More and More Teenagers and Women Are Smoking Cannabis

Official figures from England and Wales also show ketamine use is up among young people, but cocaine and MDMA use fell, even before lockdown.
Max Daly
London, GB
December 9, 2020, 2:50pm
4/20 day in London's Hyde Park this year. Photo: Dinendra Haria/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images
4/20 day in London's Hyde Park this year. Photo by Dinendra Haria/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

More women and teenagers are smoking weed and people from the south west are the most likely drug takers, according to the latest government drug use data for England and Wales.

Published on Wednesday, the statistics revealed that the proportion of people aged 16-19 who said they had used cannabis at least once over 12 months had jumped to nearly one in five (19.2 percent), the highest since 2010/2011.

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This age group was also the most likely of any age group to say it was “easy” for them to buy drugs, with 59 percent saying so. 

Data from the NHS in 2018 showed a rise in the number of school children aged 11-15 who had used cannabis in the last year.

While the proportion of men who had used cannabis at least once over 12 months fell to under one in ten (9.8 percent), for women it increased to 5.7 percent, the highest since 2005/06. 

The survey found that although the number of teenagers and women using cannabis was on the rise – perhaps because the liberalisation of drug laws in countries such as the US and Canada has normalised its use – there was not a rise in the frequency of their use of the drug.

While cannabis use among people aged 16-24 is rising again in Britain, with 18.7 percent using it in the last 12 months, it is much more popular among young people in the US, where 35.4 percent of 18-25 year olds said they had used the drug in the last year. An identical proportion of young people in the US and Britain - 5.3 percent – said they had used powder cocaine in the last year. 

The data, which covers April 2019 to March 2020, a period that mostly precedes the impact of COVID-19 – also showed the use of ketamine among young people aged 16-24 increased to 3.2 percent, the highest proportion on record. 

So far research into the impact of COVID-19 on drug use has shown a rise in the use of alcohol, cannabis, opioids, benzos and some psychedelic drugs, and a fall in the use of party drugs such as cocaine and MDMA.

But the survey showed cocaine use had already started to fall before COVID. Following its steady rise in popularity over the last decade, cocaine use – particularly among young men – fell, as did the use of MDMA. There was a big drop in the proportion of frequent users of cocaine, from 14.4 percent to 8.7 percent.

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The popularity of speed, the second most prevalent drug in the UK in the late 1990s, continued to plummet, with just 0.3 percent of adults having taken it at least once over 12 months. 

The south west region, which covers areas such as Cornwall, Devon, Dorset and Bristol, continued to show the highest prevalence of drug use in England and Wales. 

The data shows that 12 percent of residents had taken any drug in the last year – more than double the proportion in the north east, the region with the highest proportion of drug deaths in the country. People living in the south west were the most likely in the country to take cannabis and hallucinogens. They were more than six times more likely to take a trip than people in the north west and twice as likely to use cannabis than those in the north east.  

The survey found that people living in low income families were more likely to have used drugs in the last year, although private renters were more likely to have used drugs than council tenants. 

Harry Sumnall, professor of substance use at Liverpool John Moores University, said: “We will have to wait until 2021 to find out what impact COVID-related lockdowns had on drug use in England and Wales. Whilst drug use has decreased over the last 20 years, recent increases seem to have stalled.”