More Teens Smoke Marijuana, Reject Synthetic Drugs Like K2 and Spice

In a year that saw numerous victories for supporters of medical marijuana and pot legalization, it should come as no surprise that teens are increasingly holding pro-marijuana views. In fact, 60 percent of high-school seniors see marijuana as safe to use, according to a new annual drug survey. That's a significant increase since 2005, when only about 40 percent of seniors didn't see pot as harmful.

That said, marijuana use among high-school students has stayed about the same, according to Monitoring the Future, a survey funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse and conducted by researchers at the University of Michigan. Researchers, who have polled high-school seniors since 1975 and later added 8th and 10th-graders, based their findings upon more than 40,000 students.

The survey found that half of high-school seniors in America have tried an illicit drug, and 40 percent have used the drugs in the past year. But Lloyd Johnston, lead researcher of the study, says it's actually the changes in attitude towards marijuana that are the most significant:

"But more noteworthy is the fact that the proportion of adolescents seeing marijuana use as risky declined again sharply in all three grades. Perceived risk—namely the risk to the user that teenagers associate with a drug—has been a lead indicator of use, both for marijuana and other drugs, and it has continued its sharp decline in 2013 among teens. This could foretell further increases in use in the future."

There is also indication that teen pot use is being bolstered by medical marijuana laws. More than a third of high-schoolers who live in states where marijuana use is legal say they use other people's medical marijuana prescriptions to obtain their own pot.

Some people, like Director of National Drug Control Policy Gil Kerlikowske, are freaking out about the prospects of teens becoming more lax about marijuana, especially considering a new study finding that smoking weed daily may lead to schizophrenia.

"Young people are getting the wrong message from the medical marijuana and legalization campaigns," Kerlikowske said. "If it's continued to be talked about as a benign substance that has no ill effects, we're doing a great disservice to young people by giving them that message."

The survey shows that teens are increasingly turned off by synthetic marijuana like K2 and Spice, with their use decreasing from 11.3 percent to 7.9 percent in just one year. (Do kids see real pot as healthier or more organic? Possibly.)

Never heard of synthetic marijuana? The pot impostors, which make up the second-most popular illicit drugs, are made by spraying other herbs with marijuana-mimicking chemicals. It's more popular than you'd think: on Monday, the Pentagon announced that it will start testing troops for fake pot. Tests for Army, Navy, and Marine Corps members show that use of the synthetic drugs amount to 2.5 percent, "more than twice as high as overall use of illegal drugs."

The Monitoring the Future survey also polled teens on other drug and alcohol habits. Teen use of bath salts and inhalants decreased sharply. (It seems like teens got the message and don't want to turn into zombie cannibals.) In just one year, the belief that bath salts are harmful rose by 25 percentage points among high-school seniors, which investigators say is a very atypical rise. And the number of 8th graders who have ever taken "more than just a few sips" of alcohol has been cut in half since the 1990s.

Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, is encouraged by the trends.

"It's important to keep in mind that marijuana pales in comparison to alcohol, cigarettes, inhalants and pharmaceutical drugs in terms of dangers to young people. Indeed for many young people, the worst consequences of marijuana involve arrest for marijuana possession, not its consumption."