Trends In Marijuana

When analyzing trends in adolescent use of marijuana, researchers usually discuss the national average trends. They do point out, however, that on narrower, individual levels, there are many subgroup differences based on gender, race/ethnicity, region of the country, college plans, socioeconomic level, and whether the teen lives in an urban or rural area. For this discussion, we rely on the national average trends; specific differences of these subgroups are reported elsewhere. It is also important to know when analyzing statistics that these surveys rely on self-reporting, a style that can contribute to some underreporting when teens are being asked to report illegal drug use.

The data from these three major surveys (NHSDA, MTF, and DAWN) provide a great deal of insight into recent trends in adolescent use of marijuana. Among 12- to 17-year-olds, the NHSDA reports:

• In 1999, the national average age of first-time marijuana use was 16.2 years old. Comparatively, the national average age of first-time alcohol use was 15.7 years old. (Other sources cite the average age of first marijuana use as 14, and first alcohol use at about age 12.)

• From 1990 to 1996, the number of first-time marijuana users increased significantly (from 1.4 million users in 1990 to 2.6 million in 1996). However, since 1996, the annual number of new users has fallen to about 2.0 million in 1999. These numbers show a steady decline in the number of teenagers who are trying marijuana for the first time.

• In 2000, 9.7 percent of adolescents reported past-month use of illicit drugs (meaning that an illicit drug was used at least once within 30 days of responding to the survey). Slightly over 7 percent of adolescents specifically reported marijuana use, with young men having a slightly higher rate of use than young women. Thus, past-month marijuana use constituted an overwhelming majority (73 percent) of adolescent illicit drug use.

As this graph from the NHSDA survey indicates, teenagers are more likely to report past year marijuana use as they grow older, with over 24% of 15- to 16-year-olds reporting marijuana use in 2000. Peer influence and accessibility are determining factors in teen marijuana use.

Findings from the MTF survey on marijuana use among 10th and 12th graders add to this picture:

• After a period of significant increase in annual, monthly, and daily use of marijuana in the early 1990s, marijuana use peaked in 1997. Since 1997, its use among adolescents has held steady, with very few increases or declines from those peak rates. (Note: These figures roughly correspond to the NHSDA data, which found that the number of new users of marijuana peaked in 1996.)

• Of high school seniors in 2001, almost half reported having used marijuana or hashish at least once.

Over the past decade (between 1992 and 2001):

• Past-month use of marijuana increased from 12 to

22 percent among 12th graders and from 8 to 20 percent among 10th graders.

• Daily use of marijuana increased from 2 to 6 percent among 12th graders and from 1 to 4.5 percent among 10th graders.

• Comparatively, the daily use of cigarettes increased from 17 to 19 percent among 12th graders and has remained constant at about 12 percent among 10th graders.

DAWN data follow similar trends:

• In 2000, patients aged 18 to 25 and 26 to 34 had the highest rates of ED drug-related episodes, followed by patients aged 12 to 17. Patients 35 years and over accounted for the lowest rate of episodes.

• From 1999 to 2000, total drug-related ED episodes increased 20 percent for adolescents. Out of 63,448 mentions of drugs, marijuana was mentioned 15,683 times.

• From 1994 to 2000, the rate of marijuana mentions among 12- to 17-year-olds was virtually unchanged. (Statistically, this rate showed very little change.)

• In 2000, 24 percent of all ED episodes involving marijuana were "marijuana-only" mentions. Comparatively, nearly half of all episodes involved "heroin-only" mentions. (This is overall admissions, not specifically 12- to 17-year-olds.)

• In 2000, the majority (56 percent) of all drug-related ED episodes involved more than one drug.

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