A National Institute on Drug Abuse study showing an alarming rise in marijuana use by high school students after a decade of decline leads its chief researcher to warn of the possibility of a new era of teen acid use.
According to University of Michigan researcher Lloyd Johnston, principal investigator of the latest “Monitoring the Future” study tracking teen drug use in America since 1975, “while LSD use is at historically low levels at present, the proportion of students seeing its use as dangerous has been in decline for a long time … removing a major obstacle to experimentation.”
Johnston cautioned, “We have seen LSD make a comeback before. Clearly, it could happen again.”
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The widely-used euphoric drug Ecstasy is another major concern of the study’s authors. “Given the glamorous name and reputation of this drug, I could easily imagine it making a comeback as younger children entering their teens become increasingly unaware of its risks,” Johnston said.
The percentage of youths seeing “great risk” in trying Ecstasy “has fallen appreciably and steadily since 2004 (2005, in the case of 12th-graders),” according to the NIDA researchers.
The survey questioned over 46,000 8th, 10th, and 12th graders from 125 schools, its primary finding being that pot use among adolescents has gradually increased during the last two years (or three years among 12th-graders) – a startling departure after many consecutive years of declining marijuana smoking. Researchers placed some of the blame at the feet of drug legalization advocates, whose rhetoric may be lessening teens’ fears of the health dangers of smoking pot.
“When the perception of the danger goes down, in the following years you see an increase in use,” noted Nora Volkow, director of NIDA.
The study comes with the Obama Administration on the defensive on the issue of marijuana decriminalization. Attorney General Eric Holder’s Justice Department in October instructed U.S. Attorneys not to enforce federal anti-pot laws in regard to medical marijuana.
After a public uproar, White House drug czar R. Gil Kerlikowske issued assurances that pot legalization “for any purpose, remains a non-starter in the Obama Administration.”
According to Kerlikowske, “To test the idea of legalizing and taxing marijuana, we only need to look at already legal drugs – alcohol and tobacco. We know that the taxes collected on these substances pale in comparison to the social and health care costs related to their widespread use.”
But can the White House resist the temptation to legalize, then tax such a popular substance? The pot smokers within the president’s political base may see an opportunity. “Clearly, regulation of tobacco products has worked to curb access by teens, and it’s time to apply those same sensible policies to marijuana,” Bruce Mirken, a spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project in Washington, told the Associated Press.
Moreover, NIDA chief researcher Lloyd Johnston took part in a 2001 study touted as showing “conclusively that raising cigarette excise taxes is one of the most effective policies states can implement to prevent kids from starting to smoke and taking the steps that lead to addiction.” Taxing cigarettes “protects kids from smoking and raises much-needed revenue for states facing budget shortfalls that threaten vital programs,” the joint University of Chicago and University of Michigan analysis found.
With the NIDA study showing teen tobacco use continuing a steep long-term drop, Johnston this week said higher cigarette taxes could help continue the trend.
Supporters of pot legalization want President Obama to apply the exact same logic to marijuana.
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