An increasing number of young people in the UK believe that cannabis is less dangerous than alcohol, according to new data from NHS Digital published by the BBC.
Faye, a 22-year-old, says that “people of my generation see cannabis as safer than drinking and safer than smoking,” noting that the health risks of drinking and smoking “have been drummed into us.”
According to Faye, a better solution than the “say no” approach young people are exposed to at the moment is to provide further information about the dangers of illegal drugs — something that she claims is effective at preventing alcohol and tobacco use.
At her school, Faye notes that the message delivered regarding drugs was simply that you must “never do them,” whereas alcohol and tobacco were subject to much more detailed information regarding health risks and dangers.
“You’re told your whole life, ‘These drugs are bad for you and they could kill you,’ and then when you do these drugs and you’re fine and having fun, you reflect on your education and think that maybe everything you’ve been told is wrong.”
Faye (a false name), isn’t the only young person in the UK with a diverging view on the relative risks of alcohol, tobacco and cannabis. According to data from 2016, UK school pupils have a higher chance of using recreational drugs than cigarettes.
The trend is a significant reversal from previous decades, in which tobacco was widely used but recreational drug use was relatively rare among young people. According to the research, 24% of British 11 to 15-year-olds claimed to have used recreational drugs at least once.
The 2016 figures show a significant increase from previous surveys. In 2014, a similar survey showed a recreational drug use rate of just 15% for pupils of the same age, indicating a nine point increase in drug use over just two years.
Many recreational drug users are in the early teens. Darren, a 24-year-old interviewed by the BBC, started using cannabis at age 13, stating that he “loves the way” the drug helps him feel relaxed.
Like other young people, Darren’s interest in cannabis over tobacco and alcohol was partly a result of a belief that cannabis is a safer option.
Darren states that he heard how alcohol “can kill, cause liver damage [and] affect your speech” and noted that people “lose limbs and life by doing silly things” while intoxicated. Cannabis, on the other hand, “sounds like a softer option.”
Cannabis is also “more normalised” now than in previous decades, with a significantly higher number of people openly discussing use of the drug. The legalisation of recreational cannabis, which just took place in Canada, may also have contributed to an increase in interest.
Despite the changing attitudes of young people, both recreational and medical cannabis remain illegal in the UK. The government recently announced a review of policy, paving the way for the potential legalisation of cannabis and cannabis-based products as medical treatments.