The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that it's a good idea to impose drug testing on students engaged in extra-curricular activities. The supposed intent is to reduce the use of illegal drugs by students during their presence on school property. The problem, of course, is that drug tests don't reveal that someone is currently under the influence - they just indicate that a student probably used a drug at some point in time. This action is guaranteed to have at least one unintended consequence: more kids will use potentially more dangerous drugs instead of smoking marijuana.
Kids are smart. If they know (and they do) that marijuana metabolites can show up and be detected in urine tests for as much as six weeks, they are now left with three choices: don't get involved in after school activities, try to fake the test results, or use a different drug. Unfortunately, this new policy is most likely to result in the latter, and in no case will result in "just saying no."
The most likely scenario which will result from this latest skirmish in the "War on Drugs" goes something like this: a slight decrease in participation in some after school activities; a large increase in the use of alcohol; and an increase in the use of drugs other than marijuana. The current breakdown of the top three "preferred" intoxicants among high school youth in order of decreasing use is: alcohol, tobacco, marijuana.
According to the "Monitoring the Future" study, about half of high school seniors have used alcohol in the past month, while nearly a third have used tobacco and less than one quarter have used marijuana. Marijuana is the most popular of "illegal" intoxicants, among adults as well as young people and is said to account for nearly 80 percent of all illegal drug use in America. By forcing our young people to not use marijuana, which has an extremely long detection time, we will in essence force them to seek their mind-alteration through other means. For most so inclined, this will not mean delving into the nuances of poetry.
What, then, will our young people turn to in order to get the mental thrills they seek? It is likely that some will increase their use of alcohol, as it isn't screened for in urine testing, and there will likely be a rather startling increase in the use of hallucinogens and inhalants. It is unlikely that the youngsters will seriously increase their use of heroin and cocaine, the monthly use of which is currently estimated at less than one-half of one percent and just over two percent respectively. Like the "grown-ups," most young people are not attracted to either of these substances in large numbers.
Hallucinogens and inhalants, however, pose none of the usual down sides like addiction and needles. Hallucinogens are not routinely tested for in drug assays because they are used in doses too small to be economically detectable in urine. Wily youth will likely turn to LSD, psilocybin mushrooms and peyote in greater numbers now, given the bang for the buck these substances deliver, and the near impossibility of a positive drug test due to their use.
Inhalants are simply not very popular with youth at present, being used monthly by some two percent of high school students. This could easily change, of course, given that getting high is provably a biologically driven human behavior, and humans will do almost anything to satisfy that drive. Sniffing gasoline and solvent fumes is a clearly unglamorous way to get "high," but in the absence of better, safer ways to do so, it should come as no surprise when this starts to happen. Personally, I'd rather that youth were inhaling pot smoke than gasoline fumes, but that's just me.
In summary, as the history of the drug war has shown over and over to anyone paying attention: every action results in an equal and opposite reaction. Sure the chess club may lose a talented stoner here and there, but our youth are being forced toward less benign alternatives than marijuana the next time they wish to catch a buzz. Educating youth on the "dangers" of recreational intoxicants shouldn't include a de facto forcing them to use stronger and potentially more dangerous substances to entertain themselves. Of course, it is the young people who are supposed to be learning, not the "grown-ups" running the drug war. Clearly, the grown-ups haven't learned a thing.
Written July 5, 2002
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