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Liberalisation of cannabis controls and patterns of the drug's use by adolescents: an international study

Cannabis is the most used illegal drug in the world. It is connected with many health problems, including respiratory and cardiovascular diseases and psychological issues. This study investigated whether a correlation exists between the liberalisation of cannabis and levels of the drug's use in adolescents.

Surveys of self-reported cannabis use were completed by 172,894 15 year olds in 38 European and North American countries. The survey, part of the HBSC study, also asked about socio-economic factors including the wealth of a child's family and the reported ease of familial and friend communication and support.

The study's design allowed for investigation of whether these factors influenced cannabis use in adolescents. Results were then also matched with cannabis control policies in each country. These policies were:

  • Full criminal prohibition.

  • Depenalisation where criminal cautioning is a common response to drug use.

  • Decriminalisation where cannabis use is dealt with through civil penalties.

  • Partial prohibition where cannabis can be used in certain locations only.

Some key findings include:

  • Boys had a higher rate of cannabis use than girls regardless of drug control policies, as illustrated in the correlation between cannabis use and cannabis liberalisation being lower in boys than girls.

  • Countries with full prohibition of cannabis use had the lowest rate of this drug use among adolescents, while partial prohibition and depenalisation countries reported the highest levels of adolescent cannabis use.

  • When focusing on socio-economic factors this study illustrated that adolescents with difficulty communicating with family and lower family incomes had a higher level of drug use in the short term.

The study's authors hope that through further work in this area, effective cannabis control policies can be implemented to reduce the use of cannabis by adolescents.

Access the publication
Shi, Y., Lenzi, M., & An, R. (2015). Cannabis Liberalization and Adolescent Cannabis Use: A Cross-National Study in 38 Countries. PloS one, 10(11). DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0143562


Yuyan Shi
Michela Lenzi
Ruopeng An

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item 3378
[25-11-2015 to 25-04-2016]


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