40 per cent of teenagers know someone hurt by cannabis

Four out of ten teenagers know someone with mental health problems caused by cannabis, a report shows. More than half of youngsters questioned also believed that those smoking the drug lose motivation and do badly at school.
The survey, by the Home Office funded drugs advice service Frank, is fresh evidence that the supposedly soft drug has harmed the health, education and careers of millions of teenagers. It comes a week after a study showed that even one-off users of cannabis show signs of behaviour linked to schizophrenia, with half of those tested having an ‘acute psychotic reaction’.
The results challenge the orthodoxy – followed by Frank in its guidance to youngsters – that cannabis is dangerous only to heavy users or those who already have mental health problems.
The advice service’s report showed that 42 per cent of 11 to 18-year-olds knew someone who had suffered mental problems from the drug, including paranoia, panic attacks and memory loss. The figure suggests that 1.5million teenagers have had direct experience of the harm caused by cannabis.
It could be a reason why fewer youngsters have been taking the drug, with use falling since 2001. However, the number of under-25s smoking cannabis was still almost one in five last year. Among those who knew someone who had suffered damage from cannabis, 64 per cent said the harm took the form of panic attacks.
The survey of 28,000 teenagers, which was carried out through a social-networking website, also found that 56 per cent of those questioned ‘associate cannabis use with losing motivation and doing badly at school or college’. Almost 15 per cent said they used cannabis, which they claimed helped them cope with life. But only 11 per cent said they thought using the drug made them look cool.
The criminal status of cannabis was downgraded to Category C by Labour in 2004, meaning it ranked alongside performance-enhancing drugs used by cheating athletes. This meant users would be arrested only rarely if caught by police.
However, deepening concerns over the mental health effects of the drug – and the stronger varieties now sold on the streets – meant it was pushed back into the more serious Category B this year. But still only a few of those caught with cannabis will be arrested, with police more likely to use powers to hand out on-the-spot fines.
Frank spokesman Chris Hudson said: ‘The majority of teenagers don’t want to risk their health by using cannabis, however some people choose to take the risk.
‘Others wrongly believe cannabis is harmless because it is a plant. Cannabis messes with your mind – and reactions can be more powerful with stronger strains such as skunk, which is around twice as potent.’ The organisation is to start an anti-cannabis advertising campaign next week, timed to catch teenagers during their summer holidays when they may be tempted to use drugs.
The Frank website currently states that only regular use of cannabis is associated with the risk of mental illness. It also says that nobody knows whether stronger strains of the drug carry higher risks. Phone lines run by the advice organisation, paid for out of a Home Office subsidy of £6.5million a year, can be even less discouraging.
One caller was told earlier this year: ‘Alcohol is a powerful drug in what it does to your body and how many brain cells it kills and stuff. Cannabis is not to be taken lightly, but it’s a lot less powerful. If alcohol were illegal it would be a Class A drug. Cannabis should just be a Class C drug. In terms of its effects it’s a lot less powerful than drinking.’
Anti-drug campaigners welcomed the Frank research. Mary Brett of Europe Against Drugs said: ‘Frank has been stuck in a time warp. Their website still isn’t up to date. They have always said you should steer clear of cannabis if you have a history of mental illness. It doesn’t seem likely that the damaged people known to 42 per cent of teenagers all had a history of mental illness.’
Source: Daily Mail 6th Aug. 2009

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