According to the latest U.S. Centers for Disease and Prevention report released Oct. 15, more high schoolers are using marijuana than cigarettes or cigars, which means something has changed.
Back in 1997, 21% of high schoolers polled said they had smoked a cigarette or cigar within the last 30 days. In 2013 (the year this report polled students), that percentage dropped to a mere 7% — an astronomical 64% decrease in those 16 years.
When you think about all the anti-smoking campaigns out there (I think we all remember the woman with the hole in her throat, among others), it’s no surprise that cigarette use is on the decline. Coupled with the ostracization of smokers, the amount of kids who have lost grandparents or even parents to lung cancer, and the media’s general turn away from portraying smoking as something “cool,” I’d be shocked if cigarette use wasn’t declining. But I must admit, I am shocked that it declined so much — or maybe “pleasantly surprised” would be more accurate.
Marijuana use, however, has seen the opposite effect. In 1997, a mere 4% of high schoolers said they had used marijuana within the last 30 days, but by 2013, 10% of students reported recent use. Not only is that a 150% increase in use, but that means that 30% more high schoolers in 2013 were using weed than smoking cigarettes.
Now we’ve been very vocal here at TSB that we do not condone teen marijuana use; often times young people are not prepared for the psychological effects that accompany getting high, or can be apt to fall into habit of smoking too much to support the “stoner image” they’re trying to convey. (Hey, no judgment, we were all young once.) However, when given the choice of young people forming a lifelong addiction that has been irrevocably proven to lead to cancer and very often death, versus a substance that has been proven to even combat it, I’d take the latter — especially as a high school cigarette smoker who’s been struggling to quit for years. (New stance: only when drunk.)
But what is the cause of this drastic spike in marijuana use? To me, it is logical that the national shift in public opinion would include and affect our country’s young adults as well. Currently the majority of the nation believes in the decriminalization and legalization of marijuana, proving that while we may not be a nation of geniuses (*cough* Trump), if you hit us over the head with facts, science, a celebrity endorsement here and there, and ultimately money, we’ll eventually start to listen. This shift has not been lost on young people. In fact, the younger generations are at the forefront of the legalization movement.
According to the report, in 2013 about 40% of high school seniors believed that using marijuana regularly was harmful, compared to the 79% who thought so back in 1997. That is a huge decline. But when 23 states have legalized medical marijuana, four states and the District of Columbia have voted to legalize recreational use, and all signs point to at least a few more legalizing weed in 2016 or sooner, it’s an admission by adults (and even suited-up politicians) that hey, marijuana’s not so bad. In fact, especially when it comes to its medical uses, it’s pretty fucking great.
While weed is technically still categorized as a Schedule I drug alongside meth, heroin, crack, and other all-star life ruiners, it’s pretty much accepted that this is a joke that does nothing but highlight the ineptitude of our nation’s approach to drug use and treatment. All you have to do is drive through San Francisco's Tenderloin then look in the mirror (at least I’m assuming, if you’re a fan of our site) to see the effects of marijuana use versus other Schedule I drugs.
Also, now that the “gateway drug” myth has been debunked to the degree that when someone actually uses that phrase your reaction has exceeded you idiot and reached the level of you poor thing, people are getting harder to fool — and that includes high schoolers.
As laws catch up with national opinion and marijuana is legalized in more and more states, eventually the harmful charade of prohibition will crumble. When it does (and hopefully far beforehand), maybe we can try a different approach to keeping high schoolers from experimenting with weed too early. Just like all that “abstinence-only” sex ed bullshit, burying your head in the sand and saying “Weed is BAD!” won’t make teenagers listen to you. In fact it’ll do the opposite, because in this age of information, they know you’re lying.
Isn’t it time to tell our youth the truth? Marijuana is a natural substance that has many medical benefits, and it can be a fun way to unwind, if it suits you. But using too much in your formative years won’t do you any favors — it’s best to wait until you’re a legal adult to see if it’s something you want in your life or not. Just like everyone does with alcohol.