Dope danger too great to ignore

Every day young lives are being wrecked by cannabis while the
desperate concerns of thousands of parents are going unnoticed. The
use of cannabis has increased over the past 20 years, particularly
among young people. It is now the most popular illicit drug in the
western world. Cannabis is the first illegal drug for 77 per cent
of users, compared with crack for 1 per cent of users and ecstasy
for 4 per cent.

MPs, journalists, lawyers, and people from all walks of life are
calling for a more tolerant attitude towards cannabis. But those
who have worked in mental health have known for years that the drug
can have disastrous effects on some individuals. The anecdotal
evidence is screaming at us. Three years ago, my own son collapsed
at a disco after bingeing all night on cannabis. When he woke up he
had voices in his ear; he still has them today. My family is still
trying to pick up the pieces.

The anecdotal evidence is now being backed up by hard research.
Last year, the British Medical Journal reported on research in
Australia that linked cannabis with mental health problems. It
showed that early use can lead to depression in later life,
especially among women. It can provoke anxiety and paranoia, while
frequent and high use can trigger psychotic episodes.

The key message is that cannabis can be highly dangerous to both
those with a predisposition to mental illness and those being
treated for it.

However, the public lacks knowledge about these dangers, and this
is one of the main problems, in my view. In a survey by The
Guardian last year, 98 per cent of respondents believed that
cannabis was safe. This is an appalling indictment of the
government’s health education policy. To downgrade it to a class C
drug without warning the public of its inherent dangers is, in my
view, tantamount to gross negligence.

While decriminalisation may or may not be a good idea, the central
question is surely whether the drug is safe. The answer to this is
clearly no. It is essential that the government take control of the
debate. It must warn young people of the inherent dangers of
cannabis, and tell them that taking it is playing Russian roulette
with their mental health.

It is time for society to wake up to the fact that toleration of
cannabis is risking the mental health of our children, and leaving
a dreadful legacy for future generations to sort out.

Terry Hammond is head of membership services at

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