Teen Marijuana Vaping on the Rise While Other Drug, Alcohol Use Declines

In this Saturday, June 8, 2019, file photo, two women smoke cannabis vape pens at a party in Los Angeles.

In this Saturday, June 8, 2019, file photo, two women smoke cannabis vape pens at a party in Los Angeles. AP Photo/Richard Vogel

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The National Institute on Drug Abuse’s annual teenage drug use survey found marijuana vaping has doubled among high schools seniors, while alcohol, tobacco, and opioid use are all on the decline.

Teenagers are using less alcohol, cigarettes, and opioids in recent years, but their interest in vaping marijuana and nicotine sharply increased, according to new federal health data.

The biggest jump in vaping marijuana occurred among high school seniors, with the percentage who reported vaping in the past month doubling from 7.5% in 2018 to 14% in 2019. Meanwhile, one in four high school seniors reported vaping nicotine in the last month.

The results are from the National Institute on Drug Abuse’s Monitoring the Future survey, released Wednesday, which polls more than 42,000 students in eighth, 10th and 12th grade each year about drug, tobacco and alcohol habits.

Public health officials are concerned by the vaping uptick, noting that vaping devices deliver nicotine and THC at very high concentrations and can significantly increase the risk of addiction, lung injury or death. As of December 10, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had identified 52 deaths and 2,409 hospitalizations related to e-cigarettes or vaping.

“There is an urgency to provide interventions to be able to protect teenagers against vaping, as well as measures and policies that will decrease their consumption overall,” said Nora Volkow, NIDA’s director, on a call with reporters Wednesday.

Younger teens were also increasingly vaping marijuana, with use in the past month by eighth graders reported at 3.9% and among sophomores at 12.6%.

Use of marijuana remained steady with 6.4% of high school seniors reporting daily use, 22.3% reporting use in the past month, and 35.7% reporting use in the past year.

The NIDA survey found an increase in vaping nicotine last year, and researchers said it could be that teenagers began using vaping devices for nicotine and then switched to marijuana.

“It’s consistent with the idea that kids start vaping nicotine first and then it’s a very easy switch to marijuana vaping,” said Richard Miech, the lead investigator from the University of Michigan who was involved in the study.

Positive gains were made in reduction of other drug, tobacco and alcohol use.

Cigarette smoking continued to decline this year, with the percentage of high school seniors who reported smoking in the past month down to 5.7%. At the same time, more high school seniors said they vape nicotine because they are “hooked”—3.6% in 2018 to 8.1% in 2019—increasing the possibility that they could become addicted and potentially switch to cigarettes in the future, Volkow warned.

Drinking habits have also been on the decline among high school students over the last five years, with 18.4% of sophomores and 29.3% of seniors drinking alcohol in the past month, down respectively from 23.5% and 37.4% in 2014.

Prescription opioid misuse has also declined, with 2.7% of seniors reporting use in 2019.

Andrea Noble is a staff correspondent with Route Fifty.

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