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Home » School policy and young people’s risk of cannabis, mephedrone and novel psychoactive substances (NPS) use

School policy and young people’s risk of cannabis, mephedrone and novel psychoactive substances (NPS) use

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A study by DECIPHer PhD student Luke Midgley explores the influence of school substance misuse policies on young people’s risk of cannabis, mephedrone and NPS use. This article was first published on the NCPHRW website.

The Challenge

Ill-health, disability and early death linked to drug use in young people increased between 1990 and 2013, and there is growing evidence that drug use begins in mid-adolescence and peaks in early adulthood.  These findings along with the arrival of higher strength cannabis products and new psychoactive substances (NPS) – is a growing concern.

Schools provide access and an ideal opportunity to educate young people about the harms of drugs.  School policies set values and expectations for student behaviour, as well as outlining the procedures for dealing with substance-misuse-related incidents in school, such as isolation.  The content of policies and whether schools implement them varies greatly.

The Research

The study drew on data from the School Health Research Network (SHRN), supported by the NCPHWR and involved 66 secondary schools in Wales with 18, 939 students aged between 11–16 years.

The study combined SHRN data from:

  • Secondary school student surveys
  • School Environment Questionnaires

In addition, the student assessed school substance-misuse policies, which were coded to help classify and identify specific elements of the policies, and added to into the data.

The Findings

Prevalence of drug use:

  • Students that have tried cannabis: 4.8%
  • Cannabis use past 30-day: 2.6%
  • Daily cannabis use: 0.7%
  • Students that have tried Mephedrone: 1.1%
  • Students that have tried NPS: 1.5%

School policy observations:

  • 5% reported having a substance-misuse policy.
  • 9% had a referral pathway for drug using students.

Researchers found little evidence of a beneficial association between drug use and involving students in policy development. The School Environment Questionnaires found:

  • 4% schools reported no student involvement in policy development.
  • 4% reported student council consultation, 18.2% used other student consultations and 9.7% mentioned isolation.

The Impact

This was the first study to examine the risk of daily cannabis, mephedrone and NPS use with variations in the presence, development and content of a school’s substance-misuse policy.

Policy development involving students is widely recommended, however, the study found no beneficial associations between student involvement in policy development and reduction in student drug use.

The results from this study have improved our understanding of drug use amongst 11 – 16-year-olds and the research has highlighted the need for further understanding around the policy-development process and how schools manage drug misuse.

Read the full research publication here.