US teens smoke more marijuana than tobacco, says new survey

Marijuana use among American teens is up, but binge drinking is down, says a federal 2010 survey on drug use among teenagers. For the first time, marijuana use has passed cigarette use in the survey.

Jorge Duenes/Reuters
A Mexican soldier points at a marijuana plant during a raid in Valle de Trinidad, Mexico, Oct. 23, 2010.

More American teens may be smoking marijuana than cigarettes but fewer are binge-drinking, US federal health officials said Tuesday.

An annual survey on drug use found increases in marijuana use among all age groups but showed slightly fewer high school seniors were smoking than in recent years.

``These high rates of marijuana use during the teen and pre-teen years, when the brain continues to develop, place our young people at particular risk,'' National Institute for Drug Abuse director Dr. Nora Volkow said in a statement.

``Not only does marijuana affect learning, judgment, and motor skills, but research tells us that about one in six people who start using it as adolescents become addicted.''

Related: How much do you know about marijuana? Take the quiz.

The survey of 46,482 students from 396 schools found that 16 percent of eighth-graders, typically 13 and 14 years old, admitted to using marijuana, up from 14.5 percent in 2009.

More than 21 percent of high school seniors, aged 17 and 18, said they had used marijuana in the past 30 days, while 19.2 percent said they smoked cigarettes. This is the first time marijuana use has passed cigarette use in the survey.

The survey found binge drinking, defined as having five drinks or more in a row, was down. Just over 23 percent of high school seniors admitted to binge drinking in the past two weeks, compared to 25 percent in 2009 and 31.5 percent in 1998.

The survey found more than 6 percent of high school seniors use marijuana every day, up from 5 percent last year. More than 3 percent of 10th graders and 1 percent of eighth graders said they used marijuana daily, all increases over 2009.

Federal officials were most upset by the marijuana data and said teens may be confused about whether marijuana is safe and acceptable because several states have recently legalized the use of marijuana with a doctor's prescription.

``Mixed messages about drug legalization, particularly marijuana, may be to blame. Such messages certainly don't help parents who are trying to prevent kids from using drugs,'' said Gil Kerlikowske, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.

``We should examine the extent to which the debate over medical marijuana and marijuana legalization for adults is affecting teens' perceptions of risk,'' Volkow added.

One group advocating for legalizing marijuana agreed.

``Our government has spent decades refusing to regulate marijuana in order to keep it out of the hands of drug dealers who aren't required to check customer ID and have no qualms about selling marijuana to young people.,'' said Rob Kampia, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project.

The survey also found more teens are using MDMA, or Ecstasy. More than 2 percent of eighth-graders said they had tried it, compared with 1 percent in 2009, while 4.7 percent of 10th graders reported using it, up a full percentage point.

(Reporting by Maggie Fox; Editing by Doina Chiacu)

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