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America's Children: Key National Indicators of Well-Being, 2017

Illicit Drug Use

Drug use by adolescents can have immediate as well as long-term health and social consequences. Marijuana use poses both cognitive and health risks, particularly damage to pulmonary functions resulting from chronic use.99, 100 It is also the main driver of illicit drug use among teens, with an estimated 1 in 4 high school seniors reporting use in the past month. Other drug use, such as the misuse of prescription and over-the-counter drugs, can increase the risk of adverse health effects, including overdose—especially when taken in combination with other drugs or alcohol. Hallucinogens, such as MDMA, can affect brain chemistry and may result in problems with memory and learning new information.101 Any illicit drug use during adolescence is a risk-taking behavior that has potentially serious negative consequences.

Indicator BEH3.A: Percentage of 8th-, 10th-, and 12th-grade students who reported using illicit drugs in the past 30 days by grade, 1980–2016
Indicator BEH3.A: Percentage of 8th-, 10th-, and 12th-grade students who reported using illicit drugs in the past 30 days by grade, 1980–2016

NOTE: Use of "illicit drugs" includes any use of marijuana, LSD, other hallucinogens, crack, other cocaine, or heroin, or any use of other narcotics, amphetamines, barbiturates, or tranquilizers not under a doctor's orders. For 8th- and 10th-graders, the use of other narcotics and barbiturates has been excluded because these younger respondents appear to overreport use (perhaps because they include the use of nonprescription drugs in their responses). Data for 10th-graders for 2008 are not included because estimates are considered to be unreliable due to sampling errors. See http://www.monitoringthefuture.org/data/09data.html#2009data-drugs.

SOURCE: National Institute on Drug Abuse, Monitoring the Future Survey.

Indicator BEH3.B: Percentage of 8th-, 10th-, and 12th-grade students who reported smoking marijuana in the past 30 days by grade, 1980–2016
Indicator BEH3.B: Percentage of 8th-, 10th-, and 12th-grade students who reported smoking marijuana in the past 30 days by grade, 1980–2016

SOURCE: National Institute on Drug Abuse, Monitoring the Future Survey.

  • From 2015 to 2016, reports of illicit drug use in the past 30 days decreased for 8th-graders (from 8 to 7 percent) but remained level for 10th- and 12th-grade students at 16 percent and 24 percent, respectively.
  • In 2016, illicit drug use in the past 30 days was reported by 7 percent each of male and female 8th-graders and by 16 percent each of male and female 10th-graders. The percentage diverged by gender among 12th-graders: 27 percent of males and 22 percent of females reported use in the past month.
  • From 2011 to 2016, marijuana use in the past month decreased from 7 percent to 5 percent among 8th-graders and from 18 percent to 14 percent among 10th-graders. During the same period, use among 12th-graders remained unchanged.

table icon BEH3A HTML Table | BEH3B HTML Table

99 National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2004). Marijuana: Facts parents need to know (NIH Publication No. 04-4036). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

100 Pope, H.G., Jr., & Yurgelun-Todd, D. (1996). The residual cognitive effects of heavy marijuana use in college students. Journal of the American Medical Association, 275 (7).

101 National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2001). Research report series: Hallucinogens and dissociative drugs (NIH Publication No. 01-4209). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.