by Peter Hurst
Monday, 10
May 2021
Debate
07:00

Stop denying that cannabis is harmful

Despite the predictable backlash, an Irish awareness campaign was right
by Peter Hurst
Credit: Getty

The College of Psychiatrists of Ireland, the professional body for psychiatrists in the Republic of Ireland, recently launched an information campaign across various media platforms. It was part of an effort to raise awareness about the harms of cannabis use, with a particular emphasis upon the harms associated with cannabis use among young people. Predictably, the College faced a backlash from activists who wish to see cannabis legalised, and who believe that the College is involved in fomenting a reefer madness-style moral panic about a drug which they view as potentially therapeutic.

The college makes two main claims. The first is that cannabis use is potentially harmful, especially among young people. This should not be seen as particularly controversial. There is ample research to show that cannabis use is linked to psychiatric problems including self-harm, suicide, and psychosis. Moreover, the evidence available indicates that the younger the user and more frequent the usage, the more harmful cannabis use can be.

The college also claims that the public conversation around cannabis use minimises and obscures those risks. This is harder to substantiate, but also, I think, true. Speaking from my own experience as a psychiatric nurse, I can vouch for the frustration that is felt on the part of the College of Psychiatrists. The link between cannabis use and mental illness is no secret among us mental health professionals. We have all watched successful professionals become homeless schizophrenics — a process often fuelled by cannabis abuse. Disseminating that knowledge to the public in the face of a culture which consistently promotes the idea that cannabis is not only harmless but also therapeutic is extremely challenging.

Serious and enduring mental illness still remains shrouded in mystery for most people, despite relentless awareness campaigns about “mental health”. The ambient normalisation of substance use in the wider culture makes the job of explaining the link between these types of illnesses and cannabis use that much harder.

That’s why I would like to see more mental health professionals combining their experience with their professional knowledge of the most up-to-date clinical research to challenge the normalisation of cannabis use (and the corollary minimisation of its harms). The public needs to be warned about the potential dangers related to any move to legalise cannabis for recreational use (and the likely commercialisation of this new consumer product), before it’s too late.

Peter Hurst is a psychiatric nurse and political blogger based in Liverpool. He tweets @Post_Liberal

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  • The problem with these sort of articles is they often (as in this case) treat cannabis use as inherently harmful without considering dosage/strength. You could write the same sort of article about alchohol – the consumption of which is extremely harmful if you regularly knock back half pints of gin – less so if it’s half pints of stout. Unfortunately commercially-available cannabis has massively increased in strength over the years – to the point where it probably does constitute a danger to mental health to some. But the homegrown back-garden variety is no more dangerous to most folks than the odd glass of stout.

  • I’m not claiming that cannabis does no harm – what I said is that low strength cannabis is equivalent to a mild quantity of alcohol – which we know to be harmful. There are numerous studies. My view is that if you want to address the mental health problem with high-strength cannabis, then the supply and production needs to be regulated in exactly the same manner as alcohol (with the same attendant health education). The alternative is prohibition – and we know how well that works.

  • I think its sad if people’s lives are ruined by drugs-but it doesn’t affect me personally. People used to be on certain doctors lists to get their prescription, which they then took to certain chemists-at that time there were only a few thousand registered people. Since then there must be millions using drugs and the number of crimes linked to it, murder , theft has escalated.If you think thats a price worth paying , thats up to you.

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