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Doctors want cannabis risks highlighted, but campaigners says debate is conflating medicinal and recreational use

Medical experts said the government was ‘sleepwalking’ its way into supporting cannabis use in Ireland.

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Image: Shutterstock/Yarygin

 A GROUP OF 20 doctors said a campaign of misinformation has led to a sharp increase in the number of cannabis users in Ireland, and warned against liberating the drug for recreational use. 

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar last year confirmed a working group was considering decriminalising the drug and were reviewing jurisdictions such as Canada where cannabis use had already been legalised.

Senior doctors from the Cannabis Risk Alliance, however, said the dangers, including “increased risk of development of severe mental disorders, particularly psychosis,” were being ignored. 

The group said the government was “sleepwalking” its way into supporting its use.

In a letter published in The Irish Times today, it said: “There is growing scientific data that indicates that cannabis use in young people is related to impairments to memory and thinking, which can endure long after cannabis use has ceased.

“Cannabis is now the most common drug involved in new treatment episodes at addiction services nationally. 

“Cannabis is also the most common substance involved in drug-related admissions to our psychiatric hospitals.

“Cannabis smoke contains the same cocktails of carcinogens and toxins as tobacco smoke and therefore it must be assumed that it brings with it all the medical risks associated with smoking cigarettes.”

The letter suggests parties with a commercial and legislative agenda have “grossly distorted” the spread of information around the drug’s medicinal uses, and that use of the drug has increased due to “this propaganda campaign”. 

“The proportion of people in Ireland who see it as harmless has doubled from 10.1% (2011) to 19.5% (2015),” it said. 

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The group has begun a campaign for an “unbiased examination of the evidence about cannabis use and cannabis-related health harms in Ireland and a comprehensive public education campaign”.

A Drug Use in Ireland and Northern Ireland study published last September revealed cannabis was the most commonly used illegal drug in the country. 

It also found that among cannabis users, some 24% were classified as cannabis-dependent. 

“Decriminalisation and ‘medicinal cannabis’ campaigns have proved to be effective Trojan horse strategies on the road to full legalisation and commercialisation elsewhere,” the doctors also stated in the letter

Such comments have angered medicinal cannabis campaigner Vera Twomey and TD Gino Kenny.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Sean O’Rourke programme today, Twomey said that she was “devastated” to read the comments of doctors who criticised “the one-sided debate on cannabis.”

Kenny said the doctors were conflating two issues – cannabis for medicinal use and cannabis for recreational use, which he added are two very separate matters. 

Twomey told Dr Ray Walley, one of the authors of the letter, that her daughter Ava Barry who has severe epilepsy is now “thriving” in school, having been given a prescription for medicinal cannabis. 

“She hasn’t been admitted to hospital in two years. Now she’s having a life free of pain,” she said. 

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