A growing number of teenagers now try marijuana as their first foray into intoxicants, new research has revealed.
Beer or some booze used to be the the first thing teenagers would sneak when their parents weren’t looking.
But alcohol and cigarettes alike have fallen out of favor in US youth culture in recent year.
Marijuana use isn’t on a particularly steep rise among teenagers, but as its become more available in the 30 states that have legalized it for medical or recreational use, cannabis has now eclipsed other substances s the first thing teens want to try.
Columbia University researchers noted that the easiest thing for young people to get their hands on is often the first thing they will try.
Marijuana is now the favorite first illicit substance for teenagers in the US. The drug has continued to steadily gain popularity as teen smoking and drinking rates hit record lows
Underage substance use has long been a public health priority in the US.
This was perhaps never more true than during the 1970s and 1980s after former President Richard Nixon declared a a war on drugs, calling substance abuse ‘public enemy number one.’
The primary targets of the ‘war’ and the DARE program were purportedly heroin and crack cocaine, but marijuana bore the brunt of the movement’s effects.
Decades later, marijuana’s medical benefits are being recognized, while the results of long and patient campaigns against subtler, more insidious substances – alcohol and tobacco – are becoming more and more apparent.
Cigarettes and alcohol have long been considered the ‘gateway drugs’ for American youth.
But, these days, fewer teenagers are drinking and smoking than ever.
In 1977, about a third of high school seniors said they smoked every day, according to the new Columbia University study.
In 2017, just five percent of 12th graders said the lit up daily.
A similar switch has happened with alcohol.
Even as their adult counterparts drink more, do so more frequently, and tend to binge more, teenagers have been on better behavior.
In fact, fewer high school students drink now than the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recorded in the past 25 years.
Marijuana, on the other hand, has continued to gain popularity among legal adult users and teenagers alike.
This is worrisome to public health officials and parents, as research suggests that marijuana may interfere with brain development, learning and memory.
That may mean creating tighter controls on particularly teen-accessible forms of marijuana – such as vaporized cannabis and edibles that don’t carry the tell-tale smell – may help reduce teen use.
And if marijuana is the new gateway substance, then reducing teen use should drive down alcohol and cigarette use, too, the Columbia University researchers hope.
‘The lack of decline in marijuana use, and its increasing prominence in the sequence of substance use during adolescence, suggests that marijuana is, and will continue to be, a key target of drug use prevention efforts,’ they wrote in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence.