Illicit Drug and Marijuana Use

Statistics on Teens and Illicit Drug Use

  • About 50% of high school seniors do not think it is harmful to try crack or cocaine once or twice. 40% believe it is not harmful to use heroin once or twice.
  • 6.5% of high school seniors smoke pot daily.
  • Nearly half of college students use illicit drugs.
  • Almost 50% of high school seniors have abused a drug of some kind.
  • By 8th grade, 15% of kids have used marijuana.
  • Over 60% of teens report that drugs of some kind are kept, sold, or used at their school.
  • 1 in 9 high school seniors has tried synthetic marijuana, or “K2.”


60% of high school seniors think that marijuana is safe, even though it can cause damage to their developing brains. Teens may be think this because there are a lot of myths about marijuana as being a “safer” alternative to illicit drugs, but they are wrong.

The main psychoactive ingredient in marijuana is tetrahydrocannabinol, also known as THC. In 1995, the average THC levels in marijuana was around 4%. In 2014, the average increased to around 14%. Another ingredient in marijuana called cannabidiol, referred to as CBD and touted for its potential health benefits, had decreased from 0.28% in 2001 to 0.15% in 2014. This means that in 1995, THC was 14 times its CBD level. In 2014, THC was 80 times the CBD level.

So what does that mean in the grand scheme of things? Marijuana is becoming more potent and is causing more negative health effects. Marijuana with lower THC levels causes a pleasant feeling where the user usually experiences happiness and the “munchies.” This is still the stereotype of marijuana and what most teens may think they are using. However, when marijuana with higher THC levels is consumed, the side effects are psychosis and panic attacks.

Another issue with THC is that over the time period it is used, people can develop a tolerance to it, much like other drugs. This means they will need to seek out marijuana with higher levels of THC to get the desired effects. This also leaves them vulnerable to experiencing the more negative side effects.

States where marijuana has been legalized are seeing even higher levels of THC. Colorado, for example, had some marijuana tested with levels of THC as high as 30%. Levels of THC are not regulated, which allows for these higher percentages.

Along with rising THC levels, there is also synthetic cannabinoids that you should watch for. These are human-made and mind-altering chemicals sold as a liquid (for use in e-cigarettes or vapes) or as shredded plant material. This substance is misleadingly called synthetic marijuana, so teens may think it too is a safe alternative. The truth is, it is not safe at all. First and foremost, they are not at all regulated but still easy to obtain. Second, the effects they have on a person can be quite unpredictable. Side effects range from elated mood and relaxation to paranoia and hallucinations. Rapid heart rate, vomiting, and violent behavior are also well known side effects, as you may have seen in headlines the past few years. They are also addictive.

Teens may be quick to think that marijuana is safe because people have been using it for decades with the only side effects being relaxation, happiness, and the “munchies.” They may think those foil packets (which haven’t been banned in all states yet) are also safe. When you talk to your teen about marijuana, educate them about the changes in marijuana over the last few decades and the real issues with synthetic cannabinoids.

Illicit Drugs

Yesterday in our blog, we talked about prescription and opioid abuse. Prescription opioid abuse is a risk for heroin use. Many will turn to heroin to replace using prescription opioids because it is cheaper. While a painkiller can cost anywhere from $60 – $100 per pill, a single dose of heroin usually costs around $10. Heroin is also easier to get. Many states are starting to crackdown on prescribers and there are prescription monitoring programs that keep track of how many prescriptions doctors write. Heroin on the other hand, can be found just about anywhere. Heroin is also easier to use. To get high on prescription pills, they need to be crushed into a powder, but pharmaceutical companies are starting to formulate their pills differently so this isn’t as easy. The signs of being high on heroin include flushed skin, pinpoint pupils, itchiness, runny nose, drowsiness, etc. A heroin overdose can usually be treated with naloxone if used within the right amount of time.

There are quite a few illicit drugs out there, and you should educate yourself about each one before talking to your teen. Let them know how serious the side effects are. Set limits. And seek out treatment if needed. Remember that teens who learn about the risks of drugs from their parents are up to 50% less likely to use drugs than those who don’t.