Teens’ tobacco, alcohol use down, but marijuana use up

American teens might not be smoking cigarettes or drinking alcohol as much as they used to, but they are using marijuana more than ever before.

That is according to a national study of 50,000 students in grades 8, 10 and 12 conducted by the National Institute on Drug Abuse and released in December.

“I’m happy that tobacco use has gone down because of the long-term effects and because it’s expensive,” said Katie Riemer, health educator for the Tiger Clinic. “But [as] for alcohol and marijuana, I’m more concerned about the short-term effects.”

Riemer said she especially worries about the effects alcohol and marijuana have on students and their ability to pass classes and graduate.

“Substance abuse may keep them from escaping poverty. That’s the real message I hope teenagers take to heart,” said Riemer.

Media Academy senior Ysaira Torres is one student who feels encouraged by at least part of the results.

“It’s good that teens smoke [tobacco] less because it decreases chances of lung cancer. Teens need to be more aware of what they put in their bodies,” said Torres.

One third of seniors in the NIDA study reported using marijuana in the last year. This is slightly higher than the 29 percent of Media Academy seniors who told the Green & Gold they’d used marijuana in the last year.

Mandela Academy senior Ricardo Mendoza said he believes the rise in marijuana use is due to students being under pressure. “Teens smoke to relieve their stress and pain,” he said.

Mendoza said he believes teen alcohol abuse is due to its easy access.

Experts say people are using marijuana more often because it is seen as less harmful than tobacco.

“We’ve seen a significant decline in the perception that marijuana is risky. Fewer kids see smoking marijuana as having bad health effects,” NIDA director Nora Volkow told ABC News.

But marijuana has the possibility of affecting the growth of the brain, reports About.com. Marijuana’s effects include loss of coordination, increased heart rate, lowered blood pressure and difficulties with thinking and solving problems.

While cigarette and alcohol use amongst teenagers is on the decline, the effects these substances have on teens are still significant.

According to NIDA, cigarettes have more than 4,000 chemicals, many of which are poisonous. Cigarettes also have tar that can cause lung cancer and carbon monoxide, which can cause heart disease.

According to abovetheinfluence.com, about 5,000 people under the age of 21 die every year as a result of alcohol. Alcohol leads to drunk driving, and it also poisons the liver.

“Cigarette [usage] went down because there’s no [stimulating] effect weed has, and people want to feel happy,” said Media Academy senior Ricardo Vargas.

No matter what the substances are, teenagers often use them to “escape problems in their lives,” said Riemer. She encourages those teens to instead see a counselor “so they can learn healthy coping skills.”