In the 1970s, the baby boom generation was coming of age, and its drug of choice was marijuana. By 1979, more than 60 percent of 12th-graders had tried marijuana at least once in their lives. From this peak, the percentage of 12th-graders who had ever used marijuana decreased for more than a decade, dropping to a low of 33 percent in 1992. However, in 1993, first-time marijuana use by 12th-graders was on the upswing, reaching 50 percent by 1997. Although the percentage of 12th-graders who have experience with marijuana has remained roughly level since then, there is still reason to be concerned.
In 2002, an estimated 2.6 million Americans used marijuana for the first time. Roughly two-thirds of them were under age 18.2 Furthermore, the marijuana that is available today can be 5 times more potent than the marijuana of the 1970s. The use of marijuana can produce adverse physical, mental, emotional, and behavioral changes, and—contrary to popular belief—it can be addictive. Marijuana smoke, like cigarette smoke, can harm the lungs. The use of marijuana can impair short-term memory, verbal skills, and judgment and distort perception. It also may weaken
the immune system and possibly increase a user’s likelihood of developing cancer. Finally, the increasing use of marijuana by very young teens may have a profoundly negative effect upon their development.
What is the Scope of Marijuana Use in the U.S.?
Marijuana is the Nation’s most commonly used illicit drug. More than 94 million Americans (40 percent) age 12 and older have tried marijuana at least once, according to the 2003 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH). Marijuana use is widespread among adolescents and young adults. The percentage of middle school students who reported using marijuana increased throughout the early 1990s.
In the past few years, according to the 2004 Monitoring the Future Survey, an annual survey of drug use among the Nation’s middle and high school students, illicit drug use by 8th-, 10th-, and 12thgraders has leveled off. Still, in 2004, 16 percent of 8th-graders reported that they had tried marijuana, and 6 percent were current users (defined as having used the drug in the 30 days preceding the survey). Among 10th-graders, 35 percent had tried marijuana sometime in their lives, and 16 percent were current users. As would be expected, rates of use among 12th-graders were higher still. Forty-six percent had tried marijuana at some time, and 20 percent were current users.
The Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN), a system for monitoring the health impact of drugs, estimated that, in 2002, marijuana was a contributing factor in over 119,000 emergency department (ED) visits in the United States, with about 15 percent of the patients between the ages of 12 and 17, and almost two-thirds male. In 2002, the National Institute of Justice’s Arrestee Drug Abuse Monitoring (ADAM) Program, which collects data on the number of adult arrestees testing positive for various drugs, found that, on average, 41 percent of adult male arrestees and 27 percent of adult female arrestees tested positive for marijuana. On average, 57 percent of juvenile male and 32 percent of juvenile female arrestees tested positive for marijuana.
NIDA’s Community Epidemiology Work Group (CEWG), a network of researchers that tracks trends in the nature and patterns of drug use in major U.S. cities, consistently reports that marijuana frequently is combined with other drugs, such as crack cocaine, PCP, formaldehyde, and codeine cough syrup, sometimes without the user being aware of it. Thus, the risks associated with marijuana use may be compounded by the risks of added drugs, as well.
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This information is from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism website.