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Study: Marijuana use on rise among teens

Marijuana use among youth has risen nationally for the fourth straight year, according to the “Monitoring the Future” survey, conducted by the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the University of Michigan.

The report, which was released last month in Washington, D.C., is considered one of the leading indicators of trends in substance use among the nation’s teens.

Specifically, the survey found that daily marijuana use is at a 30-year high among high school seniors, with 6.6 percent using pot daily. The report, which surveyed 47,000 teens in grades eight, 10 and 12, also found that as usage rates increase, perceived risk is in decline.

“Pot has become nearly as accepted as cigarette smoking in our society, and the dangers of it are grossly underestimated, especially for young people,” said Lighthouse Network founder and executive director, psychiatrist Karl Benzio, M.D. “As high schoolers smoke more pot, they are drawn to other drugs – drugs with devastating effects.”

Lighthouse Network, an addiction and mental health referral program, also provides a free 24-hour counseling helpline.

The report also states:

* The proportion of young people using any illicit drug has risen steadily in recent years, primarily a result of the increase in marijuana use.

* Fifty percent of high school seniors reported having tried an illicit drug at some time.

* Forty percent of (high school) seniors had used one or more drugs in the past year.

* Twenty-five percent of seniors had used one or more drugs in the past month.

And while alcohol use and binge drinking have gradually declined, the “Monitoring the Future” survey found that use of “synthetic marijuana” products, such as K2 and Spice, as well as the drug Ecstasy, is growing and can have a harmful and even fatal effect on users.

Since Michigan passed the medical marijuana act in November 2008, the local prevention community has noted a significant decrease in youth perception of harm, according to Kevin Friedrich, prevention director for Fraser-based CARE of Southeastern Michigan.

“(Teens) now think marijuana is a lot less harmful than smoking cigarettes,” Friedrich said.

Before the Medical Marijuana law was passed, the survey found that 30.1 percent of ninth and 11th graders in Macomb County reported trying marijuana.

According to the “Michigan Profile for Healthy Youth Survey,” conducted every two years among seventh, ninth and 11th graders, before the 2008 law was passed, 30.1 percent of ninth and 11th graders surveyed in Macomb County said they had tried marijuana; 16.9 percent reported using in the last 30 days and 4.4 percent reported trying marijuana for the first time before the age of 13.

By 2010, those numbers respectively jumped to 32.7 percent, 19 percent and 6.2 percent (the last of which represents a 33 percent increase).

The next MIFI report is due out at the end of the current school year.

“I have a feeling the numbers will reflect another increase,” Friedrich said.

In Michigan, there is some good news on the prevention front.

The state attorney general’s office has drafted a number of amendments that address various loopholes in the law.

“The problem is, 75 percent of the Michigan legislature must agree to these changes,” Friedrich said.

Still, the prevention community is optimistic that change is in the wind.

“The strategy is to roll these out individually, attached to a number of different bills,” Friedrich said. “We’ll have to wait and see what happens, but I think there’s a good chance for some success.”

For example, under the current law, any doctor is able to provide a patient with a recommendation for a marijuana card. Currently, there are 200,000 people waiting to receive their card, and 71 percent of the recommendations have been written by 55 doctors.

The new law would stipulate that a doctor must have an existing and continuing relationship with marijuana card holders, and monitor their treatment, before they can provide a recommendation.

“When the law was first passed, it was promoted as a treatment for people suffering from cancer, glaucoma and debilitating terminal disease,” Friedrich said. “But less than 3 percent of all medical marijuana card holders in Michigan are suffering from cancer and other terminal illnesses.”

For more information about prevention and substance abuse programs at CARE, visit www.careofmacomb.com.

For more information on Lighthouse Network, visit www.LighthouseNetwork.org or call toll-free 1-877-562-2565.