Are Teenagers Changing Their Attitudes on Synthetic Marijuana Use?

Are Teenagers Changing Their Attitudes on Synthetic Marijuana Use?

Are Teenagers Changing Their Attitudes on Synthetic Marijuana Use?

Are Teenagers Changing Their Attitudes on Synthetic Marijuana Use?Synthetic marijuana is the name typically used to identify a range of laboratory-produced chemicals designed to mimic the effects of naturally produced, plant-based marijuana. Teenagers in the U.S. use synthetic marijuana more often than any other drug except for natural marijuana and plant-based hashish. However, according to findings reported in December 2013 by the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the University of Michigan, teen use of synthetic marijuana dropped significantly between 2012 and 2013. This decrease signals a partial change in adolescent attitudes toward man-made marijuana substitutes.

Synthetic Marijuana Basics

Synthetic marijuana goes by a variety of street names, the most popular of which are Spice and K2. The chemicals contained in any given batch of these substances go by obscure laboratory names such as JWH-018, HU-210 and CP 47,497. All of these chemicals—which manufacturers spray on plant materials—are designed to create the same basic effects as THC, the main mind-altering ingredient in marijuana, hashish and a third plant-based drug called hashish oil. Some of them produce effects that are roughly as intense as the effects of THC. However, others produce effects that outstrip the intensity of THC many times over. In addition to its main active chemicals, any given batch of synthetic marijuana can also contain any number of incidental or unwanted additives, some of which may produce toxic reactions in users. In combination with the potential potency of synthetic marijuana, these additives can create harmful outcomes serious enough to require emergency treatment or hospitalization.

Previous Rate of Use

The National Institute on Drug Abuse and the University of Michigan track the use of synthetic marijuana among American teenagers through an annual drug, alcohol and tobacco survey called Monitoring the Future. This survey gathers information from students at representative schools across the country enrolled in 8th grade, 10th grade and 12th grade. The tracking of synthetic marijuana use among children in these grades began in 2011. The survey found that in 2012, 4.4 percent of 8th graders, 8.8 percent of 10th graders and 11.3 percent of 12th graders had used a synthetic marijuana product. Among both 10th and 12th graders, synthetic marijuana ranked as the second most popular drug behind marijuana/hashish. It also ranked third among 8th graders.

Current Changes

In December 2013, the University of Michigan released some of the findings gathered from the 2013 edition of Monitoring the Future. These findings indicate that the rate of synthetic marijuana use among U.S. 12th graders fell more than 3 percentage points to 7.9 percent between 2012 and 2013. The rate of use among 10th graders fell more than a full percentage point to 7.4 percent during this same timeframe, while the rate of use among 8th graders fell less than a percentage point to 4 percent. On a statistical level, the change in usage rates among 12th graders is considered highly significant. The smaller rates of change among 10th and 8th graders do not reach the same level of significance, but still contribute substantially to an overall decline in synthetic marijuana use.

The decline in reported usage could be due to changing attitudes among teens about the dangers of the drug. For example, the 2013 survey found that among 12th graders, the drop in usage was accompanied by a 2.4 percent increase in the number of students who believe that it’s highly risky to try synthetic marijuana one or two times, as well as a 3.5 percent increase in the number of students who view occasional synthetic marijuana use as highly risky. The percentage of 10th graders who view synthetic marijuana experimentation or occasional use as highly risky actually fell slightly between 2012 and 2013; the same drop in risk perception held true for 8th graders.


No one knows for sure why rates of synthetic marijuana use and the attitudes toward use have changed so much among 12th graders while remaining relatively unchanged among younger teenagers. However, this gap in both use and perception may be related to the increasing ability of older teenagers to think logically, consider the risks of their actions, make judgments and decide how they want to conduct themselves both in the present and in the future.

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