- The Washington Times - Monday, December 14, 2009

Cigarette smoking is out but pot use is in among the nation’s teenagers, who also report a higher use of prescription painkillers and a waning perception of the risk of illicit drugs, a new federal study on students has found.

As more states move to approve medicinal marijuana and pot legalization and decriminalization become more mainstream in the national discussion, teens seem more accepting of marijuana use, according to a study released Monday by the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

The national survey, “Monitoring the Future,” was completed by the University of Michigan and queried 47,097 students in the eighth, 10th and 12th grades.

It found that a fifth of seniors — 20.6 percent — reported using marijuana in the previous month, up from 18.3 percent in 2006. High school sophomores’ pot smoking rose from 13.8 percent in 2008 to 15.9 percent this year, statistics that researchers said should capture the nation’s attention.

“So far, we have not seen any dramatic rise in marijuana use, but the upward trending of the past two or three years stands in stark contrast to the steady decline that preceded it for nearly a decade,” said Lloyd Johnston, who serves as principal investigator on the Michigan study, which has tracked teen drug use since 1975.

“Not only is use rising, but a key belief about the degree of risk associated with marijuana use has been in decline among young people even longer, and the degree to which teens disapprove of use of the drug has recently begun to decline,” Mr. Johnston said. “Changes in these beliefs and attitudes are often very influential in driving changes in use.”

Among the study’s bright spots: Methamphetamine use and binge drinking have declined along with cigarette smoking.

The number of eighth graders who reported smoking within the past month dropped from 19.4 percent in 1997 to 6.5 percent this year. Twelfth-grader smoking also dipped from 36.5 percent in 1997 to 20.1 percent in 2009, marking the “lowest point in the history of the survey on all measures” among all grades surveyed, researchers said.

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