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15 year old girls and cannabis
Russell Webster

Russell Webster

Criminal Justice & substance misuse expert and author of this blog.

How many teenagers smoke cannabis?

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Cannabis is the most frequently used drug in Europe, with 14.6 million young adultslifetime cannabis use using it in 2014. It was also the most commonly reported substance related to new admissions to drug treatment facilities across Europe in 2014 (37% cannabis, 28% heroin and 21% cocaine).

World Health Organisation study

The World Health Organisation (WHO) Health Behaviour in School-Aged Children (HBSC) study provides information about the prevalence of cannabis use amongst school children in Europe based on a 2013/14 study).

Cannabis is the most frequently used drug in Europe, with 14.6 million young adultslifetime cannabis use using it in 2014. It was also the most commonly reported substance related to new admissions to drug treatment facilities across Europe in 2014 (37% cannabis, 28% heroin and 21% cocaine).

Cannabis, regarded as a so-called gateway drug, is the illicit substance used most frequently by schoolchildren across Europe and North America, with a 12-month prevalence ranging from about 27% in Canada to around 3% in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

The HBSC median is in the region of 10% (3–5). Adolescents use the drug for a variety of reasons, including experimentation, mood enhancement, social enhancement and peer conformity.

Young people in their teenage years are more likely to use cannabis if they have friends or older siblings who do so and if they experience either low parental involvement and reinforcement or high levels of coercive discipline.

Many countries have introduced new regulatory approaches and policies to enable the prescription of cannabis for medical purposes and public debate on legalization for recreational (non-medical) use is growing. Five states of the United States and two countries (the Netherlands and Uruguay) have implemented policies that legalize cannabis for recreational use for people over the age of 21. Population surveys show that the perception of cannabis-associated risk has declined significantly as a result of the ongoing debate, with some countries seeing an increase in use among adolescents and young adults.

Key findings

The survey examined how many teenagers have ever used cannabis (lifetime use), those who had used in the last 30 days (recent use) and the proportion of people who had used cannabis for the first time aged 13 years old or younger.

Lifetime use

The information is for 15 year olds. Boys used cannabis more commonly in around half of countries and regions. A difference of 10 percentage points was seen in three (Estonia, Italy and Switzerland). In England, rates of lifetime use were 19% for both boys and girls compared to an HBSC average of 17% for boys and 13% girls.

Recent Use

An average of 9% 15 year old boys and 6% girls of the same age had used cannabis in the last 30 days. In England the figures were very similar —- 9% for boys and 8% for girls. The same figures for France were considerably higher – 16% and 14% respectively, while in Sweden and Moldova, the figure was just 2%.

recent cannabis use

Early use

An average of 4% old boys and 3% girls had used cannabis for the first time when aged 13 years or younger. In England the figures were very similar —- 5% for boys and 3% for girls. In Canada, 8% boys and 7% girls had first tried cannabis at this age.

early cannabis use

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