In 2011, a nationally representative sample of 47,000 8th-, 10th-, and 12th-grade students, attending 400 public and private secondary schools, participated in the Monitoring the Future 2011 survey. The study is conducted at the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research and funded since its inception in 1975 under a series of research grants from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, one of the National Institutes of Health.
The proportion of young people using any illicit drug has been rising gradually over the past four years, due largely to increased use of marijuana—the most widely used of all the illicit drugs. In 2011, 50% of high school seniors reported having tried an illicit drug at some time, 40% used one or more drugs in the past 12 months, and 25% used one or more drugs in the prior 30 days. The figures are lower for younger teens, though still disturbingly high: among 10th graders, 38% reported having tried an illicit drug, 31% used in the past 12 months, and 19% in the prior 30 days. Corresponding values for 8th graders are 20%, 15%, and 8.5%.
Of perhaps greater importance is the rise in daily or near daily marijuana use, defined as use on 20 or more occasions in the prior 30 days. The rates of current daily marijuana use rose significantly in all three grades last year, and they rose slightly higher in all three grades again this year (though none of this year’s changes were large enough to reach statistical significance); but here again, the increases since 2007 are highly significant at every grade level. Current daily prevalence levels in 2011 are 1.3%, 3.6%, and 6.6% in grades 8, 10, and 12.
“Put another way, one in every fifteen high school seniors today is smoking pot on a daily or near daily basis,” says Lloyd Johnston, the principal investigator of the study, “And that’s the highest rate that we have seen over the past thirty years—since 1981.”