In the University 43rd annual Monitoring the Future study, researchers of the University’s Institute for Social Research surveyed about 45,000 secondary school students across the country on their use of marijuana, vapes, tobacco, alcohol, inhalants, heroin and opioids. The researchers released their findings in a summary titled “National Adolescent Drug Trends in 2017,” and a full volume of their work will be released by the end of January.
The investigation, funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, surveyed students in grades 8, 10 and 12, and concluded marijuana use among all students increased significantly, from 22.7 percent in 2016 to 24 percent in 2017. Principal Investigator Richard Miech believes the substantial rise in marijuana use is related to the decrease in percieved risk.
“Historically marijuana use has gone up as adolescents see less risk of harm in using it,” Miech said in the report. “We’ve found that the risk adolescents see in marijuana use has been steadily going down for years to the point that it is now at the lowest level we’ve seen in four decades.”
One LSA freshman, who requested to remain anonymous for fear of repercussions, described himself as an “avid user of marijuana” and exemplified some of Miech’s perceptions of adolescent attitudes toward marijuana.
“I see marijuana as a very minimally harmful drug compared to the spectrum of other substances available, and I feel that it's a very safe and responsible drug that can be used as such,” he said. “It is dependent upon the user and one's addictive tendencies without a doubt.”
While the student said he enjoys using marijuana, he also said he aims to cut down on his current usage habits.
“I definitely plan on slowing down my nicotine use as well as marijuana use so that I can return to using it more recreationally, and rather than to medicate myself to fall asleep each weeknight,” the student said. “In high school, we'd gather as friends to smoke and then go out and be active, hang out and make plans. Now, it just seems like a ritual I perform before going to bed rather than enjoying my high.”
This year’s study also featured the first national standard estimates of nicotine vaping, marijuana vaping and flavoring-only vaping. Researchers found nicotine vaping was the most popular form of vaping, with 19 percent of 12th graders stating they used this method in 2017.
Engineering sophomore Nathan Houghteling said he started using e-cigarettes in high school, and eventually began smoking cigarettes. After smaller e-cigarette devices such as the Juul and Suorin gained popularity, Houghteling replaced cigarettes with a Suorin.
“Vapes used to be those big boxy, ridiculous looking things, so I’ll carry around one of those (suorins and juuls) just because it’s pretty discreet,” Houghteling said.
In the study, Miech noted the popularity of vaping has surpassed its function as simply a cigarette replacement. Devices like the Juul are sleek and compact, and Houghteling said he also notices less negative health effects after switching from cigarettes.
“You’ll start to feel the toll it (cigarettes) will take on your body and stuff,” Houghteling said. “At least I can convince myself this is better for me even if it’s not. We don’t really know right now.”
Though vaping proves to be popular with young people, the study found that cigarette smoking among adolescents is at a historic low, with just 1.7 percent of 12th graders smoking half a pack of cigarettes per day. The number of students who smoke half a pack of cigarettes per day has declined by 91 percent since peak levels in the 1990s, and lifetime prevalence has declined by 71 percent. Miech still believes cigarettes and vaping hold a similar attraction.
“I think (vaping) holds the same appeal as cigarettes,” Miech said. “It’s cool, you can do smoke tricks. Adolescents want to see what everyone is talking about and adolescents currently believe that they are not dangerous or harmful.”
According to the report, the substantial, long-term decline in adolescent alcohol use leveled off in 2017, suggesting an end to a trend which began in the 1980s. There was no measured decrease in binge drinking, which is defined as having five or more drinks in a row, or extreme binge drinking, which is defined as having ten or more drinks in a row.
"These are dramatic declines for such a culturally ingrained behavior and good news to many parents," the report read. "However, we saw no further declines in 2017."