Teenagers’ higher cannabis use linked to more nights out

While a worldwide study has found teenagers on the whole are smoking less marijuana and going out less often with friends, Maltese teenagers have been found to be doing exactly the opposite in both respects.

A study published this week has found that the prevalence of smoking marijuana and going out with friends are inextricably linked. Out of 31 countries, marijuana use among 15-year-old boys and girls between 2002 and 2006 had increased only in Malta, Estonia and Lithuania, and among Russian girls.

Malta’s increases in both sexes were the highest recorded, as were the increased number of nights out with friends. Between 2002 and 2006, the prevalence of cannabis use among Maltese 15-year-old boys increased by 2.7 per cent – from seven per cent in 2002 to 9.7 per cent in 2006 – while the female increase was even higher at 5.6 per cent – from 4.2 to 9.8 per cent in 2006.

In both years, more Maltese girls reported having used cannabis over the previous year than boys while the female rate of increase was also far higher. In both sexes, Malta saw the largest increase in cannabis use, but in terms of overall prevalence Malta’s was ranked in an overall 26th place, and its 9.7-9.8 per cent usage rate paled in comparison to leading countries Canada, Switzerland and the United States – all of which saw rates in the mid to high 20s.

In tandem, Malta also saw the highest increase in the numbers of nights spent out with friends – from 1.9 in 2002 to 2.61 in 2006 for boys and from 1.63 to 2.43 for girls. Both were also the highest increases across the 31-country spectrum. While rates varied widely among countries, prevalence was highest both years in Canada, where 30 per cent of boys and almost 28 per cent of girls used marijuana in 2006. That was down 13 per cent among boys and almost 10 per cent among girls.

According to a study of 15-year-olds across 31 countries between 2002 and 2006, going out with friends and smoking marijuana are related, mostly because research has found that children who spend many evenings out are more likely to smoke marijuana than those who prefer to stay at home.

Since few parents approve of marijuana use, teenagers are most likely to smoke cannabis secretly away from home, said lead author Emmanuel Kuntsche of the Swiss Institute for the Prevention of Alcohol and Drug Problems. While reasons for the declines are unclear, the researchers said drug prevention efforts and technology may have contributed. Moreover, instant messaging, email and mobile phones “may have partly replaced face-to-face contacts, leading to fewer social contacts in the evenings,” Dr Kuntsche said. But while the latter trends have also seen a sharp increase among Malta’s teenagers, so has the practice of going out at night with friends.

The researchers analysed data on 93,297 15-year-olds from periodic health surveys, the “Health Behaviour in School-Aged Children” study, conducted in collaboration with the World Health Organisation, which, among a multitude of other things, asked about marijuana use and evenings out with friends in the past year. Responses to 2006 surveys were compared with those from 2002. The next such research is due to cover the year 2010.

The results of this week’s study – titled “Decrease in Adolescent Cannabis Use from 2002 to 2006 and Links to Evenings Out with Friends” – were published in February’s Archives of Paediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, released on Monday.

Source: Malta Independent Online 6th Feb 2009

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