Teenagers who use herbal products are more likely to move on to more harmful drugs such as cigarettes, alcohol and narcotics, according to a paper presented at the annual meeting of the Society for Adolescent Medicine in the US.
"Kids who used a herbal product were almost six times as likely to use cocaine, almost seven times as likely to use methamphetamine, almost nine times as likely to use heroin, and about eight items as likely to use other illegal drugs," said Dr Susan Yussman of the University of Rochester School of Medicine in New York.
She assessed data from a 1999 survey of a random sample of more than 2,000 high school students living in Monroe County, New York, and found that almost 29 per cent of students said they used herbal products to either feel better or perform better in sports or school. These students were also found to be much more likely to be using other drugs as well, she discovered.
"We should definitely be asking our adolescents what herbal products they are using," Dr Yussman said. "This could potentially be a marker for needing a thorough, in-depth substance abuse history."
Nearly 25 per cent of first year students used herbal products, rising to 30 per cent for older students. Supplement use was more common among Hispanics (33 per cent), followed by whites (31 per cent) and Asians, Native Americans and Pacific Islanders (29 per cent). African Americans accounted for just 12 per cent.