Finnish teens using more cannabis, less alcohol and cigarettes

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Use of intoxicants by youngsters in Finland is changing. While the number of people in their mid-teens who have never consumed alcohol has risen to 31 percent, more youth are trying marijuana.

One in 10 Finnish youth aged 15-16 has used cannabis while attitudes toward illicit drugs have become more positive. That is according to a study conducted last spring and published on Tuesday by the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL).

The poll suggests that cannabis experimentation and usage have risen particularly among boys. This is in contrast to neighbouring Sweden and Norway, where cannabis usage has not risen among minors, and may even be lower than in Finland.

The results are from the European School Survey Project on Alcohol and Other Drugs (ESPAD), which has been carried out every fourth year since 1995 in 23-39 European countries. Students turning 16 during the year of study take part in the survey. In Finland, more than 4,600 ninth graders participated.

The use of cannabis and snus (powdered tobacco) has become more common, but they have not replaced cigarettes and alcohol, says Kirsimarja Raitasalo, a senior researcher at the THL. Rather, the use of controlled substances often seems to be more concentrated among the same young individuals.

"During the entire observation period, cannabis use has been more common among the young people who use alcohol, particularly those regularly engaged in binge drinking, compared to those abstaining from alcohol use. It appears that cannabis has not replaced alcohol, but has instead been adopted alongside it," she says.

Marijuana use on the rise

Cannabis usage has increased year by year in Finland, especially among boys in the last four years.

One in 10 ninth graders has tried cannabis. In the 1990s only about five percent of youth surveyed said they had tried cannabis and attitudes were more negative.

Young people say that cannabis use has steadily increased because it is easy to access. Another reason is that many consider it to be risk-free. About half of respondents said they did not believe there were any risks in experimenting with pot, and 16 percent of boys said they did not even see any risks in regular usage.

A similar trend has been seen for some time among young adults as well. Roughly one in four Finns has tried marijuana at some point.

More teetotallers, fewer smokers

While the parents of today's ninth graders were statistically likely to have consumed alcohol heavily as teenagers, today's kids are more moderate when it comes to alcoholic beverages.

Their alcohol consumption has declined throughout the 2000s. More than 30 percent of those in their mid-teens say they have never drunk alcohol, and four out of 10 say they have not done so within the past year. This is partly due to stricter rules and surveillance of alcohol sales. Still, alcohol remains the most widely used intoxicant in this age group.

Cigarette smoking has dropped sharply among ninth graders over the past couple of decades. Now just seven percent say they smoke daily, down from one in four in 1995. Again researchers attribute this to stiffer regulations as well as price hikes and attitudinal shifts.

However they say that one worrying trend is that girls are generally using some controlled substances as much as boys. For instance, a few years ago the use of snus was rising rapidly among boys. It has now plateaued among boys, but is now rising among girls. According to the poll 19 percent of them say they have tried the tobacco pouches compared to 35 percent of their male counterparts.

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