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Skunk Epidemic: Families Speak Out

Wednesday, May 20th, 2009 Skunk Epidemic: Families Speak Out

Tracy McVeigh, chief reporter from the Observer writes a candid account in relation to families affected by Cannabis (15/03/09).

The article reveals how middle-class parents are airing their concerns with regards to their children’s cannabis use. Arguably, many of the parents are quite often angry with themselves for having stayed quiet for far too long, and of also being ignorant to the fact that the cannabis from yesterday is a far cry from today’s insidious skunk.

The scene is set in the front room of a three-bedroomed home in the wealthy Chiswick area of West London. John and Susanne, are the parents of two children.

The couple wanted to talk about their cannabis using son. The names are not real following the Julie Myerson debacle ‘whose estrangement from her cannabis-smoking son Jake was deepened when she wrote a book about his behaviour that culminated in him being thrown out of the family home.’

The son in question in this particular case is also named Jake 17, (his real name - upon his own insistence), he clearly states, “I’m not ashamed, you know. I have looked it all up and read a lot of research and I am quite well informed,” he said. “Actually, all my friends are; it’s the so-called adults who have forgotten that they did a bit of this themselves when they were young – a long time ago,” the report conveys that he gives his mother a sarcastic look.

“He reads what he wants to read, hippy websites mostly,” says his mother. She has a folder containing recent articles on cannabis use. In addition, on a regular basis she tries to get her son to read the articles. His mother says, “We certainly have had these discussions again and again for two years. Paradoxically, it’s when he’s stoned that he actually engages.”

In the beginning both parents had thought that their au pair was the one using cannabis, Jake was 15 at the time. They argue, “We thought we were ready for a bit of pot,” said John. “Our daughter came back from a party and was really ill from it when she was 15 and we teased her about it – of course, she never touched it again. I smoked at university, we all did, and always envisaged how I’d tackle it chummily with my kids, play the cool dad. God, how stupid. This stuff is not the same ballgame.”

With that came the school truancy and the stealing. “All for a drug they try to tell us isn’t addictive,” said Susanne. “His life is disintegrating before our eyes.”

The next family to expose their Childs cannabis smoking is Debra Bell (who uses her own name). Bell from South London has a 21 year old son William. It is claimed that he is through the worst of his skunk addiction. She claims her son was once a sporty schoolboy who changed and became physically violent and aggressive.

Debra Bell says, my husband is a barrister and he started to see that this was a drug addiction. He began to wash his hands of him, but this was my beautiful boy… we fell out a lot over it. Guy’s stance was tough and eventually we did throw him out of the house and I didn’t see him for a year. It was a nightmare.”

Moreover, Bell found that all her efforts to seek help for her afflicted son all came to no avail. “The professionals were just out of date in their understanding. We felt deeply ashamed that we couldn’t get a good outcome for our son, as he was sliding more and more into this nightmare.”

For the Bell family things have improved somewhat, she is reconciled with William and she has also done something about the lack of resources available to families. Indeed she has set up her own website. She states, “Suddenly we were just hearing all these carbon-copy stories, thousands. It is such a hidden subject, but such a huge phenomenon. No respect for class or creed or colour. I think we have betrayed our children through our ignorance. Our generation smoked, but here and there. Everybody did it – but children didn’t smoke it, children whose brains were still developing.”

Such is the state of affairs there has been huge increase in the number of parents who are more than ready to discuss their children’s experiences in the public domain. Though it not certain as to whether this is the new middle-class phenomenon.

Moving on and looking at the issues surrounding strong cannabis. Clearly this also is not a recent phenonomen, ‘its hallucinogenic effects were recorded at the beginning of civilisation and echoed in literature in stories of writers from Alexandre Dumas to Paul Bowles. But many believe that the new, hydroponically grown strain is a thoroughly modern threat to a generation who see traditionally “addictive” drugs like heroin and crack as “dirty”, and cannabis as somehow the healthy herb despite its genetically modified new form.’

In 1972 report to US President Richard Nixon and Congress of the National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse, the commission’s chairman wrote: “Seldom in the nation’s history has there been a phenomenon more divisive, more misunderstood, more fraught with impact on family, personal, and community relationships than the marihuana phenomenon.”

As time has progressed, subsequent government committees, research papers, medical studies and experts have taken robust views, opposing views and speculative ones. In the US at the moment there is a movement to use cannabis to treat hyperactive primary age children, while other experts claim it has links to schizophrenia, depression and even ­testicular cancer.

Ultimately, “What is clear is that nothing is clear,” said Harry Shapiro, the director of communications at the charity Drugscope.

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