A recently-released report by the Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission (CICAD) of the Organisation of American States (OAS) has found that a growing number of T&T secondary school students are turning to the recreational use of marijuana.
The report notes an increase in prevalence from 6.4 per cent in 2010 to 10.7 per cent in 2013 in T&T. The regional average is 8.8 per cent. Over 4,100 local students were surveyed.
The CICAD report reflects research conducted in 13 countries, including Antigua and Barbuda, The Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, St Kitts and Nevis, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines and T&T.
Researchers noted that while "by far the most widely consumed substance is alcohol," that was followed by marijuana, which "continues to be the most widely used illegal substance reported by students."
It was also recognised as being readily available in most countries of the region and, in some instances, more widely used than tobacco, with an average "first use" age of 13.
Ironically, in Jamaica, which has more relaxed laws on the use of marijuana, there has been little change in prevalence among secondary school students, 21.1 per cent of whom have tried it at least once, lower than in countries such as Dominica, Antigua and Barbuda, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines and St Kitts and Nevis.
In T&T, close to 70 per cent of students said they had tried alcohol at least once, about 49.4 per cent within the previous 12 months and 27.6 per cent less than a month before being surveyed, with girls marginally outnumbering boys. This was almost three times the prevalence for recent marijuana use.
A majority of students surveyed regionally for the report said they believed that frequent marijuana use was "very harmful." This perception, however, was noted to be in decline, 71.4 per cent in 2010 and 63 per cent in 2013.
There is also concern about the effects of second-hand marijuana smoke. More than half of all students surveyed (53.4 per cent) felt that inhaling second-hand marijuana smoke was also "very harmful." In T&T, the statistic was 56.7 per cent.
A Cannabis Abuse Screening Test (CAST) was used to determine the level of risk of abuse. It was found that the risk of cannabis abuse was 64 per cent region-wide, 37.3 per cent at low risk and 26.6 per cent at high risk. The "high risk" factor in T&T is 30 per cent.
The study also looked at the use of other illegal substances, such as crack cocaine. A little more than two per cent of students surveyed in T&T reported either in the past year or during the course of their lifetime having tried the drug. Up to 11.1 per cent also reported that crack cocaine was "easy to obtain."
Lifetime experience with cocaine was marginally higher, though the "past year" report was much lower at under 1.5 per cent. Up to 15 per cent of T&T students also reported that cocaine was relatively easy to find.
Though up to 9.4 per cent of T&T students reported that ecstasy was easy to access, just over 1.5 per cent reported they had used it at least once.
The study reports a "consistent positive relationship, between past year prevalence and behavioural problems," including low grades, associated as much with alcohol use as with cigarettes, inhalants and marijuana, though there is specific concern about alcohol use.
In T&T, students were most concerned about the impact of substance abuse on important school grades, the possibility of physical confrontation, memory loss and family conflict.
The CICAD report says its findings point to the need for "policies and strategies that are appropriate to the local conditions in each geographic locale" and that "country specific data must be used to formulate policies and provide for prevention initiatives."
"Alcohol and marijuana are the main drugs of use in most countries," it concludes.
"Prevalence is relatively high but there is substantial variability from country to country."
"Tobacco," the report adds, "is also used throughout the region but to a lesser extent than alcohol and even marijuana.
"Prevalence suggests that cigarette use is mainly for the purpose of experimentation, given that current use rates are very low.
"What is interesting is the comparison of use of cigarettes versus marijuana, past year marijuana prevalence surpassed past year cigarette prevalence in most of the countries by a factor of two to three times in some instances and past month prevalence for marijuana was also notably higher than past month cigarette use in most countries," the report says.