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Cannabis And Mental Health

Monday, February 16th, 2009 Cannabis And Mental Health

An advertising campaign warning of the links between cannabis use and mental health damage has been launched, according to Jack Doyle of the Independent (16 02 09).

The TV advert depicts the drug’s side-effects - memory loss, paranoia and panic attacks - as unwanted guests at a party in the user’s brain. Cannabis user Simon smokes a joint and at first feels giggly, talkative and craves food, before the side effects of the drug take over. The £2.2m Home Office campaign, backing up the drug’s reclassification as class B, is aimed at 11 to 18-year-olds.

It urges youngsters curious about the drug to “Talk to Frank” by calling an information line or visiting a website. The Frank campaign aims to give youngsters advice on the dangers of drugs, the law around their use and how to get help.

Frank spokesperson Chris Hudson said: “Cannabis is the most commonly used illegal drug in Britain and ‘binge smoking’ to achieve maximum effect may be putting peoples’ mental health in serious danger.

“There is evidence of a link between cannabis and mental health problems such as schizophrenia, and those who first use it at an early age may be more at risk.

“You never truly know what you’re getting and stronger cannabis, such as skunk, can increase the chance of suffering a nasty reaction.”

Marjorie Wallace, chief executive of mental health charity Sane, said: “This is a victory for the campaigning of Sane and other organisations who have for years been warning about the direct effects of cannabis in damaging the minds of young people, particularly if they take skunk and smoke from an early age.

“We need hard-hitting campaigns like this to convince people just how frightening the effects of cannabis can be, and that for those who are vulnerable, taking it may not be just chilling out for an evening but could mean robbing themselves of their chances in life.”

New penalties for cannabis users were introduced when the drug was reclassified. Anyone caught in possession of the drug is now given a warning, followed by a fine and prosecution for a third offence. Dealers can be jailed for up to 14 years. In the case of William Bell, who began smoking cannabis at the age of fourteen, he argues that the advert would have more of an impact on 10 - 11 year olds.

“It might stop them starting,” he told BBC News. “I started using about 14 and in about two years, I became a regular smoker - five or six spliffs a day, which is not unusual.

“My moral guidelines became very blurred. I was stealing, lying, very much living in my own little bubble.”

His mother Debra, of the Talking About Cannabis Parental Action Group, said when they first discovered he was smoking cannabis, they were not overly concerned.

“At the time we were thinking cannabis was fairly innocuous,” she said.

“The alarm was not raised until much later. It was serious personality changes. William went from being very academic, very sporty, a good student, loving son. It was this sense he started to turn against the family.”

New penalties for cannabis users were introduced when the drug was reclassified. Moreover, last year, a mother of three smoked cannabis for a month as part of a BBC documentary. She explains in detail how the drug left her feeling both paranoid and frightenend. Nevertheless, she says, that the effects of a powerful version of the drug called “skunk” were “absolutely horrendous”, though not long-lasting.

Nicky Taylor, from Kidderminster, took part in the experiment in Amsterdam, where attitudes to the drug are more liberal than in the UK. She also became psychotic after an injection of an active ingredient of cannabis. Although scientific research has firmly linked cannabis use with health problems, the UK has, according to UNICEF, the third highest rate of use among young people in the Western world.

Although she had previously used cannabis two decades ago at university, Nicky said that she wanted to find out what would happen to her children if any of them went on to take today’s version of the drug. Some modern varieties are said to be up to five times higher levels of the active ingredient THC. Her experiences with “skunk” cannabis, she said, made her feel “irrational and paranoid”.

“Some nights I couldn’t sleep at all, and would be pacing my room, becoming more and more paranoid and thinking everyone I’d met at the cafe, as well as the BBC crew, was talking about me.”

Moreover, another aspect worthy of consideration was that Nicky gained inexcess of half a stone as she began to crave sweets and salty snacks. Although weaker types of cannabis did not have the same effect, she said that her ability to function properly was compromised, making it even more difficult than usual to perform tasks such as putting together flat pack furniture.

“The drug totally wrecked my mind,” she said. “There is no way I would want to repeat it again. Nothing made much sense to me any more.”

After the experiment was completed she visited scientists at the Institute of Psychiatry in London, where she was injected with THC alone, and THC with cannabinoid, the combination found in less potent cannabis. After the pure THC, she had a severe psychotic episode.

“I thought that the researchers conducting the episode were characters from a horror film. “I was thinking about jumping out of a window.”

A psychological score taken during the experiment suggested that the level of her psychosis was greater than that found in some people suffering a schizophrenic attack. Fortunately, after the end of the month-long experiment, she has suffered no long-term effects, but has vowed to try to keep her children away from the drug.

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