Government-backed plan to recruit ‘cool kids’ in schools as ‘anti-drug influencers’ to stop the spread of substance abuse
- Classmates will vote and those in the top 17.5% will be invited onto the scheme
- Funded by NHS body; will run across 48 schools in parts of England and Wales
- Comes after ‘limited evidence that drug prevention interventions are effective’
The most popular children at school will be recruited to act as anti-drug ‘influencers’ in a Government-backed scheme.
Teenagers who have been voted by their peers as the most ‘trendy’ will be trained in how to discourage their classmates from taking illicit drugs.
The scheme, known as ‘Frank Friends’, is funded by the NHS body National Institute for Health Research, and will run across 48 schools in West England and South Wales.
The project, which will begin in September, will be run by Cardiff University researchers.
The most popular children at school will be recruited to act as anti-drug ‘influencers’ in a Government scheme that will begin in September across 48 schools (stock)
Dr James White, senior lecturer in public health at Cardiff University, told The Telegraph: ‘There is limited evidence that [current] drug prevention interventions are effective.
‘Schools provide a systematic and efficient way of reaching a large number of people every year.
‘This randomised controlled trial is the best way to determine if the Frank Friends intervention prevents drug use among young people.’
Around 580,000 secondary-school students (18 per cent) in England took drugs at least once last year, according to the charity Mentor UK.
Cannabis is the most common illicit drug, with eight per cent of high-school pupils claiming they used it in 2018.
To help combat this, the Government programme will have 5,600 13-to-14 year olds vote for their most influential classmate.
Those in the top 17.5 per cent will be asked to have two days of training on how to discourage drug taking.
They will then be encouraged to discuss the harms of illicit substances with their classmates over the next ten weeks.
Half the schools in the programme will act as ‘controls’ and will not take part in the scheme.
The effectiveness of the project at stopping adolescent drug use will be compared against these controls.
The scheme will run for three years, making it the UK’s largest school-based drug prevention programme.
Drug use during adolescence has been linked to brain abnormalities, slowed thinking, and impaired learning and memory.
It has also been associated with a reduction in feel-good hormones, which may cause teenagers to spiral into depression.
Experts estimate 13 per cent of people who smoke cannabis as a teenager become addicted to it. And regular users see their IQ drop by eight points.
One study even found 17-to-18 year olds who smoke marijuana are 65 per cent more likely to crash their car.
WHAT EVIDENCE IS THERE THAT CANNABIS INCREASES RISK OF MENTAL HEALTH ILLNESS?
- Schizophrenia: Researchers questioned more than 6,500 teenagers aged 15 and 16 on their cannabis use. They were monitored until the age of 30. Smoking cannabis just five times as a teenager can triple the risk of psychotic symptoms alongside major depression and schizophrenia in later life, according to the study at The Academy of Finland, published in the British Journal of Psychiatry in March 2018.
- Socially unacceptable behaviour: Researchers from the University of Montreal analysed around 4,000 13-year-olds from 31 high schools in the surrounding area for four years. Going from being an occasional marijuana user to indulging every day increases the risk of psychosis by up to 159 percent. Frequently abusing the substance also significantly reduces a user’s ability to resist socially unacceptable behavior when provoked. The research was published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry in July 2017.
- Negative emotions: Scientists at the National Institute on Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse in Bethesda analysed 60 people, half of which were cannabis dependent. The study’s participants completed a questionnaire that asked them about their feelings of stress, aggression, reactivity and alienation. Cannabis users are more likely to experience negative emotions, particularly feeling alienated from others. People who use marijuana are significantly more likely to feel that others wish them harm or are deceiving them. The research was published in Biological Psychiatry: Cognitive Neuroscience and Neuroimaging in January 2018.
- Panic attack reaction: Researchers from the University of Vermont scanned the brains of teenagers in Europe and found just one or two joints is enough to change the structure of a teenager’s brain. It could cause changes affecting how likely they are to suffer from anxiety or panic. Researchers found 14-year-old girls and boys exposed to THC had a greater volume of grey matter in their brains. This means the tissue in certain areas is thicker – the opposite of what usually happens during puberty, when teenagers’ brain matter gets thinner and more refined. The study was published in The Journal of Neuroscience in January 2019.
- Bipolar: Researchers at Warwick Medical School analysed 3,370 women’s cannabis use at 17 years old. At 22-to-23 years old, the participants completed a questionnaire. People who used cannabis at least two-to-three times a week at 17 years old are more likely to experience hypomania in their earlier 20s. Hypomania is defined as elevated mood alongside irritability or an inflated ego, an unrealistic sense of superiority, a reduced need for sleep and frenzied speech. Such symptoms frequently occur in bipolar disorder sufferers. The research was published in Schizophrenia Bulletin in December 2017.