Teen Marijuana Use Soars in Israel as Perception of Danger Dissipates

Anti-drug agency points to direct correlation between perceiving a drug as dangerous and using it.

Marijuana use among Israeli teenagers is soaring as perceptions about the danger of the drug change, according to a new survey by the Anti-Drug and Alcohol Authority.

The percentage of Jewish 10th graders who reported trying marijuana in 2014 was 8.8 percent, up from 5.4 percent in 2011, the survey showed. The corresponding 2014 number for Arab students was about 11 percent, while 4.4 percent of 10th graders from state religious schools had used marijuana.

The survey, which encompassed 14,000 teenagers, was conducted by a team of researchers from Bar Ilan University, with authority and Health Ministry funding. It is part of an international HBSC (Health Behavior in School-age Children) survey of health behaviors among teens.

The perception that marijuana is dangerous is in clear decline, according to the survey. While in 2011, 14.8 percent of students aged 15-18 thought that no danger was involved in marijuana use, that number had jumped to 24 percent by 2014. Boys, in particular, showed a change in attitude.

Authority chief scientist Dr. Yossi Harel-Fish said that the new findings indicate a clear corrolation between the decline in the perception of marijuana as dangerous and a significant increase in the use of marijuana by Israeli teenagers.

The survey also indicates a moderate increase in the use of ecstasy and LSD among secular Jewish 10th graders. The overall figure of 3.8 percent is boosted by high LSD use, 7.7 percent, in the Arab sector.

Globally, however, marijuana use in Israel is still relatively low. The country ranks 23rd out of 29 European countries.

“Israeli is still in the lower third of the chart, with 7 percent use among 15-year-olds,” said Harel-Fish. “But if the trend toward increase continues, Israel’s ranking will get worse. The findings cannot be divorced from the public discourse about legalizing drugs, which creates legitimacy among teens to use cannabis. The Anti-Drug and Alcohol Authority is concerned about the trend.”

University drug use

A survey conducted among university students from 14 different campuses also indicated a sharp increased in marijuana use. The number of students who reported using marijuana in the preceding 12 months jumped to about 40 percent in 2014 from 31 percent in 2013.

According to the survey, 37 percent of students believe that marijuana use poses no risk, as compared to “kiosk drugs” – a broad range of dangerous substances sold as “drug substitutes” and usually promoted as being legal. Only 6.2 percent of the respondents thought that the latter pose no risk.

The findings of the survey, which encompassed1,562 participants, showed no significant change in the use of kiosk drugs by students – 5.6 percent in 2014 compared to 4.8 percent in 2013.

Cocaine use among students is on the rise, according to the survey, with 5.3 percent of students using the drug in 2014 compared to 3.7 percent in 2013.

The authority also reported that 19 percent of students participating in the 2014 survey admitted driving after drug use, an increase of 3 percent over 2013.

According to attorney Eitan Gorni of the Anti-Drug and Alcohol Authority, the figures show that there is a direct correlation between perceiving a drug as dangerous and using it. “The greater the perception of kiosk drugs as dangerous, the lower their use, and for cannabis the results are the opposite. This is a direct result of the discourse about legalization that is being led by political and other sources, without considering its effect on teenagers.”