Teens Prefer Marijuana to Cigarettes, New Survey Finds

As marijuana moves away from being deemed a “gateway” drug to a state-controlled recreational tool, those in the business of treating drug addiction are watching closely.

A new study by the Washington State Department of Health has found that while fewer students are smoking cigarettes or drinking alcohol, the number of youths who believe using marijuana is risky dropped to the lowest level since the state started collecting data.

“There hasn’t been much kind of education in and around marijuana and we just passed an initiative that says for those over 21, you can use it for recreational use, so we’re going to have to watch the attitudes over the next few years,” Secretary of Health Mary Seleky said in a news release.

Washington conducts its Healthy Youth Survey every two years, examining students in grades 6, 8, 10 and 12. More than 200,000 youths took part in the current survey, whose results were published in March 2013.

Results of the survey show that marijuana use is more popular among teens than tobacco. Among 10th graders, marijuana use is at 19 percent, with the percentage jumping to 27 percent among 12th graders. These rates are nearly double the percentage of teens smoking cigarettes.

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Among students in grades 8, 10 and 12, the perceived risk of harm associated with marijuana use is on a downward spiral. When this age group was surveyed in 2000, 65 percent of 10th graders viewed marijuana as harmful. In 2012, only 46 percent reported the same. Likewise, more than half of the 10th-graders reported that marijuana was easy to obtain.

Traditionally speaking, as the perception of harm decreases, use increases. Therefore, states that have passed laws allowing for the legal use of marijuana have an increased responsibility to educate young people on the dangers associated with use.

The challenge, however, is that lawmakers in these states may not accurately perceive the risks themselves and could fall short in education. Plus, touting the benefits and the rights to adults paves the way for invitations to be spread to kids, regardless of the advertising restrictions that may be put in place.

The Health Department in Washington has a significant challenge to ensure the prevention of underage marijuana use.

There is still hope.

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