Drugs & Health Blog

Perception of Risk: Fewer Teens Believe Marijuana Is Harmful

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Sara Bellum

Knowing the health risks that come with using or abusing drugs convinces most teens (and adults) to stay away from them. But what if you don’t think certain drugs are unsafe?

In December 2012, NIDA released the results of the 2012 Monitoring the Future (MTF) study (involving 8th, 10th, and 12th graders). The findings show that fewer teens believe abusing marijuana and Adderall is bad for their health. This belief is contributing to higher rates of abuse of these drugs.


Graph of perceived risk of marijuana use among 12th graders. Over the last 5 years, current (past-month) marijuana use has gone up significantly among 10th and 12th graders. In fact, current marijuana use among high school seniors is at its highest point since the late 1990s. Daily marijuana use has climbed significantly across all three grades. The study also found that fewer teens now believe using marijuana is harmful.

However, the science shows otherwise. People who smoke a lot of pot risk injuring their lungs with the chemicals found in the smoke, and may also experience depression and anxiety. New research has found smoking marijuana heavily in your teen years and continuing into adulthood can actually lower your IQ!


Also in the 2012 MTF study, 12th graders reported increased nonmedical use of the prescription stimulant Adderall—commonly prescribed to people with ADHD. As with marijuana, fewer teens perceive that abusing Adderall is risky. If that trend continues, Adderall abuse will probably continue to increase as well.

Abusing a stimulant medication like Adderall may increase blood pressure, heart rate, and body temperature; decrease appetite and sleep; and cause feelings of hostility and paranoia.

Perception of Risk

Studies have found that when teens think a drug can be harmful, they are less likely to abuse it. In the case of marijuana and Adderall, it appears that some teens don’t see the risk. Tell us: Do you think these drugs are dangerous? If you agree they are, what can we do to help people you know get the message?

Other notable findings from the 2012 MTF study:

  • Most of the top drugs abused by 12th graders are legal substances, like alcohol, tobacco, over-the-counter drugs, and prescription drugs.
  • Abuse of synthetic marijuana—K2 or Spice—remained stable in 2012.
  • Most teens who abuse prescription drugs get them from family and friends.
  • Alcohol use and cigarette smoking are steadily declining.

Check out this cool infographic to learn more.

These drug abuse estimates come from the Monitoring the Future study’s national surveys of approximately 45,000 students in about 400 secondary schools each year. View all of the 2012 data.

Comments posted to the Drugs & Health Blog are from the general public and may contain inaccurate information. They do not represent the views of NIDA or any other federal government entity.


Are they really going to legalize marijuana? I hope not because it would really bring my generation to a downfall
Sorry to say, but our generation has already fallen. It's unstoppable, the whole YOLO swag thing and having the lowest IQ possible is what makes everybody cool. I don't agree with it, that is why I go on with the vision of success and surpassing my generation everyday.
Maybe teens are becoming more educated on the relatively mild health risks of using marijuana. Not only has marijuana never caused an overdose death, and not only does it not damage the brain, but it may actually be neuroprotective. Here, I'll post both links (just the abstract--since they are in peer-reviewed journals, you need to pay to access the full articles): http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19631736 (this is in pubmed database, from the journal Neurotoxicology and Teratology) This explains how adolescents who binge drink and use marijuana have less damage to the white matter of the brain than adolescents who binge drink w/out using marijuana. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20946746 J Stud Alcohol Drugs. This study shows that marijuana users suffered little to none of the cognitive impairment associated with alcohol hangovers Clearly the safety profile (not one death by overdose) and the nascent understanding of the myriad cognitive and medical benefits of marijuana should have you embarrassed by your position on this drug. Maybe it's just a race issue? Do you honestly believe this should be a schedule I drug? If you could explain to me how these are not scientifically sound, that would be great.

NIDA does not schedule drugs, that is the role and responsibility of the DEA with input from the FDA.  Our mission is to undertand social and biological underpinnings of drug abuse and addiction in order to better prevent it and treat it.  There is no doubt that we have a long ways to go in fully understanding marijuana’s health effects on the brain and body, but the evidence that we have on the developing brain is solid and we stand by our position that teens use of marijuana is inadvisable.

Which evidence? I don't see any peer-reviewed studies here.

Please visit the main NIDA site at drugabuse.gov to learn more about our research on marijuana.

I'm having trouble finding the research on the website linked above. Do you have a more direct link that will bring me closer to the research you mentioned? Thanks.

The research you're looking for can be found here: https://www.drugabuse.gov/drugs-abuse/marijuana/nidas-role-in-providing-...

I agree that teenagers nowadays do not see the risk of smoking marijuana and the long term effects it can cause.