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Psychiatrists say cannabis is 'gravest threat' to youth mental health

Hospital admissions of young people with a cannabis-related diagnosis increased by 300% between 2005 and 2017.

THE COLLEGE OF Psychiatrists of Ireland (CPsychI) has warned that cannabis represents the “gravest threat to the mental health of young people in Ireland today”, saying that the combination of increasingly potent strains of the drug, and a widespread conception among the public that it is harmless, are having “devastating” effects.

The CPsychI has released a leaflet for the public called ‘Cannabis and your Mental Health’, looking at cannabis use in Ireland, its general risks, and its effects on mental health.

The key points the medical organisation raises are:

  • The number of hospital admissions of young people with a cannabis-related diagnosis increased by 300% between 2005 and 2017
  • One in three young people are likely to become addicted to cannabis if they use it weekly or more often
  • Mental health issues associated with cannabis use include psychosis, depression, anxiety disorders, and self-harm and suicidal behaviour
  • THC levels in cannabis have increased dramatically over recent years, CPsychI said. Samples of cannabis seized by Irish authorities have found THC levels (the psychoactive substance which creates the ‘high’) of up to 16%. Cannabis with THC levels of over 10% is known as ‘high-potency’ cannabis. In 2000 analysis of herbal cannabis showed THC levels of 6% on average. Increasing cannabis potency has been noted across Europe, with potency doubling over the period 2006 to 2016.

Dr William Flannery, President of the CPsychI and Consultant Addiction Psychiatrist, said: “Cannabis represents the gravest threat to the mental health of young people in Ireland today. It is by far the most widely used illegal drug in the country and we know that its potency has spiked in recent years, leading to a significant rise in hospital admissions among young people with a cannabis-related diagnosis.”

A study using the National Psychiatric In-Patient Reporting System (NPIRS) data found that cannabis- related admissions had increased by 140% between 2011 and 2017 for people aged 15-34.

However, despite this there is still a general feeling among the public that the drug is mostly harmless. This conception needs to be challenged at every turn because psychiatric services are under huge pressure due to this problem.”

The National Advisory Committee on Drugs and Alcohol conducted a general population study in 2014/2015 and found 1 in 4 of respondents had used cannabis at least once in their lifetime with 6.5% of respondents reporting cannabis use within the last month.

Results from the European School Survey Project on Alcohol and Other Drugs study in 2019 showed that 9% of Irish Transition Year students (aged 15-16) in Ireland had used cannabis in the past month.

Dr Gerry McCarney, Consultant Child and Adolescent Addiction Psychiatrist, said that the risks of cannabis addiction were significant. “ the danger that this increasingly potent drug poses to young people’s mental health.

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“Adolescents are at particular risk from mind-altering substances such as cannabis as their brains have not fully developed. Cannabis can be hugely damaging to young people, affecting their ability to learn social and problem-solving skills, while potentially stunting cognitive ability and general emotional intelligence.

We are calling on the Government to conduct an urgent review of cannabis use in Ireland and its related harms, as well as initiating a comprehensive public awareness campaign on the dangers of the drug.

The CPsychI is the professional and training body for psychiatrists in Ireland and represents 1,000 professional psychiatrists across the country.

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