Teens' Herbal Product Use Associated With
Illicit Substance Use
Medical News Today: Mar 26, 2006
who have ever used herbal products are six times more
likely to have tried cocaine and almost 15 times more
likely to have used anabolic steroids than teens who
have never used herbal products, according to a
University of Rochester Medical Center study published
in March in the Journal of Adolescent Health.
More than a quarter of the Monroe County high school
students in the sample reported having ever used
herbal remedies and of those, the heaviest herbal
users were more likely to use illicit drugs. Teen
responders decided for themselves what would be
considered "herbal or other natural products, either
to make you feel better, or to help you perform better
at sports or school," as asked in the survey. Herbal
remedies could include products from dietary
supplements such as vitamins or St. John's wort to
natural performance enhancers, such as creatine.
"The study points to the need for parents and health
care providers to ask if teens are using herbal
remedies and from there probe deeper for possible drug
use," said study author, Susan Yussman, M.D., M.P.H.,
assistant professor of pediatrics in the Division of
Adolescent Medicine at the university's Golisano
Children's Hospital at Strong. "Children who are open
to experimenting with herbal products may be more open
to trying illicit drugs."
However, Yussman cautioned against directly linking
herbal product use with drug use: "This was a
cross-sectional study that examines an association,
not a causal link. Health care providers should ask
all adolescents about potential substance use,
regardless of herbal product use." Yussman added that
counseling should be provided to those teens found to
have a substance abuse problem and to all patients
regarding proper use of any type of medication,
including herbal products. For more information on the
safety and effectiveness of herbal products, please
The study found that teens who have ever used herbal
* 4.4 times more likely to have ever used inhalants
* 4.4 times more likely to have ever used LSD, PCP,
ecstasy, mushrooms, and other illegal drugs
* 5.9 times more likely to have ever used cocaine
* 6.8 times more likely to have ever used
* 8.1 times more likely to have ever used IV drugs
* 8.8 times more likely to have ever used heroin
* 14.5 times more likely to have ever used steroids
than teens who have never used herbal products.
"Those numbers could go higher with a survey that
includes students who don't attend school regularly or
who have dropped out. Those teens are considered at
higher risk for drug use," Yussman said.
The study was based on the 1999 Monroe County, N.Y.,
Youth Risk Behavior Survey which provided data on a
random sample of 2,006 high school students. Herbal
product use was defined by lifetime use of "herbal or
other natural products--to feel better, or perform
better in sports or school."
Overall, 28.6 percent of teens reported using herbal
products. Herbal product use increased with age (25
percent of 9th graders to 30 percent of 12th graders)
and varied by ethnicity (33 percent of Hispanics, 31
percent of Caucasians, 29 percent of Asians, Native
Americans, or Pacific Islanders, and 12 percent of
African Americans), but not by gender.
Yussman said further studies are needed to determine
which herbal products may be associated with use of
which specific drugs.
"A teen using a sports-enhancing product probably has
a very different substance use pattern than a teen
taking echinacea for a cold," she said.