Banning cannabis is ridiculous, but the risks it poses to mental health cannot be ignored
The western world seems to be gradually but inexorably moving towards the decriminalization or even legalization of cannabis. In 2018, Canada passed the Cannabis Act, becoming the first G20 country to legalize the drug.
Last year, Malta became the first European country to abolish Prohibition. In America, recreational cannabis is legal in 18 states. In Ireland, where medical cannabis was legalized last year, public opinion is steadily shifting in favor of lifting sanctions on its recreational use.
According to a poll of 1,000 Irish people commissioned by thejournal.ie last year, almost 40 per cent support legalizing cannabis for recreational use – with, unsurprisingly, the strongest support among the youngest age groups.
Meanwhile, Dublin Midwest TD, Gino Kenny, recently announced plans to table a bill in the Dáil to end the criminalization of cannabis, saying there was “no more reason to make cannabis illegal than alcohol”.
When Gardaí in Cork announced this week that they had seized €60,000 worth of cannabis and €9,000 in cash after a raid on a house in Cobh, Cork, and arrested a 16-year-old as part of the operation, it’s tough not feeling that the most appropriate response is a shrug.
Considering that the ultimate fate of this confiscated cannabis collection will now be “destroyed under official supervision,” it’s hard not to view this type of operation as little more than a waste of public money. In a legalized system, part of this 60,000 euros would probably flow into the state coffers instead.
But while Gino Kenny is right that alcohol is probably far more significant than marijuana when considering wide-ranging social harm, that doesn’t mean the latter should be treated as benign.
The Irish College of Psychiatrists is deeply concerned at the increasingly unconcerned attitude towards the drug.
Last year they issued a statement saying cannabis was the “biggest mental health threat to young people in Ireland today” and citing a three-fold increase in the number of young people who were using cannabis in recent years -related diagnosis were hospitalized.
The statement was later criticized for its hyperbolic language. But the college represents those professionals on the front lines of the mental health crisis among young people in this country, at a time in history when the number of young people suffering from serious mental illness has never been higher. So you can forgive their alarming tone.
Although causality is difficult to establish, the strong relationship between cannabis use and serious mental illness is clear and compelling. A 2019 study published in lancet explained why it is difficult to determine whether increased rates of psychosis in regular users are directly caused by the drug. There may be overlap between the genes linked to a predisposition to psychosis and those linked to a predisposition to cannabis addiction. The mentally ill may be more likely to use cannabis for self-medication.
Nonetheless, the same study also concluded that, at the population level, in areas with higher use of potent cannabis, there is a proportionate increase in the rates of psychosis and serious mental illness. In Amsterdam, up to half of the new cases of psychosis are linked to high-potency cannabis. In Colorado, in the US, there are growing concerns about a sharp rise in emergency room admissions related to the drug.
When I was a teenager in the late 1990s, hash was the ubiquitous transitional drug. In the midst of puberty, my friends and I made bongs out of empty Ribena bottles and smoked joints at the end of the garden—the rather gaudy imagery of tar-stained reefer papers with the cartoonish label of the family’s favorite blackcurrant squash, symbolically emphasizing our boundary State between childhood and budding adulthood.
My Boomer parents, who themselves had come of age in the 1960s and 1970s, would not have let it happen had they known. But they seemed more concerned about the likely damage caused by the tobacco than the weed.
That was probably appropriate. Tobacco smoking and the diseases associated with it were widespread at the time. It took a long time for young people with acute mental illness to get to the emergency room.
My own kids are young, so talking about drugs feels far away. But there is a history of mental illness in the family. And as they get older, I will make it a priority to talk to them about the risks of cannabis use.
Ireland’s drug policy is inconsistent and irrational. Prohibition is clearly not the answer. But any move to liberalize the law must be accompanied by harm reduction measures and clear messages about the risks involved.
https://www.independent.ie/opinion/comment/outlawing-cannabis-is-ludicrous-but-the-risks-it-poses-to-mental-health-cant-be-ignored-41626100.html Banning cannabis is ridiculous, but the risks it poses to mental health cannot be ignored