Are we really going to continue to make the same ridiculous and tragic errors with Cannabis as were made with Tobacco and Opioids? Are we that 'forgetful' or stupid, or are we being blinded by the SMOKESCREEN?
Worsening toll of teens hooked on cannabis is a ‘silent epidemic’
Young abusers don’t realise the drug’s potency and end up mentally ill and in debt
December 12 2021
Bobby Smyth, consultant psychiatrist at the HSE’s adolescent addiction service, was employed at the height of the heroin epidemic in the early 2000s in Dublin to help wean teenagers off the opioid .
In the intervening years, he has seen the numbers of youngsters hooked on that drug fall by 99pc.
Now Dr Smyth is dealing with a much more insidious addiction in adolescents. While heroin addiction is almost eradicated in that age group and cocaine addiction is grabbing all the headlines, cannabis addiction in under-18s has been snowballing silently in the background to unprecedented numbers.
The figures from the National Drug Treatment Reporting System are stark. Last year, 579 children were treated for cannabis addiction — more than 12 times the number for cocaine addiction.
The Health Research Board data reveal the number of children in treatment for drug addiction of all types almost doubled from 430 cases in 2004 to 822 cases in 2019. There were 18 children treated for heroin addiction in 2004, falling to just six cases in 2014; there are no recorded cases of children being treated for addiction to the opioid over the past five years.
“There is a societal complacency about this drug,” Dr Smyth said. “Cannabis is the drug that really scares me at the moment. It generates 75pc of my work. Back in 2003 and 2004 you would have the odd cannabis or hash user — it accounted for 5pc or 10pc of my work.
“The drug problem was discussed on the six o’clock news [recently] and it was all about cocaine, crack cocaine, and pictures of people using heroin, but cannabis wasn’t mentioned.
“There’s no one telling young people — apart from some of the SPHE stuff in school — that cannabis actually is a drug which needs to be treated with respect.
“All they’re hearing outside of school is that it’s a medicine and a cure-all for everything, and the law is stupid, and it should be sold in shops.”
“They didn’t seem to know that if you start smoking cannabis from morning till night, that this could become a problem,” he said.
“Young people know that you don’t start supping away at tins of Heineken before going to school and on your lunch and through the evening.
“They’ve actually way more respect for alcohol than they do for cannabis.”
“Anxiety is probably one of the main most common symptoms that young people will present with. There’s low mood sometimes, self-harm and suicidal thoughts and behaviours,” he said.
“I have been contacted by at least one dad who shared his son’s story with me. He blames cannabis completely on his son’s suicide. I’m sure he’s not alone. The most common thing parents mention is just the anger and the aggression.
While youngsters addicted to cannabis tend to present at 16 or 17, they can start off on the drug as young as 11 or 12. Boys are up to seven times more likely than girls to be treated for addiction.
Another worrying feature is the debts run up by teenagers, who can smoke as much as 2g a day — costing €30-€40.
“Back in the 1990s, heroin users used to shoplift and rob. Cannabis users don’t do that, they just get into debt, and then when things escalate the dealers come knocking on the door of the parent and say, ‘Your son owes us €1,000, you’d better sort it out or we’ll smash up your car or break your son’s legs.’”
Dr Smyth believes a cannabis addiction can be stamped out among adolescents in the same way that heroin has been.
“We could deal successfully with this as we have in the past with the heroin problem. It starts by calling it out for what it is, which is a substantive problem — and unlike heroin, which affected people from the most deprived communities, cannabis is everywhere.
“Cannabis is unique in that there is a campaign to normalise it. That pro-cannabis campaign probably needs to be countered with a fact-based campaign informing people of the risks and harms.”