Friday, May 12, 2017

What We Can Learn from the Latest Monitoring the Future Survey

The 2016 Monitoring the Future (MTF) survey results are in, and they may be a bit surprising to ageists as well as prohibitionists of all stripes:

  • The use of alcohol and tobacco are both at record lows for 8th, 10th, and 12th graders.
  • "Binge" drinking (5+ drinks in one session) is also at a record low, and even "extreme binge drinking" (10+ drinks in one session) is the lowest it has been since 2005 when participants were first asked this question.
  • The use of any illicit drug other than cannabis has also reached a historic low.
  • The use of most specific illicit drugs have dropped significantly in recent years, many of which to record lows.
  • The notorious opioid epidemic, while currently out of control among adults, does NOT appear to be much of a problem for teenagers, as the use of both heroin and prescription opioids have actually dropped dramatically in the past several years among all grades surveyed.
  • In fact, past-year use of heroin in particular reached an all-time record low in 2016 for all grades surveyed.
  • Use of designer drugs such as "bath salts" and synthetic cannabis are also at their lowest point since they first came on the radar of researchers.
  • And in spite of cannabis being legalized in several states recently, its use has nonetheless dropped significantly among 8th and 10th graders since the most recent peak in 2011, and stabilized (in fact dropped slightly) among 12th graders since then as well.  Note that there is also no evidence of a "gateway" effect of legalization either, as some had feared.
But don't expect the fearmongering mainstream media to tell you any of that, of course.  Certainly no one in the "teen panic" industry or the anti-legalization lobby would tout such statistics no matter how true, as that would contradict their agendas.  Put that in your pipe and smoke it!

Another thing that can be gleaned from the MTF surveys is a different sort of natural experiment for what full legalization of cannabis would look like in practice, using synthetic cannabis (Spice, K2, etc.) as a sort of counterfactual.  In 2011, when natural cannabis was illegal for recreational use in all 50 states (Alaska was then in legal limbo in regards to possession), it was also the first year that synthetic cannabis was asked about in the survey.  At the time, synthetic cannabis was readily available at head shops and even gas stations and convenience stores across the nation, and if there was even any age limit at all it was generally no higher than 18 and was generally not vigorously enforced.  And one of its biggest selling points was that not only was it legal, but it would also not show up in drug tests.  And it was widely regarded to be safe at the time, before its very real dangers became more obvious later on (and was later banned or restricted).  So one would think that, at least briefly, it would have become more popular than the real thing, right?

Wrong.  According to the 2011 MTF survey, young people apparently still preferred the real thing, legal niceties aside.   Fully three times as many 12th graders reported using natural cannabis at least once in the past year in 2011 as used the synthetic knockoffs that year.  And while 8th and 10th graders were not asked about synthetic cannabis until the following year, the 2012 results also show a similar two to threefold difference in favor of natural cannabis.  Thus, on balance, it strongly suggests that natural cannabis use among young people would not increase significantly even if it was legal and readily available at the local 7-Eleven for anyone over 18, right next to the cigarettes and beer, a policy which Twenty-One Debunked currently advocates.  And it also strongly suggests that young people who are so inclined can largely be trusted to make the safer choice as well in that regard.

So what are we waiting for?


  1. Ageists could never comprehend the positive slant of the research done by Monitoring the Future. Over the years, young people have come to know that responsibility is as important as themselves. There's no credible reason why Cannabis should have a higher age limit than 18. Excessive paternalism, ageism and junk science are no reasons to erode the civil rights of young people.