Fewer students than last year think that pot is harmful. Come to a surprise? More students in the 12th grade said they smoked pot every day, in comparison to students who smoke cigarettes daily, a new federal report found. It’s the first time since the survey began in 1975 that daily marijuana use surpassed cigarettes.
A survey called “Monitoring the Future” was released on Wednesday and shows that 6% of 12th graders smoked marijuana every day—which is about the same rate as last year—while 5.5% of seniors reported smoking cigarettes daily. (That’s a decline from 2014, when 6.7% of high school seniors smoked cigarettes every day.)
Their overall viewpoints and perceptions of pot also changed; less students think it’s dangerous and risky. Almost 32% of seniors said they thought using marijuana regularly could be potentially harmful, compared to 36% who felt that way last year. “The sense that marijuana has medicinal purposes and that doctors are prescribing it creates a sense that this drug cannot be so harmful,” says Dr. Nora D. Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse at the National Institutes of Health (the group that funded the research).
Volkow says she is astounded that marijuana rates didn’t rise from 2014, after the past year’s views, attitude and policy changes encompassing the legalization of marijuana. “All of those factors have led many to predict that there would be an increase in the pattern of use of marijuana among teenagers, and we are not seeing it,” she says. Still, it was one of the only substances in the report that did not decline in usage.
In addition to high school seniors, the survey also looked at opinions and substance use among American students in grades 8 and 10. In each of the grades, it showed a declined usage for cigarettes, alcohol, prescription opioid pain relievers, synthetic marijuana and heroin (which hit a record low at 0.3% for 8th graders and 0.5% for 10th and 12th graders.) “These two findings were very surprising,” says Volkow. Experts were profoundly worried that since prescription opioids and heroin use have gotten more popular and acceptable nationally, they might see similar trends in teens and young adults.
Over the last five years, daily cigarette smoking amid 10th graders has dropped 55%. But the newer nicotine crazes like e-cigarettes are just as popular as they were the year before. Yet students aren’t always aware of what’s in them, the findings propose. The majority of teens who expressed using e-cigarettes said they were only inhaling flavors instead of nicotine, and many said they didn’t know what they were inhaling at all. Only 20% said that the last time they used a e-cigarette, they were inhaling nicotine.
Researchers continue to argue the overall effects of e-cigarettes on the body, and Volkow says there’s skepticism and apprehension over whether inhaling flavoring on its own is safe. “There’s been evidence that some of these e-cigarette devices release chemicals that are toxic to the body,” she says. “Since there is no control over manufacturing products, the quality of these products vary. I think this is an area that requires investigation to actually assess the potential harmful effects.”