Cannabis use among teens has risen in recent years, according to a survey compiled by the Israeli branch of the international Health Behavior in School-aged Children organization that was released on Monday.
The survey, which sampled 14,000 pupils in sixth, eighth, 10th, 11th and 12th grades, found that parallel to the rise in the use of cannabis was a decrease in the number of pupils who thought the drug was dangerous.
In 2011, 15 percent of 15- to 18-yearolds reported thinking there was no danger in using cannabis, while in 2014 the number jumped to 24% of the same age group.
The rate among boys was higher than girls,, jumping from 18.8% thinking there was no danger in using cannabis in 2011 up to 36.2% in 2014.
While 5.4% of secular Jewish 10th-grade pupils reported using cannabis in the 12 months prior to the 2011 survey, that number jumped to 8.8% in the 12 months prior to the 2014 survey.
The highest rate of 10th graders who reported using cannabis was found among Arab boys – with 16.4%, and the lowest rate was among girls from state religious schools – with 1%.
According to the report, the decrease in the perception of cannabis as dangerous has translated into a significant increase in use of the drug among youth.
“The data shows that there is a direct correlation between the perception of the danger of the drug and the willingness to use it,” said Eitan Gorni, acting director-general of the Israel Anti-Drug Authority.
Gorni blamed the increase on “the liberal discourse on the topic of cannabis [that] ignores the significant dangers of the drug,” which is “led by political factors and others, with no regard of its consequences on youth.”
In addition, there has been a moderate increase in the use of ecstasy and LSD among Israeli youth. Among secular Jewish 10th-grade students, 2.1% reported using one of the drugs in the 12 months prior to the 2011 survey, whereas 3.2% reported using one of the drugs in the same time period prior to the recent survey.
Once again, 10th-grade Arab boys were most likely to have used the drugs (14%), in comparison to 10th-grade girls from state religious schools, who were least likely to have used the drugs (0%).
“On an international comparison, Israel still ranks in the bottom third of the table, with some 7% use [of cannabis] among 15-year-olds, but if the upward trend continues, Israel’s relative ranking will get worse,” said Dr.
Yossi Harel-Fisch, head of the International Research Program on Adolescent Well-Being and Health at Bar-Ilan University and chief scientist at the Israel Anti-Drug Authority.
“The data cannot be disconnected from the public discourse on the subject of legalizing drugs, a discourse that creates legitimacy among youth to use cannabis,” he added.
The survey was conducted under the auspices of the Israel Anti-Drug Authority and the Health Ministry, and carried out by a research team at the School of Education at Bar-Ilan University, led by Harel-Fisch, who also serves as Health Behavior in School-aged Children’s chief researcher.
Parallel to the HBSC survey, the Israel Anti-Drug Authority carried out a survey of 1,562 students across 14 university and college campuses. Students answered questionnaires handed out by representatives from the authority.
The survey showed an increase in cannabis use among students, rising from 31% of students who had used the drug in the 12 months prior to a 2013 survey up to 40% of students who had used the drug in the same time period prior to the recent survey.
Moreover, 37% of the students reported not thinking that use of cannabis is dangerous.
There was, however, broad consensus among the students about the danger of illegal drugs sold at kiosks, with only 6.2% reporting that they do not think there is any danger in them.
No significant changes were noted in the rates of students using kiosk-drugs between 2013 and 2014, but cocaine use had risen from 3.7% in 2013 to 5.3% in 2014.
Additionally, 19% of students admitted they had driven a car after using drugs – a 3% increase since 2013.
The public discourse ignores the dangers of drug, “in relation to the 20% of patients under the age of 25 who come to rehabilitation villages following marijuana use, in relation to the tens of thousands of people who are impaired by marijuana use – whose joy of life, motivation, and ability to live a productive and beneficial life is impaired, and the youth whose normal development is impaired by marijuana use” Gorni said.
“Therefore, we will all do well if we will know how to manage the public discourse in a responsible manner and not turn a dangerous drug into something innocent and harmless in the eyes of youth.”