More U.S. adolescents are vaping cannabis oils, or THC, according to two new reports published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
The percentage of 12th-graders who reported vaping THC within the past 30 days nearly doubled year over year to 14% in 2019, according to Monitoring the Future, a long-running youth survey conducted by the University of Michigan. That makes it the second-largest jump for any substance in the survey’s 45-year history. The largest jump occurred last year among 12th-graders vaping nicotine.
“The fact that we’ve seen some of the largest changes ever really tells us that something is up here,” said Richard Miech, a professor at the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research and the principal investigator of Monitoring the Future. “We’re in a new situation that we haven’t seen before.”
Concerns about the rapid rise of youth vaping, particularly nicotine vaping, has spurred bans and regulation across the country, including a proposal to raise the minimum age to purchase tobacco products to 21 years old in a year-end congressional spending bill.
But an increasing number of adolescents are also vaping marijuana oils, specifically THC, the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis. The overall percentage of middle-school and high-school students who said that they had tried vaping THC increased 32% from 2017 to 2018, an increase of roughly one million students, said Daisy Dai, an associate professor at the University of Nebraska Medical Center and author of the second report, which used data from the National Youth Tobacco Survey. The survey, funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, included responses from over 38,000 students.
In 2019, past-30-day use increased for eighth-, 10th- and 12th-graders, according to the Monitoring the Future data, with roughly 3% and 3.5% of 10th and 12th-graders, respectively, reporting vaping THC almost every day. That survey included responses from over 28,000 students.
Marijuana use overall, however, has remained stable, so teenagers might be switching from smoking marijuana to vaping THC, says Nora Volkow, the director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Some might be doing both. Daily marijuana use increased significantly among eighth- and 10th-graders, meaning that adolescents who do use marijuana products are likely using them more often.
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Vaping THC is more discreet than smoking, making it easier to get away with at school or at home, and it is potentially more efficient at getting THC into the bloodstream, says Dr. Volkow.
Researchers expressed concern at the results, both because of the potential negative health effects of marijuana on brain development and the string of vaping-related lung illnesses currently under investigation. Roughly 80% of the patients reported vaping THC-containing products, and the CDC says that THC-containing products, particularly illicit products obtained from friends or family, are likely driving the outbreak. As of Dec. 3, 16% of the patients were under 18 years old.
Additional data from the Monitoring the Future survey released separately Wednesday show only 2.4% of 12th-graders reported smoking cigarettes every day, which is down from 25% in 1997. The percentage of 10th- and 12th-graders who drink alcohol also has dropped, as has the use of prescription opioids.
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