Vaping Marijuana Gaining Traction Among
US Teens

Heidi Splete

December 20, 2019

Vaping has expanded as a popular method of drug delivery for U.S. teenagers, and one in five students in grades 10 and 12 reported vaping marijuana in the past year, according to results of the 2019 Monitoring the Future survey conducted by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).

This year's findings, announced Dec. 18, continue to illustrate "a clear shift in the pattern of drug taking among teenagers," said NIDA Director Nora D. Volkow, MD, in a teleconference held to review the results.

Use of alcohol and drugs — including opioids and stimulants — continues to decline among teens, but vaping continues its significant rise, with a surge in marijuana vaping this year.

The increase in past-month marijuana vaping among 12th graders, from 7.5% in 2018 to 14% in 2019, represents the second-largest 1-year jump tracked for any substance in the survey's history, Dr. Volkow said. The largest jump was the increase in past-month nicotine vaping among 12th-graders from 2017-2018.

Past-year marijuana vaping has more than doubled in the past 2 years, with rates this year of 20.8% among 12th-graders, 19.4% among 10th-graders, and 7.0% among 8th-graders.

"It is very unfortunate that we are seeing the steep rise in the use of vaping devices" because the devices deliver drugs in very high concentration, Dr. Volkow said. The growing popularity of vaping "threatens to undo years of progress protecting the health of adolescents in the U.S.," Dr. Volkow said in a statement. The Monitoring the Future survey began including vaping questions in 2017.

Monitoring the Future is a national tool to assess drug and alcohol use and related attitudes among adolescent students across the United States. This year's self-reported survey included 42,531 in grades 8, 10, and 12 from 396 public and private schools.

Nicotine vaping increased from 2018 to 2019 across all three grades; past-month nicotine use equated to 1 in 4, 1 in 5, and 1 in 10 (26%, 20%, and 10%) among 12th, 10th, and 8th graders, respectively, according to the survey. Daily nicotine vaping, measured for the first time this year because of public health concerns, was approximately 12% for 12th graders, 7% for 10th graders, and 2% for 8th graders. Daily marijuana vaping, also measured for the first time this year, was approximately 4%, 3%, and 1% among 12th, 10th, and 8th graders, respectively. Additional findings on the rise of vaping by U.S. teenagers were released Dec. 17 in a research letter published online in JAMA (doi: 10.1001/jama.2019.20185).

Meanwhile, positive trends in this year's survey included a reduction in the misuse of prescription drugs, including OxyContin, Vicodin, and Adderall, and in the use of traditional cigarettes and other tobacco products, as well as alcohol, noted Richard A. Miech, PhD, MPH, of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, principal investigator for Monitoring the Future. However, the challenge of preventing and reducing vaping in teens remains "a whole new uncharted territory," in part because the design of the vaping devices facilitates discreet use at home and at school, he said.

Physicians and parents have important roles to play in screening for vaping among teens, Dr. Volkow said in a question and answer session. Health care clinicians, including pediatricians and family physicians, "are in a unique position to communicate with their young patients" by educating them about the dangers of vaping, encouraging them to stop if they have started using these devices, and referring them for further treatment if they are showing signs of addiction, she said.

Monitoring the Future was funded by NIDA. The researchers had no disclosures.

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