses of the active ingredient) per occasion. This is of particular interest in light of the evidence from other sources that the THC content of marijuana has risen dramatically during the eighties. The evidence here would suggest that users have titrated their intake to achieve a certain perhaps declining level of high, and thus are smoking less marijuana in terms of volume."(11)

 

 
 
 
  
 
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