Is Cannabis the ‘Gravest Threat’ to Young People’s Mental Health?

5th May 2021

This week, claims from the College of Psychiatrists of Ireland (CPsychI), made headlines across the UK. The body warned that cannabis use represents the “gravest threat to the mental health of young people in Ireland today”. CPsychI also released a public information leaflet titled ‘Cannabis and your Mental Health’.

The potency of cannabis has been steadily on the rise in recent years – something that many believe has contributed to an increased danger of mental health problems amongst users. In fact, the number of hospital admissions of young people with a cannabis-related diagnosis increased by 300% in Ireland between 2005 and 2017.

In 2000, analysis showed that illegal cannabis had an average THC potency of around 6%. Ten years later, in 2016, illegal cannabis seized in Ireland now has an average potency of 105, with some products reaching 16%.

Furthermore, the organisation reports that one in three young people are likely to become addicted to cannabis if they use it at least once a week. Mental health struggles that the organisation state is commonly connected to cannabis use include psychosis, depression, anxiety disorders, and even self-harm and suicidal behaviour.

Dr Gerry McCarney, who treats young people in north Dublin, stated: “We have been concerned for some time about the discussion around relaxing its legal status. We want to say, ‘hold on a second, this is not a harmless substance’.”

He added: “When you consider how potent the drug has become in recent years, it is obvious we are facing a perfect storm which has the potential to overrun our psychiatric services. We cannot overstate the danger that this increasingly potent drug poses to young people’s mental health.”

However, the report has received some backlash from people who claim that hindering cannabis reform would intensify rather than help the problem. In fact, some evidence suggests that legalisation and regulation of cannabis may be the best option to both monitor the potency of cannabis products and restrict the use among young people.

Evidence shows that young people are at higher risk from cannabis and other mind-altering substances as their brains are still developing. However, there is little evidence to suggest that youth cannabis use is more prominent or more harmful than underage alcohol use.

Previous data has demonstrated that around one in ten people who use cannabis excessively will become addicted to the substance. According to the report from CPhysI, this rises to one in three of young people who use cannabis more than once a week. The CPhysI concluded by calling on the government to conduct an urgent review of cannabis use in Ireland and its related harms.

The Irish Examiner published a response to the report offering another view on cannabis use. While the author agreed that an urgent review is needed, they stated that “the ‘Just Say No’ public awareness campaign’s approach to drug use has failed.”

Ben from the Lough, Cork, continued: “We need to destigmatise cannabis usage to allow more open and honest conversations. Then we will better understand the causes and effects of cannabis usage and can use this knowledge to inform how we deal with cannabis use in the future.”

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