A youth services group on Thursday urged the government to strengthen anti-drug education, after its study showed a significant jump in the number of online posts about cannabis products in the past year.
The study, led by the Hong Kong Federation of Youth Groups, was based on data analysis by researchers to assess trends and view rates of drug-related posts on social media.
It found that the number of drug-related posts on platforms from Hong Kong has increased threefold from around 900 in 2016 to more than 3,000 last year.
Researchers said many online users had used popular memes, hashtags and non-fungible-tokens (NFT) to promote drug use. An NFT is a one-off digital asset, often in the form of an artwork or cartoon, that can't be copied. Their details are kept on the blockchain and they've become popular with collectors in recent years.
"We found some NFT in the high-risk websites. Some high-risk users often use memes, hashtags, animated characters and NFT to promote drugs. It causes some users to underestimate the risks and severity of drug abuse problem," said Michael Leung of the group's youth crime prevention centre.
Meanwhile, the group also polled around 1,300 younger adults from last November to July this year, and found that around 20 percent of them had underestimated the harm of drugs.
Leung said many youngsters had misconceptions about drug use, believing for example, that they are able to fight off any drug cravings, or that drug-taking is purely a personal choice.
He called on authorities to make use of big data to grasp the latest drug trends, formulate anti-drug policies and provide education for potential drug offenders.