Illicit and traditional drug use among ethnic minority adolescents in East London

Public Health. 2006 Apr;120(4):329-38. doi: 10.1016/j.puhe.2005.10.009.


Objectives: To explore ethnic variations in the use of illicit and traditional drugs, and the association of indicators of acculturation with drug use among an ethnically diverse representative sample of early adolescents in East London.

Study design: A cross-sectional questionnaire survey.

Methods: Confidential questionnaires were used to assess 2789 male and female pupils in years 7 and 9, aged 11-14 years old, from a representative sample of 28 secondary schools in East London.

Results: In total, 10.8% reported having ever tried illicit drugs and 7.3% reported ever using cannabis. Compared with white British adolescents, cannabis use in the previous month was significantly higher amongst black Caribbean adolescents. Lifetime cannabis use was significantly higher amongst black Caribbean and mixed ethnicity young people, but was lower amongst Bangladeshi, Indian and Pakistani adolescents. Living in UK for 5 years or less markedly reduced the risk of lifetime and recent cannabis use when controlled for ethnicity and social class. Glue or solvent use was reported in 3.2% of adolescents, with use significantly higher amongst Bangladeshi young people. Lifetime paan use was reported by 14.1% of the sample, and was almost completely confined to South Asian or mixed ethnicities.

Conclusions: Ethnic differences in illicit drug use were found in the study population, and significant differences were found between ethnic groups often identified as 'black.' Further research is needed in understanding cultural-specific risk and protective factors in different ethnic groups, and the importance of cultural identity in mediating health risk behaviors. The high use of paan and glue/gas/solvents by Bangladeshi young people poses an unappreciated public health problem that may require targeted interventions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acculturation
  • Adolescent
  • Age Factors
  • Child
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Ethnicity / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Illicit Drugs*
  • London / epidemiology
  • Male
  • Medicine, Traditional*
  • Minority Groups / statistics & numerical data*
  • Racial Groups / statistics & numerical data*
  • Sex Factors
  • Socioeconomic Factors


  • Illicit Drugs