By Grant Smith
TOO MANY Tayside children mistakenly think they are “bullet proof” when it comes to cannabis use, a senior drugs worker said yesterday.
Mike Burns, director of Dundee Drugs and Aids Project, said there was a need for much clearer guidance to be given about the dangers of cannabis, something which had been proved by research again and again.
Another senior figure in youth work, Peer Education Project co-ordinator Fiona Bryson, said that confusion over the legal status of cannabis may have led young people to believe it is ok for them to use it.
The project, based at The Corner drop-in centre in Dundee, works with older children to teach them how to give information on drugs and alcohol to Year 7 pupils.
Ms Bryson said she was concerned that the reclassification of cannabis from a Class B drug to the lower status of Class C had left many young people with the impression that possession for personal use was allowed.
The pair were speaking in the wake of the release of figures from Tayside Police which showed the number of 11 to 16-year-olds in the region charged with drugs offences has more than doubled between 2002 and last year.
In 2002 there were 79 people in that age group charged with possession or supply. Almost all of the offences involved cannabis, although there were a handful of cases involving amphetamine, ecstasy or heroin.
By last year the total number of cases had risen to 175, with all but 10 of those relating to cannabis. There were five each for amphetamine and heroin. That included two under-17s caught supplying heroin.
Tayside Police said peer pressure may be influencing children to try drugs.
Ms Bryson explained that she came into contact with a lot of under-16s and there were clear signs of confusion about the legal status of cannabis and differences in the law between England and Scotland.
“The reclassification of cannabis from Class B to Class C has meant a lot of young people got the message that it’s ok to possess it for their own use, but in Scotland it’s not ok.”
She was worried that this was also affecting young people’s attitudes towards the safety of cannabis use, with the known health risks being downplayed.
There was now evidence that cannabis use could worsen mental health problems. Starting at an early age could result in problems arising earlier than they would have done. Smoking cannabis also entailed using tobacco and that was addictive and had health risks of its own.
Ms Bryson noted that the Government was now reconsidering its position on cannabis classification. While that raised a concern about the situation being confused once more, there was a potentially positive outcome if ministers came out with a clear message that cannabis was more harmful than had been thought.
Ms Bryson added, “At the Peer Education Project we don’t condone drug use at all, but we will support young people in getting the information they need to make their own choices. There is support out there for people who feel they have made the wrong choice for them.”
Mr Burns agreed that cannabis was a significant problem, although he would have expected to see more arrests relating to heroin as there was evidence its increased availability in the area was resulting in more young people taking it.
He said the downgrading of cannabis was a major factor in its increased use, explaining, “Young people are interpreting that to mean that cannabis is not a problem. There is a failure to grasp that it’s still an illegal substance.
“We try to talk to them about the long-term mental health consequences of cannabis misuse but young people believe that they are bullet proof.
“They think we are scare-mongering and their attitude is ‘it won’t happen to me’.
“They think the information we are putting out is a conspiracy by older people to tell them that cannabis is harmful.
“They take it to chill out and they think there are no consequences at all. We are saying that’s not the case.”
National body DrugScope warned in a recent report, “Novice users who do not know what to expect may find the experience of using cannabis particularly distressing, especially if strong variants are involved.”