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Pot Smoking Levels Off Among High Schoolers, Study Finds

Marijuana use among U.S. high school seniors is leveling off, ending four years of increases in annual prevalence, according to a government-funded survey.

Thirty-six percent of high school seniors surveyed in 2012 said they smoked marijuana at least once in the previous year, the National Institute on Drug Abuse said today. 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.

Pot remained the most-popular illicit drug, followed by synthetic marijuana, plant material that’s laced with chemicals purported to mimic the active ingredient in marijuana. The study found that 11 percent of 12th graders having tried synthetic pot in the last year. That was level with the previous survey done in 2011, the first year of measurement. Most illegal drugs showed no change in use this year, with 17 percent of seniors having tried a non-marijuana illegal drug.

“There isn’t much evidence for increasing use this year,” Lloyd Johnston, a research professor at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor who led the study, said in a telephone interview. “Use of a great many drugs are holding steady.”

While marijuana use remained level, perceptions about the drug’s risk dropped. The survey showed 21 percent of high school seniors see occasional marijuana use as harmful, the lowest view of risk since 1983.

The study also looked at alcohol drinking, showing that 24 percent of high school seniors engaged in binge drinking two weeks before the survey, an increase of 2 percentage points over last year’s answers. Binge drinking was defined as having five or more drinks in a row. Overall alcohol use remained steady.

More than 45,000 students from almost 400 public schools completed the Monitoring the Future survey. The study began in 1975 by asking questions of high school seniors; in 1991, it included younger students as well.

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