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Teenagers Are Abandoning High-Risk, Dangerous Legal Drugs like Alcohol and Tobacco at a Historic Pace

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's Health Issues page and our Appetite For a Change page.

Adolescent consumption of alcohol and tobacco fell to historic lows while self-reported annual use of cannabis held steady, according to survey data released today by the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor - which has been sampling teens consumption of various licit and illicit substances since the mid-1970s.

But you wouldn't know these facts if you read today's mainstream media headlines.

For example, the accompanying headline of McClatchy's wire story inaccurately claims that marijuana consumption among young people rose between 2011 and 2012, stating "Feds decry rising marijuana use among kids", despite the fact that the title of the study's own press release affirms "The rise in teen marijuana use stalls."

Other news outlets, such as PBS News Hour (in which I am quoted here) predictably highlight the federal government's talking point that adolescents' perception of pot's risk potential is dipping (e.g., '60 percent of 12th grade students do not view marijuana as harmful'). Unreported is the fact that this trend is is not new, but is rather an ongoing one. According to the University's year-by-year data, teens' perceptions regarding marijuana's risks first began declining in the early 1990s - a time that predates the passage of statewide medical cannabis laws or more recent statewide depenalization/legalization laws. (Looking for an explanation for this trend? Try this: More and more teens are wising up to the fact that cannabis is not as equally dangerous as heroin, despite the federal government's claims to the contrary.)

Overlooked in the mainstream media's reporting is that the use of both alcohol and tobacco among all grades surveyed has fallen consistently since the mid-1990s and now stands at all-time lows. (In fact, more teens now acknowledge using marijuana than cigarettes, the study found.) Teens are also finding alcohol to be less availabile and are far less likely to engage in binge drinking now than ever before.

By contrast, teens self-reported annual use of cannabis has largely held steady since the late 1990s but remains elevated compared to the historic lows reported in the earlier that decade. (Present use levels, however, still remain well below the highs reported in the late 1970s.) Approximately 8 out of 10 12th graders surveyed said that marijuana was "fairly easy" or "very easy" to obtain, a percentage that has remained largely unchanged since 2009, but is well below previously reported highs circa the late 1990s.    


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