By Margarita Nahapetyan
A new study published this week in the February issue of Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, showed worrying statistics about use of marijuana among teenagers. Research found that smoking pot among teens has dramatically increased in many countries between 2002 and 2006, and those who went out with friends in the evening were more likely to consume it occasionally. The results have been based on the youngsters' own reports on this matter.
Despite of the fact that most of the adolescents use the drug for recreational purposes, and only on different occasions, the phenomenon is still considered to be very dangerous. "Cannabis [marijuana] use among young people is a serious public health concern," the authors wrote in the article.
According to the recent evidence marijuana use is linked to car accidents, injuries, inflammatory and cancerous changes in the airways and mental health problems such as stress and depression. In addition, long-term smoking leads to poor academic performance and failure to satisfactorily complete school, jeopardizing future education and career opportunities.
To investigate this issue, Swiss Institute for the Prevention of Alcohol and Drugs Problems researcher Emmanuel Kuntsche, PhD, and his colleagues collected data from 93,297 15 year-old students, from 31 different countries, who participated in the Health Behavior in School-Aged Children study mostly in Europe and North America. Participants were asked to fill in a questionnaire in 2002, and later again, in 2006, about marijuana use and the number of evenings per week they usually spent outside the home with their friends, as well as the number of friends the teenagers usually went out with.
"One factor that may help explain why adolescents engage in cannabis use is association with cannabis-using peers, which can increase the availability of cannabis and socially influence use," the authors explained.
The investigators found that during the four-year study period, marijuana use went down in some of the countries, with the largest decreases being found in England, Portugal, Switzerland, Slovenia and Canada. However, significant increases were observed in Estonia, Lithuania, and Malta and among Russian girls.
During the same period of time, the number of evenings out with friends also decreased in most countries, although there was a wide range in averages, from about one evening per week for girls from Portugal to more than three evenings per week among boys and girls in the Ukraine, Russia, Scotland, Estonia and Spain.
"The more frequently adolescents reported going out with their friends in the evenings, the more likely they were to report using cannabis," the authors wrote. "This link was consistent for boys and girls and across survey years. Across countries, changes in the mean [average] frequency of evenings spent out were strongly linked to changes in cannabis use."
Kuntsche also noted that web browsing, cell phone use, and instant messaging play their role in "partly replacing face-to-face contacts, leading to fewer social contacts in the evenings."
However, the investigators said that more research is needed to "learn more about the nature of evenings out with friends and related factors that might explain changes in adolescent cannabis use over time."