Seems that marijuana and “vaping” have now passed cigarettes in terms of popularity among high school seniors. That’s either a triumph for smoking prevention, or evidence that kids have latched on to a new set of substances. Or it could be both, I suppose.

Here’s a NY Times piece on the 2017 “Monitoring the Future” national survey of teens.

There’s encouraging news in its findings, although any research that relies solely on survey self-report is subject to questions. Not because of flawed conclusions but because people tend to minimize or underreport drug and alcohol use, for a host of reasons.

I had some followup questions of my own. For instance, if (as the article notes) “22.9 percent of high school seniors said they had used marijuana within the previous 30 days and 16.6 percent had used a vaping device,” how does that translate in terms of future users?

For instance, some 3.6 million US youths are expected to graduate this year from high school. Using those percentages, it seems to me that:

  • about 828,000 of them would have used marijuana in the past 30 days, and
  • some 590,000 would report vaping during the same period

Those are substantial numbers. It suggests to me a large pool of potential candidates to increase their cannabis use in the 18-25 age period. That’s what seems to happen.

I bet those who hope to sell cannabis and vape pens to 18-25 year olds are paying attention.

Some other questions:

  • How many in that past-30 day group used multiple times– say, weekly, or even daily?
  • I wish I knew what’s in those vape pens. I assume high school is no less boring than it ever was, and it would be a real temptation for some kids to just stay buzzed throughout the school day, while earning praise for avoiding tobacco.
  • Also, what’s the THC content of the marijuana in use? One Colorado report found the average content is now 19%, reaching highs of 30%. Personally, I haven’t seen much research on what that does to people. It’s way stronger than it used to be, I know that.

Current thinking, always subject to revision, is that one in 9 cannabis users will develop a “cannabis use disorder” at some point. So does that mean this graduating class will yield 92,000 people with cannabis problems? It’s a formidable number, especially given the prospect of dramatic cuts in funding for domestic programs such as, ahem, addiction treatment.

And shouldn’t we be doing some active prevention? Figuring a big chunk of those folks will wind up as adult daily users in future?

More information on the 2017 “Monitoring the Future” survey and results available here on the NIDA website. Get it while it lasts…