The prevalence of marijuana use increased among Australian school students during the 1990s while the age of onset decreased. Earlier onset of marijuana use was linked to an increase in the risk of developing other drug-related and social problems. Students who used marijuana were typically had poorer learning outcomes at school, were more likely to drop-out and risked mental health problems if they remained regular marijuana users after their teenage years. Increases in social acceptability of the drug were seen to have led to decreased perceptions of risk and disapproval among young people in the 1990s and strategies targeting access were showing to have limited impact. In the early 2000s in WA, school-based marijuana education largely addressed the needs of students who had not experimented with the drug. However, at this time, by age 15 over half of students had experimented, one quarter had used it in the previous week and 12% had used it three or more times in the last week. New approaches to improve the effectiveness of marijuana education were seen to be needed as it appeared that the strategies in use at the time were having limited success. Year 8 provided an ideal time to start education while use was still low.
Building on our successful Smoking Cessation for Youth Project (SCYP) conducted with over 4000 students in 30 Perth government high schools in 1999 and 2000, the Marijuana Education Project aimed to reduce the social and associated effects of marijuana use among 12 to 14 year-old students through an intervention of skill-based activities designed to assist young people who are experimenters or regular users to quit or reduce while encouraging those who have never used to remain that way. Activities comprised: promoting non-use and supporting non-users’ decisions not to use; reducing recruitment and delaying initiation to marijuana use; increasing cessation; and limiting use and risk associated with use. Implementation of the intervention was conducted during the 2002 and 2003 school years with a follow-up evaluation in 2004.
While the Marijuana Education Project demonstrated that the harm minimisation intervention had a more positive impact than the abstinence-based approaches in use at that time, the effect sizes were relatively small. However, the combined evidence from this project and the successful Smoking Cessation for Youth Project (SCYP) conducted with over 4000 students in 30 Perth government high schools in 1999 and 2000 provided a clearer understanding of the effectiveness of a harm minimisation education approach to a range of drug-related contexts. Furthermore, the Marijuana Education Project provided important insights into marijuana use at a time just before the period of most rapid onset of using this drug for young people.
For further information about this project please contact Ms Tommy Cordin at email@example.com
Curtin University, Dr Greg Hamilton
Professor Donna Cross
University of Michigan, United States, Professor Ken Resnicow
Dr Shelley Beatty