Cannnabis use among 15- and 16-year-olds in Malta is lower than the European average, even though a higher-than-average share say it is easy to obtain, a recent study has indicated.
This data emerged from a study conducted by the Faculty of Social Wellbeing within the University of Malta, and puts together the latest research covering alcohol, tobacco, illicit drugs and other prescription drugs, along with the perception of young people towards substance use.
The study was commissioned by the Save a Life Foundation, which was established by Nationalist Party MP Claudio Grech.
Titled ‘Substance use in adolescents and emerging adulthood’, the study found that 16 per cent of youths aged 15-16 in Malta use cannabis - a figure four percentage points lower than the EU average.
Cannabis use is currently high on the policy agenda, following a white paper proposal by the government to liberalise its recreational use and cultivation. The proposals are currently open to public consultation.
According to the study launched on Monday, a third of Maltese 15- and 16-year-olds perceive cannabis to be easy to obtain, more than double the rate of their European peers.
This finding reflects the 2019 edition of the annual European school survey project on alcohol and other drugs, in which a total of 33 per cent of local respondents said that cannabis is easy to obtain, one percentage point more than the ESPAD average of 32 per cent.
Lifetime use of tobacco has more than halved among school children in that age bracket in Malta, the study indicates. Students have reported that tobacco products are becoming less available.
When it comes to alcohol, the report notes that whilst there has been a steady decrease in heavy episodic drinking (five or more drinks in a row) amongst 15-and 16-year-olds, hazardous drinking is found to be common amongst university students.
The study also notes a gender gap in alcohol consumption, with more men consuming alcohol rather than females.
The report shows that the use of illicit drugs other than cannabis is very low among Malta's school-age population.
When it comes to treatment demand, studies show that 41 per cent of individuals accessing treatment are under the age of 35, and that males are more likely to seek out treatment.
“The majority of individuals accessing treatment report doing so mainly due to heroin use. This trend has gradually been decreasing in the past years, while the use of cocaine as a primary drug among service users has increased," report writers noted.
The study also provided a list of policy and research recommendations, recognising the importance of having an evidence-based strategy to ensure coordinated action on substance use.
Speaking on Monday as the report findings were presented, Save a Life Foundation founder Claudio Grech said:
“We have an obligation to support the agencies and organisations on the frontlines of the struggle against drug abuse and this research is a solid contribution towards that goal."
Read the report in the PDF below