Cannabis use among school students lower than European average

A drug consumption study suggests that illicit drug use isn't posing a serious concern among 15 and 16 year olds

Cannabis use among 15-16 year olds stands lower than the European average, while males and emerging adults are more likely to hold liberal attitudes towards the substance. 

This was concluded by the Faculty for Social Wellbeing at the University of Malta in a report on substance use among adolescente age groups. 

The study found that use of illicit drugs other than cannabis is very low among the school-age population, while alcohol use has become highly normalised, especially among university students. 

Among 15 and 16 year olds, the study found a steady decrease in heavy episodic drinking, but a small proportion of the age group appear to be drinking in a "hazardous manner".

Additionally, alcohol consumption tends to be more common in men, even as the gender gap in drug use continues to narrow.

On the other hand, non-medical use of prescription drugs (NMUPD) is most prevalent among females, and tends to increase with age.

Trauma and interpersonal violence contribute to this. The study reports that NMUPDs are used to cope with relational stress and negative emotional states.

Men appear to be more likely to seek out and access treatment for substance abuse, but the data indicates that Malta has an ageing population of treatment service users. A majority of individuals accessing treatment report doing so due to heroin use.

The 132-page report offers policy and research recommendations in line with its findings. While there is an abundance of data on children and school-age adolescents, there is a research gap on post-secondary and tertiary education level age groups. 

The report also noted that more effort is needed to capture drug use among NEETs - not in education, employment, or training 

Adoption of longitudinal research projects is further suggested, whereby researchers identify participants at relatively early ages and follow them into early adulthood to examine how predictor variables are related to outcomes at later ages.

For policymakers, the report notes the importance of evidence-based, multidisciplinary policy, while taking a human rights approach to the issue. 

It also suggests the use of positive discourse when tackling drug use, by using positive terminology such as "solutions" as opposed to "challenges".

The study was commissioned by the Save a Life Foundation, established by Nationalist MP Claudio Grech in 2013.

The full report can be read here