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Survey: 1 in 4 High School Seniors Smoke Pot, Up 5 Pct From Last Year

Update Date: Dec 21, 2012 01:52 PM EST

Teen marijuana smokers are on the rise with 1 in 4 high school students smoking the drug, according to the latest annual Monitoring the Future survey.

The survey found that nearly 1 in 4, or 23 percent, of U.S. high school seniors have smoked in the last month. More than a third, 36 percent, say they've smoked in the last year, according to Monitoring the Future survey of 45,449 students from 395 public and private schools. The survey has measured drug, alcohol and cigarette use since 1975.

Nearly 80 percent of high school seniors don't consider occasional marijuana use harmful - the highest rate since 1983 - and one in 15 smoke nearly every day. The share of seniors using pot daily rose to 6.5 percent, from 5.1 percent a year ago, the study, called Monitoring the Future, shows. 

After four straight years of increased marijuana use among teens, annual use among 10th and 12th graders have stabilized and use by eighth graders declined slightly since 2010.

Academics say that the earlier kids use pot, the more likely they are to become addicted and the more likely they could be prone to learning problems and brain development issues.

"Each new generation of young people deserves the chance to achieve its full potential, unencumbered by the obstacles placed in the way by drug use," said Gil Kerlikowske, director of National Drug Control Policy.

Researchers seem most concerned about kids' growing perception of pot as harmless. "Teens' perception of marijuana's harmfulness is down, which can signal future increases in use. Only 41.7 percent of eighth graders see occasional use of marijuana as harmful; 66.9 percent see regular use as harmful. Both rates are at the lowest since the survey began tracking risk perception for this age group in 1991," the study noted.

The 2012 survey found 6.5 percent of high school seniors smoke marijuana daily, up from 5.1 percent five years ago. Almost 23 percent smoke marijuana regularly. Among 10th-graders, 3.5 percent smoke marijuana daily, the survey found.

"We are increasingly concerned that regular or daily use of marijuana is robbing many young people of their potential to achieve and excel in school or other aspects of life," said Dr. Nora D. Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, which is part of NIH. She said teens are influenced by whether a drug is legal in some form when deciding to try it recreationally, so in states where marijuana is sanctioned, "the deterrent is no longer present."

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