News this weeks suggests there has been a big reduction in the number of young people using cannabis in recent years according to the Home office (Drug Misuse Declared: Findings from the 2011/12 Crime Survey for England and Wales (2nd Edition)youth culture – here). So what’s going on? Why is cannabis apparently going out of fashion with kids?

Actually, this isn’t a new trend, it began around 2002 before cannabis was downgraded to C , continued throughout the downgrade period and continued after the upgrading. The law, its seems had little or no effect on levels of use. Martin Barnes of Drugscope was widely quoted as accepting this reduction has happened “under the radar”and put the changes down to changing interests of young people, especially with the arrival of social media and widespread use of the internet. So what’s going on?

It might be worth taking a longer view of this, starting with the period of British history when colour and sex were invented: The 1960’s. It was the 60’s generation that created the first wave of cannabis culture with the hippies, free festivals, long hair, jeans and afghan coats. All this reached something of a peak by the early 70’s and then died out somewhat as the hippies grew up, got married bought houses and became office workers.  During the mid-70’s there was a youth rejection of the old hippy values with the arrival of the punks. Out went the long hair, the music changed and the slogan was “never trust a hippy”. Although there are no surveys to provide firm evidence, folk law has it that cannabis dropped out of youth culture when punk hit, so had we looked back then we would probably have seen a drop off in youth subculture drug use.

However, by the 80’s things were changing. There was something of a revival – or perhaps reincarnation of the hippy alternative and a melding with the punk scene. Free festivals were back big time with Stonehenge as the centre of the new age traveller culture. despite the crack down in 1985 with the “battle of the beanfield”, the alternative culture continued to grow and  by the late 80’s rave burst onto the scene. What had happened? Well, there were lots of social changes around  that time, new drugs like ecstasy and high unemployment not least of all. But it is also true that these were the children of the 1960’s hippies, kids raised by drug cultural parents.

This time the alternative culture ran far deeper than ever before. It is now over 20 years since rave became the dominant underground musical culture and it’s still hanging on, but now we’re into the generation of the early punk’s children, the generation that didn’t embrace the hippy drugs culture, so perhaps we might expect to see a change as they come on stream. If so, we’re seeing a long-term cyclical thing and this present reduction in the drug subculture is to be expected and if so we might expect another up-tick in the next ten years or so if there is anything in this.

Perhaps another aspect to all this is the post-war generation gap and the fact that is now healing. For kids of the 1960’s there were relatively few middle aged people around to serve as role models, this was the baby boom generation which followed the war period when few people were able to breed and many died. The instability caused by that dark period of our history is fading now and the whole concept of youth culture might be a thing of the past.

So what else has happened in recent years? As Martin Barnes points out there is the social media aspect. It is true that kids are plugging into Facebook now and spending a lot of time socialising on-line. Sadly this means they’re not hanging out with each other in the way kids always used to, they’re spending long, solitary hours in their bedrooms typing away. If this is the reason kids have stopped taking drugs, it might not be an improvement really as levels of obesity increase and social skills, previously learned through real social interaction pass them by. But fact is that getting stoned just doesn’t mix with virtual socialising, there’s no communal feeling of a shared experience via the keyboard.

With this growth in solitary entertainment and the death of youth culture so we have lost the once vibrant musical scene this country used to lead the world in. In this the government’s anti drug policy might have had an effect with the destruction of the “underground” club scene, restrictions (now thankfully lifted) on live music venues and general sanitisation of the “entertainment industry”. It would be next to impossible for a movement like Punk to happen now, which is a particularly sad thing to realise.

Cannabis isn’t the cheap alternative any more either, these days the biggest bang for the buck comes in a can of cheap cider. Again, that isn’t really a development to be proud of and perhaps it’s true that modern herbal strains just aren’t as nice as the oldkool hash?

There has been quite a lot of coverage of this over the past week and lots of theories like the above have been put forward, but there is one other thing which has changed, which hasn’t been mentioned and yet is probably a far bigger change than even the arrival of the internet: The end of smoking tobacco. A lot of young people do still smoke, but the tobacco culture we have always had in this country has all but gone in recent years. That is unreservedly a good thing. Cannabis use has traditionally been tied into the tobacco scene probably more than any other drug use and as tobacco smoking has died out, perhaps so has cannabis.

It has to be accepted that tobacco joints – although very nasty in terms of addiction and general health issues – were the social glue that held cannabis use together and it was through sharing the joint that many people were introduced to cannabis. Joints were carefully crafted and the rolling of the joint was an integral part of the ritual of getting stoned. That’s all gone now – or pretty well all gone and with it the nicotine soaked heart of the cannabis culture. Really, this is in and of itself a good thing, although of course, we have perhaps lost something in the process. Tobacco is a nasty, destructive and damaging, drug but it is also a very social habit and this fact can still be seen in the groups of smokers forced to occupy smoking shelters who all stand around chatting and socially interacting.

Cannabis without tobacco is something different, it’s a different “high” and a different social experience, but the death of the tobacco link is long overdue. Cannabis is not going to go away, but it is changing. The levels of use in society may be dropping from the spike of a few years ago, but they are unlikely to ever drop to zero. The culture of the country has changed greatly in the past 40-50 years but if in the process less kids are getting stoned then it’s all to the good.