Dublin: BREAKING the SILENCE: 7: Gateway To Hell – Cannabis Time-Bomb Threatens Children

9 Feb

Lost Children in the Wilderness ©


By J. P. Anderson (International registered copyright of the author 2006)

Cannabis Time-Bomb Threatens Children

The gateway to Hell

Teenagers and young adults who smoke cannabis are more likely to suffer mental health problems in later life. Experts described the warning as a “mental health time bomb” with widespread use of cannabis developing among children at an alarming rate. According to scientists, youngsters who use cannabis just twice a week have nearly double the risk of developing mental illness-problems, such as, paranoia, hallucinations and delusions.

Even if people have taken cannabis only a handful of times, they are two-thirds more likely to suffer psychotic (demented) illness than those who have never touched it, according to a study *published on-line by the British Medical Journal. (*Authors note: December 2004).

With British children now the biggest cannabis users in Europe, the findings sparked warnings that the drug could have “hidden and disturbing consequences” for the UK. The evidence is mounting that; cannabis can be a trigger to life-long mental illness such as, schizophrenia. For some already suffering it exacerbates symptoms such as delusions and paranoia. Some 40% of 15 year olds in the UK have tried cannabis. Shadow Home Secretary, David Davis said “Drug abuse by young people is increasing and so is drug-crime. The downgrading of cannabis was a mistake which sent mixed-messages to the young people and the vulnerable about the dangers of drugs“. (Authors note: Source, Daily Express) Recently, evidence of a potential association between cannabis use, especially intensive cannabis use and a range of health and social problems has been growing. There is also increased concern about an apparent rise in the number of cannabis users who are seeking help from specialist drug treatment services, which requires a more informed debate on the potential public health impact of this most common of all forms of illicit drug use.

The scientific knowledge base in this area is still developing, but it doe already provide increasingly convincing evidence of an association between cannabis use and a range of problems. It is important to distinguish between the acute (short-term) effects of cannabis and the (long-term or chronic) impact of the drug.

A range of both positive and negative acute effects have been reported. Negative effects include deficits in attention and concentration difficulties, adverse effects on ‘motor function’ (reflexes, coordination), short-term memory problems, anxiety and panic attacks and depression. Positive effects include euphoria, relaxation and increased sociability. The acute effects of the drug which arouse the greatest concern are the short-term drug-induced psychosis or severe panic attacks, an increased risk of accidents, when driving or when engaged in hazardous work environments, and among young people, a negative impact on school performance.

The chronic effects of cannabis are complex to understand, because of the difficulty in separating its effects from the effects of chronic use of other illicit drugs, tobacco and alcohol. Among the key concerns, are an increased risk of lung cancer and other respiratory diseases and an association with the development of long-term psychiatric health problems, including depressive illness, psychosis and schizophrenia? In addition to the concern about the development of dependant behaviour brought about by chronic use of the substance.

Cannabis is the illicit drug most used in Europe, but only a small proportion of the people who use the drug seek treatment. Despite this, in many countries cannabis is now the second most frequently reported primary drug for which people receive specialised drug treatment; some 12% of all clients and 30% of those new to treatment are now recorded as having a primary cannabis problem. Cannabis clients represent a small, yet annually increasing number of individuals entering treatment, with Spain accounting for almost 50% of all reported treatment demands, similar treatment demands have been noted in the USA. Most cannabis clients are referred to treatment by family and friends, social services or the criminal justice system. Those referred by family or social services (often schools) are typically younger, less likely to be using other drugs in addition to cannabis, and tend to be more socially integrated. Older clients referred by legal authorities or classed as self-referrals, often use other drugs as well as cannabis. In Germany and Finland, which have the highest percentages of primary cannabis clients, legal authorities and schools play an important role in referring cannabis clients? Cannabis clients new to treatment are predominantly young males (83%) with a *mean (*in the middle) age of 22 – 23 years. Whereas, in the case of other drugs, the proportion of clients who are males is marginally lower and the mean age higher.

In the case of almost 80% of new clients classified as very young (under 15 years of age) and 40% of those aged 15 to 19 years, the primary drug for which treatment is sought is cannabis. These groups are still predominantly male, but include a higher proportion of women than the client group overall, a similarity in age and gender in each country broadly reflect the same patterns found among all clients. The relative young age of cannabis clients is reflected by the large proportions (45%) that are still in education, compared with only 8% of clients being treated for problems with other drugs.

A further 24% of those being treated for cannabis problems are in regular employment, which is in stark contrast to clients using other drugs such as, heroin. In addition, cannabis clients more often report living in stable accommodation than those being treated for problems with other drugs, reflecting the fact that many are young people, students and living with their parents. Patterns of use among clients receiving out-patient treatment for primary cannabis use vary considerably and are quite different from those found for other drug types, particularly the opiates.

Among clients in treatment for a primary cannabis problem in 2002, only 36% were daily users of the drug and only 17% used cannabis more frequently than once a week (2 – 6 times a week), 15% used the drug once a week or less often and 28% were occasional users or had used cannabis in the last month. In contrast 84% of opiate users in treatment are daily users. The younger the age at which users first consume cannabis the higher is the risk of them developing drug problems in the future. Known widely as the gateway drug (opening the gate to more and more serious drug use, and highly-probable addiction in the not too distant future), cannabis is truly ‘the gateway to hell’ for many young people. In Europe 28% of all cannabis in treatment in 2002 started using the drug before the age of 15 years, and the majority 80% before 20 years of age. The corresponding figures for opiates are 9% and 42.8% and for cocaine 6% and 26.5%.

Most countries report that clients in treatment who have primary cannabis problems often show a pattern of poly-drug use. The most commonly reported secondary substance used by primary cannabis clients are alcohol (32.9%) and stimulants (25%). Some cannabis clients in treatment also admit to injecting other drugs, and some report lifetime experience of injecting despite currently using no drugs other than cannabis.

The increase in demand for treatment for primary cannabis problems should be viewed in the context of changes that have occurred in the characteristics and patterns of use. Between 2000 and 2002, in those countries reporting data, the total number of referrals by legal authorities, family and friends and social services increased exceptionally, by (103%). (81%), and (136%) respectively. No relevant differences were found between countries, except that in Germany the proportion of referrals accounted for by the criminal justice system also increased (from 21.7% to 26.7%). A number of countries reported an increase in the number of clients with educational, social and psychological problems. … It is likely that those most at risk of developing problems or becoming dependant are those that use the drug intensively. In the EU as a whole, with a total population of 302 million – people aged 15 to 64 years; the prevalence of daily cannabis use would be about three million people. Despite the well-known link between smoking and respiratory problems and increasing concern regarding the negative health impact of intensive cannabis use, interventions aimed at reducing harm associated with cannabis use remains poorly developed in comparison with those aimed at users of other drugs.

For the most part, those with a cannabis-related problem are treated alongside clients being treated for problem use of other illicit drugs, typically opiates. As many of these specialised drug treatment centres are configured to meet the needs of an often chaotic and marginalised population, their suitability for those with less acute needs, (such as most cannabis users) is debatable. Member states of the EU are aware of the problem and have observed in their reports, that it could be counter-productive and disadvantageous to mix problem cannabis users with problem heroin or poly-drug users. In summary, there remains a critical need for research to provide an understanding of the relationship between different patterns of cannabis use and the development of problems. The extent to which cannabis users experience problems and the nature of the problems that may be found, still remain poorly understood; Methodological tools are required to assess problems at the population level. Such information is a prerequisite to the development, targeting and implementation of ‘effective’ public health responses to cannabis use in Europe.
Environmental epidemiology, which investigates individual, family, community and political factors, which give rise to certain health phenomena, is an activity that is most likely to make a positive contribution when investigating health issues such as, drug misuse, violence, crime and suicide, which all have their roots in social structures, according to Dr Joseph Barry and other health experts. 

 (Authors note: Source, EMCDDA Annual Report 2004)

Addiction a social stigma:

“The sad fact of the matter is that some illnesses carry a social stigma and addiction has suffered from such prejudice for centuries”. (Dr Michael FFrench O’Carroll). …“Those in positions of power are blind to the value of prevention and early intervention in dealing with drugs such as cannabis, LSD and ecstasy. The most important feature of the career in alcohol and drug abuse is its progressive nature – active chemically dependant people always move towards more frequent and intense involvement with drugs, unless they are successfully treated. The vast majority of people don’t come for treatment for opiate abuse until they have reached their late teens and early 20s. By then, you are dealing with someone who has a serious opiate abuse problem on top of years of abuse of alcohol and many other types of drugs. Simply put, in the majority of such cases, they were addicts long before they discovered heroin. …The active addict has a very real and intimate relationship with their chosen drug, and in this complete preoccupation with their love affair in addiction, they become increasingly isolated from the personality they once called their own. The damage caused to the beliefs and value systems of addicts is one of the most profound effects of chemical dependency. Although the spiritual component of the illness is much more difficult to comprehend and far less tangible, it is still very real to the counsellors who work in group therapy, or in one to one sessions with addicts. …People often confuse spirituality with being involved solely in a formal, organised religion. It is not difficult to treat young people if their developing addiction to alcohol and other street drugs is tackled within the first two years. However, as time passes and their drug career advances, treatment becomes increasingly complex and much more protracted. The destructiveness of their progressive addiction leads to major problems in each area of their lives.


Those who may already have a predisposition towards mental illness face more damage through their relationship with cannabis. …In practice, they present with so many symptoms of mental illness, that our visiting psychiatrist would often defer making a psychiatric diagnosis of a drug abusing young person until they are drug-free, because it is impossible to distinguish between drug-induced psychosis and the psychotic episodes arising from impaired mental health. …


Evidence now available indicates that underage drinkers are those most likely to become regular users of street drugs such as, cannabis and ecstasy in their later teenage years. It is significant that alcohol and drug abuse are the subject of two separate and quite different reports, which indicates the Government’s belief that alcohol and drug abuse are two separate problems, rather than part and parcel of the same problem.


Both alcohol and drug abuse are readily identifiable in the presenting profiles of all teenagers and adolescents seeking treatment. …In spite of an avalanche of warning signals, the nation sat and watched while alcohol and drug abuse was allowed to develop to epidemic proportions in every community in Ireland”.

(Authors note: edited extracts from The Irish Drugs Epidemic by courtesy of; Dr Michael FFrench- O’Carroll is an addiction specialist and author of The Irish Drugs Epidemic 1997. He was a former Director of Community Care and Medical Officer for Health in Cork City in 1976. Also a member of Dublin Corporation, the Dail and Senate and the founding director of the Southern Health Boards Addiction Treatment Centre and later addiction consultant at Sister Consilio’s Cuan Mhuire Centres).


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