Popularity of youth vaping a concern in annual drug use survey
AlysonSulaski Wyckoff, Associate Editor
While most substance use by middle and high school students is the lowest it’s ever
been, an uptick in marijuana use and an increase in the popularity of vaping are growing
Those are among the results of the 2017 Monitoring the Future study, which surveyed
about 45,000 students in grades eight, 10 and 12 attending public and private secondary
schools across the country. The study of drug use and attitudes is designed and conducted
at the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research and funded by the National
Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).
In the latest survey, marijuana use edged upward in 2017, which is statistically significant
only when the data from all three grades are combined (from 1.3% to 24%). In grades
eight, 10 and 12, the respective increases were 0.8% (to 10.1%), 1.6% (to 25.5%) and
1.5% (to 37.1%).
Marijuana use has historically gone up as adolescents see less risk of harm in using
it, according to Richard Miech, Ph.D., the study’s principal investigator.
“It’s something we need to watch,” Marsha Lopez, M.D., of NIDA, said in a telebriefing,
but another year or two of survey results will help investigators more fully understand
the direction marijuana use is going. In addition, she noted, looking at data from
combined years in this case “doesn’t reflect the strength of the study.”
Other than marijuana, past-year use of illicit drugs held steady at the lowest levels
in more than two decades: 5.8% among eighth-graders, 9.4% among 10th-graders and 13.3%
among 12th-graders. These are down from the peak rates in these grades of 13.1% in
1996, 18.4% in 1996 and 21.6% in 2001, respectively.
“The good news from the survey is that, for most of the drugs, we’re seeing some of
the lowest numbers recorded for many years,” said NIDA Director Nora D. Volkow, M.D.
However, there are “patterns of use in teenagers still unacceptably high. So a lot
of work needs to be done.”
That is especially true with vaping. Nearly 28% of youths in 12th grade said they
vaped in the year leading up to the survey; 18.8% of seniors reported vaping nicotine,
9.5% said they were vaping marijuana and 20.6% reported vaping “just flavoring.”
In the younger grades, past-year vaping was reported by 23.9% of 10th-graders and
13.3% of eighth-graders.
There is a “pretty substantial number of eighth-graders vaping nicotine,” Dr. Lopez
said, and the “majority think they are (just) taking in flavoring.” This is concerning,
she said, because it is creating a smoking behavior that could lead to other smoking-type
Many researchers worry that e-cigarettes are re-normalizing smoking behavior among
teens, introducing many of them to nicotine, which could lead to addiction. A NIDA
news release on the drug survey quoted a Pediatricsstudy in which young people who used e-cigarettes were much more likely to start using
conventional cigarettes later.
In other results, the survey found that among 12th-graders — as has been the case
historically — use of alcohol was most prevalent, followed by marijuana. Although
alcohol use has declined over the past two decades in all three grades, the declines
Use of inhalants also plateaued instead of continuing to decrease in the past several
years, and they are misused mainly by younger students. In the past year, 4.7% of
eighth-graders reported getting high after using an inhalant; this is higher than
in 2016 when 3.8% used inhalants, but much lower than in 1995 when as many as 12.8%
reported using these substances.
Other survey highlights include the following:
Heroin and opioid use remained low among adolescents. Heroin use by teens has always
been low and did not change significantly in 2017, with use levels at 0.4% or lower
in all three grades. Misuse of prescription opioids, reported only for 12th-graders,
continued a decade-long decline in 2017, though it was not statistically significant.
Cigarette smoking continued to decline in 2017, with all measures at historic lows
for the three grades combined. Use of hookah pipes to smoke tobacco has fallen by
more than half since 2014, but use of flavored little cigars and regular little cigars
were down only modestly.
Misuse of prescription stimulants was described as mostly stable compared to last
year; 5.5% of 12th-graders reported past-year misuse of Adderall, a big drop from
five years ago when it peaked at 7.6%. In addition, past-year misuse of Ritalin in
that grade was 1.3%, a record decrease from 2001 when it was first measured at 5.1%.