Justin Beiber’s recently exposed use of marijuana and Xanax illuminates a growing trend among adolescents in the United States. Marijuana use among teens has been growing in recent years according to a report by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, and prescription drug abuse is also of concern.
In 2013, nearly a quarter of 12th graders reported smoking pot within the past 30 days, along with 18 percent of 10th graders and seven percent of eighth graders. Since 2008, use among 10th graders has increased the most, up by four percent. Use among eighth graders increased by over one percent from 2008, and use among 12th graders increased by three percent.
Bieber is also not alone in his recreational use of a prescription drug. Abuse of prescription drugs is also a problem among adolescents, but recreational use has not increased. Fifteen percent of high school seniors reported using prescription drugs for non-medical purposes in 2013.
Most teens do not share Bieber’s choice of Xanax, however. High school seniors in 2013 reported using Adderall the most frequently, with seven percent reporting recreational use. The second choice of a prescription drug was Vicodin with five percent, cough medicine reached a use rate of five percent and tranquilizers with a near five percent use trend. Use of inhalants has declined as has cocaine, particularly crack cocaine.
Bieber’s marijuana use is in line with the adolescent trend, and in light of the illuminated increase, the question of why begs to be asked.
Increasing marijuana use amongst teens is correlated with a decreasing perception of the risk of using the drug, which was revealed in a University of Michigan study. As more states have been legalizing and decriminalizing marijuana, fewer teens see the drug as dangerous. Between 2009 and 2013, the percentage of high school seniors who saw marijuana as dangerous plunged from nearly 30 percent to 20 percent.
Marijuana is also used more frequently than before. In the mid-2000’s, only five percent of teens used the drug daily, and in 2013 the number had risen to a near seven percent.
At the same time, teen alcohol use is lower than it has ever been, dropping by nearly a third since the middle of the 1990’s. Of all high school seniors, 22.1 percent reported drinking alcohol in 2013.
Recent legalization of marijuana prompted more studies on the effects of marijuana on the brain. A study by Northwestern University showed that the brain structure of marijuana users resembled that of people with schizophrenia. The abnormal brain structure may change the way that the brain operates according to researchers. Working memory, or the memory process that synthesized information and transfers it from short to long-term memory, was correlated to the apparent structural changes.
The study looked at the brains of early teens who had used marijuana during adolescence. The subjects had used the drug daily for three years or more, which is not reflective of the usage by the majority of teens.
Those who started using marijuana earlier showed more brain abnormalities, leading researchers to conclude that the younger someone is when they start using the drug, the more susceptible their brain is to lasting effects. States that have legalized marijuana are still sorting out laws related to the drug, and perhaps Bieber’s use and the corresponding illumination of the growing adolescent trend will inform regulatory efforts.
By Julia Waterhous