In an article in Sec Ed, Helena Conibear talks about the need for cannibis education as part of PSHE

Use of cannabis among teenagers is on the rise and charity the Alcohol Education Trust has responded with new workshops for schools. CEO Helena Conibear offers some tips on tackling cannabis education

During the 12 years that the Alcohol Education Trust has been supporting schools to ensure children make safer choices around alcohol, all the trends of use have been declining for alcohol, drugs and smoking.

Sadly, there is now clear evidence among 11 to 15-year-olds and 16 to 24-year-olds that use of cannabis and cannabis derivatives (such as THC-laced products and edibles) is rising again – and quite markedly so.

The latest Home Office figures cited at the 10 Year Drug Strategy Conference held in May, suggest that 20% of young people are using cannabis regularly and that it is the recreational drug of choice.

We do not have accurate figures for any changes in trends during lockdown, but we feel it is unlikely that level of use has declined.

Furthermore, in a survey of more than 4,100 sixth-formers conducted by the Daniel Spargo-Mabbs (DSM) Foundation, teenagers cite cannabis as being more available to them than cigarettes. Hence it is not surprising that we are increasingly asked to cover cannabis or alcohol and cannabis early intervention/prevention in staff training, parent talks, and sixth form workshops.

It is a complex subject to cover, both in terms of the number of forms it takes (derived from the plant and synthetic forms) as well as attitudes towards cannabis. It is difficult for young people to comprehend that a gummy bear or chocolate can be laced with high levels of THC and have a greater psychotic effect than straight cannabis and that we can have no idea what the ingredients are in anything purchased as the market is totally unregulated.

There is a widespread opinion that cannabis is benign, and some believe it to be safer to use than alcohol. This is not surprising as CBD oils and products are legal and seen as pain-relieving or helping with anxiety and depression. Also, cannabis is legalised in several countries including parts of the US and in Canada.

At the Alcohol Education Trust, we began by covering the use of alcohol and cannabis together for key stage 4, as both are depressants and so have a double effect – slowing reactions and impairing coordination.

But we have now developed an in-depth workshop focusing solely on cannabis, in which ask teenagers to think about the effects of use and facilitate discussion and working in small groups.

This includes discussing the motives of pushers and dealers and the impact on young people and the community (including gangs, grooming and county lines). We also discuss changing perceived norms (remember, 80% of young people are not using cannabis), the law, why hospital admissions linked to cannabis and psychosis are increasing, and alternative ways of coping with anxiety and stress.

A balance of information, nuanced and carefully managed activities and discussion we hope will begin to change this worrying rise in use. We should also be aware that MDMA and cocaine-use is also rising among 16 to 24-year-olds, so drug education as part of secondary PSHE has never been more important.

To