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Middle-class kids 'more likely to use cannabis'

Kate Foster, The Scotsman, 2nd July 2006

TEENAGERS from affluent areas are more likely to smoke cannabis than those from poorer backgrounds, say researchers who believe middle-class parents encourage their children to take the drug rather than alcohol.

The Edinburgh Study of Youth Transitions and Crime reveals that by the age of 16 one-third of teenagers had taken some form of drug and for 79% of these it was cannabis alone.

But 35% of teenagers from more affluent backgrounds, with parents working in non-manual jobs, had used cannabis within the past year compared with 30% of those whose parents were either in manual occupations or unemployed.

The researchers, based at Edinburgh University, say this finding is "statistically significant". While delinquency and hard-drug use are more common in areas of greater deprivation or high crime rates, more frequent cannabis use was greater within prosperous neighbourhoods, particularly those with a high student population.

The researchers carried out the study using questionnaires sent to around 4,000 Edinburgh schoolchildren.

Study author Susan McVie, from Edinburgh University school of law, said: "It seems to be the case that cannabis use is more common not only among children from more affluent family backgrounds but among those living in areas characterised by low unemployment and less social housing.

"It is also more common in areas with high levels of social disorganisation and high levels of young people living there and a more transient population. Edinburgh is a university city and cannabis use was highest in those areas where we would associate density of students," she added.

"Anecdotally, among middle-class people parents may be more tolerant of cannabis than alcohol for children because there seems to be greater risks involved in alcohol both short- and long-term."

Last week it emerged the number of Scots children treated for cannabis abuse has almost doubled since the drug was downgraded to class C.

The number of under-16s admitted to Scottish treatment programmes in connection with cannabis use was 198 in 2002. But that grew to 376 in 2005. Statistics showed children as young as nine are receiving treatment.

UN experts have warned that a major increase in the potency of cannabis meant that it now poses health risks similar to those of heroin.

Gaille McCann, founder of the Mothers Against Drugs campaign group, said: "Middle-class people will pass round a joint at dinner parties and in some cases parents allow their children to smoke in order to condone their own drug use.

"If there is a history of mental health problems in the family smoking cannabis poses an additional risk."

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