Prevention of cannabis use

Concern in some countries about increasing cannabis consumption among young people has resulted in discussions about whether drug testing would be a useful control measure. Some countries have taken steps in this direction, although drug testing measures remain uncommon. In the Czech Republic, there have been reports in the media of the use of urine testing and drug detection sniffer dogs in schools. While there is some support for these measures, an expert panel concluded that such methods should not form any part of an effective primary prevention strategy. In the United Kingdom, newly launched guidelines for schools note a number of important issues that need to be considered before implementing a drug testing programme. These include ensuring that appropriate consent is obtained from parents (and pupils if they are deemed competent), considering whether testing is consistent with the school’s pastoral duty of care and taking into account the availability or otherwise of appropriate support services. Any decision to subject pupils to drug testing must be included in the school’s drug policy. The EMCDDA website includes a short report on drug testing in schools in the EU (41).

Cannabis is almost always included in universal (non-targeted) drug prevention programmes. Attention given in the media to the increasing use of cannabis among young people, with the insinuation that cannabis use is increasingly ‘normal’, emphasises the need to address normative beliefs among young people. Unease about the growing acceptance of cannabis use among young people has resulted in the introduction of prevention programmes that aim to address their beliefs about what constitutes normal or acceptable behaviour. This issue is discussed in more detail in Chapter 2. Many interventions consist principally of providing information on cannabis through media campaigns, leaflets or websites. However, some interesting examples of selective prevention do exist, and these can be found in the EMCDDA’s database of evaluated prevention projects, EDDRA (42). These schemes mostly target young cannabis users who have committed drug offences and offer counselling, personal competence training and multiagency support. Examples of these schemes include FRED (Germany), MSF-Solidarité Jeunes (Luxembourg), Ausweg (Austria) and youth offending teams (YOTs) in the United Kingdom.

The high prevalence of cannabis use among young people means that the use of the drug is often a central issue for those working with school-aged children. One potentially promising selective school-based prevention approach is the Step by Step Programme, which has been implemented in Germany and Austria. This programme helps teachers to identify and deal with drug consumption and problem behaviours among their pupils (43).

A difficult issue for those engaging in the responses to cannabis is where to draw the line between a prevention perspective and a treatment perspective. Cannabis use is influenced by social, peer and personal factors, and these factors play an important part in an individual’s risk of developing a long-term drug problem; thus, prevention work often focuses on these areas rather than on the drug itself (Morral et al., 2002). For example, an evaluation of the Ausweg project, Austria, found that young people notified for first-time cannabis offences were less likely than expected to exhibit personality deficits, illustrating the importance of situational, social and peer influences, rather than individual psychological problems, on drug use (Rhodes et al., 2003; Butters, 2004). A number of projects do focus, however, on cannabis and advise young people on reducing their drug use. An example from Germany is the ‘Quit the Shit’ website, which is an innovative website-based counselling programme for cannabis users.


(41http://www.emcdda.europa.eu/?nnodeid=7022.

(42http://eddra.emcdda.europa.eu/.

(43) See the EDDRA website for further information: Step by Step and Early detection and intervention with regard to problematic drug use and addiction.