Monitoring the Future

Since 1975, the University of Michigan survey, Monitoring the Future, (MTF) has been assessing drug, alcohol and tobacco use and related attitudes among adolescent students nationwide on a yearly basis. The results of the survey are released in the fall of each year.

The results from the 2014 MTF survey of drug use among adolescents, released on December 16th, 2014, provide cautious optimism after several years of discouragement. No major indicators of drug use increased significantly between last year (2013) and this year (2014); use of alcohol, cigarettes and illicit and prescription drugs either remained at the same level or, in many cases, declined among American teens.

Particularly encouraging was the fact that students’ marijuana use has not increased in the past two years. In the 2014 survey, 21.2 percent of seniors, 16.6 percent of 10th graders, and 6.5 percent of 8th graders used marijuana in the past month. Although these are seemingly high percentages, they are not significantly different from 2013. Cigarette and alcohol use (including binge drinking) continued a consistent downward trend that has been occurring over the last few years. Abuse of prescription opioids also declined since 2013 and is down by a third to a half over the last five years (depending on the opioid and the grade).

Also diminished was abuse of inhalants by the youngest teens, who historically are the most likely to abuse these substances, as well as diminished abuse of over-the-counter drugs like cough syrups containing dextromethorphan. Although synthetic cannabinoids like “K2” and “Spice” (also known as “synthetic marijuana”) have only been monitored in the survey for the past two years for all three grades, use of these very dangerous and unpredictable drugs is also down from last year.

There are many possible contributing factors to these trends. However, prevention messages appear to be making an impact. Teens are getting the message from various sources that drugs are not good for their developing brains and that there are much better, healthier and more enjoyable ways to spend their time.

An exception to the good news may be teens’ perception of the risks associated with marijuana. Although use has not increased since 2012, the numbers of teens who believe marijuana is not harmful continued the steady decline seen for a decade; this perception of safety could be linked to the drug’s greater visibility and legalization in some states for recreational purposes and its possible uses as a medicine.

The survey also showed that edibles are popular among teen marijuana users, especially in states that have legalized medical marijuana. Forty percent of seniors who had used marijuana in the past year in medical marijuana states reported having consumed it in an edible form, versus 26 percent in non-medical marijuana states. With edible marijuana products there is a great danger (to both adults and kids) of ingesting high doses of THC without intending to, making it very important that these products be properly regulated and labeled.

Scientists and policymakers may endlessly debate the degree of long-term harm that marijuana poses, but while there is much we still do not know about the drug’s effects, all available evidence points to significant interference in brain development when marijuana is initiated early and used heavily. In 2014, 5.8 percent of 12th graders reported daily or near‑daily use of marijuana, which may impact this segment of youth for the rest of their lives.


  1. 1. Johnston, L. D., O’Malley, P. M., Miech, R. A., Bachman, J. G., & Schulenberg, J. E. (201 ). Monitoring the Future National Survey Results on Drug Use: 1975–2014: Overview, Key Findings on Adolescent Drug Use. Ann Arbor: Institute for Social Research, The University of Michigan.
  2. 1. Monitoring the Future Survey, Overview of Findings 2014