Cannabis Use among Adolescents: Risk Pattern, Implications and Possible Explanatory Variables

According to the Spanish Survey on Drug Use in Secondary Schools (ESTUDES), cannabis remains the most used illegal substance among Spanish adolescents, with around 3 out of 10 students reporting lifetime use. 

Several studies have warned of the implications of the use of cannabis on neurobiological development. Therefore, it is vital to identify and analyse the risk factors linked with adolescent cannabis use in order to design appropriate prevention interventions.

In a recent study, published in Adicciones, researchers have analysed:

  • current figures for the number of adolescents users of both cannabis and other psychoactive substances, as well as onset ages high-risk consumption, incorporating adolescents aged 12 and 13 into the sample frame;
  • the relationship between the polydrug use of tobacco and cannabis and other behaviours
  • the role of possible prognostic factors, both of a personal (such as self-esteem, impulsivity, social skills or assertiveness), and of a family nature

Questionnaires were designed to find out about substance use habits, identify adolescents with high-risk cannabis use, assess different risky behaviours on the Internet, and finally, potential variables linked with increased risk of cannabis use.

Results from the study found that:

  • alcohol is the substance most frequently used by adolescents aged 12-18 years, followed by tobacco and cannabis
  • around one in four of those who used cannabis in the previous year were using the substance with high risk.
  • there were more adolescents who smoke both tobacco and cannabis than tobacco only
  • users of tobacco and cannabis have a significantly higher probability of engaging in a variety of risky online behaviour.
  • tobacco and cannabis users had the highest impulsivity scores and the lowest assertiveness scores.
  • the probability of belonging to the risk group increased the later the adolescents arrive home

Overall the study highlights the concerning levels of cannabis use amongst adolescents, as well as risk factors that seem to be linked with an increased likelihood of harmful substance use. The research also points to the importance of both institutional and family involvement in adolescent substance use prevention.

Rial, A.; Burkhart, G.; Isorna, M.; Barreiro, C.; Varela, J.; Golpe, S. Cannabis use among adolescents: Risk pattern, implications and possible explanatory variables. Adicciones 2018