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More US Students Using Marijuana Than Exclusively Smoking Cigarettes: Experts Reveal Why

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While the rate of U.S. high school students who exclusively smoke cigarettes and tobacco products have decreased, the number of students using marijuana has also increased based on a recent study's findings.

According to a study made by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), researchers found that the ratio of teens in middle and high school who have only smoked cigarettes dropped to 7.4 percent in 2013 compared to 1997's 20.5 percent. However, percentage of students who exclusively smoked marijuana rose up to 10.2 percent compared to 1997's 4.2 percent.

"We are seeing an evolution in the culture and pattern of trends in youth tobacco product and marijuana use in several regions of the country, which makes the landscape for parents, teachers and school administrators quite different today than in prior years," said Adam Leventhal, director of the University of Southern California's Health, Emotion and Addiction Laboratory.

The decrease in cigarette smoking among teens is a welcome change, but what caused the spike in marijuana use?

For cigarette smoking, experts believe that the vigilant campaigns against smoking have finally bore fruit. Experiences of teens with family members or others with lung cancer may have also played a part in discouraging them to take up smoking.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for marijuana, as the association of the drug to health risks like cancer is not as prevalent among youth as cigarettes are to lung cancer.

Understandable, since there is not much concrete evidence on the detrimental effects may have on continuous marijuana use. So far, a study was only able to prove that the drug has little long term effect when it comes to memory and learning and does not do any irreversible brain damage.

"I just hear a lot of dangers of cancer and cigarettes and I think that's why a lot of teens look to marijuana," said Tianda, a high school student from Philadelphia.

However, experts warn that marijuana smoke was also found to have up to 70 percent more carcinogenic compounds than traditional cigarette smoke and that pot users are in even more danger of inhaling more of these compounds due to the way marijuana is smoked.

Experts also fear that, while marijuana itself may have no known long term negative effects, it can be the gateway drugs to others that do.

"In clinical studies, epidemiology has shown that those who get exposed to marijuana before age 17 are more likely not just to become dependent on marijuana, but are more likely to become dependent on a wide variety of drugs," cautioned Dr. Nora D. Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).

Photo: Chuck Grimmett | Flickr

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