Professionals underestimate effect of ‘skunk’ on young people

Practitioners may be underestimating the negative effects of cannabis use on the lives of young people, a report has found.

Research into the impact of heavy cannabis use revealed that some professionals, who worked in social welfare agencies, schools, colleges or hostels, perceived cannabis as less harmful than did the young people who took part in the study.

The report’s author, Dr Margaret Melrose at the University of Bedfordshire, urged practitioners to do “more probing” to “explore the level and nature” of cannabis use and its effect on young people’s problems.

Most young people in the study said they smoked skunk, a form of high-strength cannabis that has doubled in strength between 1995 and 2005, daily for at least six months.   

“Professionals who have had experience of cannabis users in the past may assume the effects are relatively harmless if they take young people’s assessment of the impact of cannabis use in their lives at face value,” warned Melrose.

The report, The Impact of Heavy Cannabis Use on Young People: Vulnerability and Youth Transitions, found that heavy cannabis use exacerbated existing social problems.

But the effects were “benign” for those who were in more secure situations, such as students in higher or further education and both groups were able to modify or stop their cannabis use without much difficulty.

The study also highlighted a clear link between high-heavy cannabis use and social problems such as homelessness, educational under-achievement and unemployment among vulnerable and excluded young people. 

The research found that high to heavy use often had the effect of blocking individuals’ ability to move to “higher-status” roles in life.

Melrose called for a holistic approach and the development of “opportunity” and “problem orientated” interventions.

The research was carried out by the social policy research and development charity, Joseph Rowntree Foundation, as part of its drug and alcohol series.

More information

Essential information on substance misuse

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