Majority of high school seniors don't think smoking pot regularly is a big deal

Majority of high school seniors don't think smoking pot regularly is a big deal

More than 60 percent of American high school seniors do not think regular marijuana use is harmful, a new survey conducted by the National Institutes of Health's Monitoring the Future project finds.

That figure is up from 55 percent in 2012 and considerably higher than rates from the past two decades.

The survey also found 6.5 percent of 12th-graders smoke marijuana daily, up from 6 percent in 2003 and 2.4 percent in 1993.

It also showed that marijuana use increases with age.

Nearly a quarter (23 percent) of the seniors say they smoked marijuana in the month before the survey, and just over 36 percent say they smoked it during the past year.

Among 10th-graders, 4 percent say they use marijuana daily, 18 percent within the past month and 30 percent in the past year.

More than 12 percent of eighth-graders say they used marijuana in the past year, the survey found.

By contrast, use of alcohol and cigarettes among teens continues to steadily decline.

"These increases in marijuana use over the past few years are a serious setback in our nation’s efforts to raise a healthy generation of young people,” Gil Kerlikowske, director of National Drug Control Policy, said in a statement.

Researchers say the results are also troubling because pot has gotten stronger over the years.

“This is not just an issue of increased daily use,” National Institute on Drug Abuse director Nora D. Volkow said in announcing the findings. “It is important to remember that over the past two decades, levels of THC — the main psychoactive ingredient in marijuana — have gone up a great deal, from 3.75 percent in 1995 to an average of 15 percent in today’s marijuana cigarettes. Daily use today can have stronger effects on a developing teen brain than it did 10 or 20 years ago.”

Marijuana legalization advocates quickly called on the institute to study whether regulating marijuana like alcohol and cigarettes could produce similar reductions in use among teens.

"The results suggest that regulating alcohol and cigarettes is successfully reducing teen use, whereas marijuana prohibition has been unsuccessful," Mason Tvert, director of the Marijuana Policy Project, said in a statement. "At the very least, this data should inspire NIDA to examine the possibility that regulating marijuana like alcohol and cigarettes could be a more effective approach than the current system."

For anti-drug advocates, there was at least some good news: The survey showed decreases in abuse of pain relievers and synthetic drugs among teens.

Just 2.3 percent of seniors admitted they abuse Ritalin, while abuse of the pain reliever Vicodin (5.3 percent) was down more than 50 percent from 2003. The use of synthetic marijuana dropped to 7.9 percent among high school seniors from 11.3 percent last year.

And the use of bath salts is "at or under 1 percent in all three grades."

Abuse of Adderal, however, remains high, with 7.4 percent of seniors reporting taking it for nonmedical reasons in the past year.