Teens and marijuana: 'I'd go to school stoned and not learn anything'
Nonetheless he wants to cut down on his consumption to focus on earning more money for his baby girl. “I’m going to do the Leaving Cert,” he says. “I need to earn more money.
“Weed does make you real stupid and dopey,” he says. “I’d go to school stoned and you wouldn’t learn anything. When I got older I used to sit in the house and smoke it. Put on a funny film, have a few joints, get the munchies and have a few packets of crisps. My ma doesn’t like me smoking it, but she can’t really stop me. Maybe it’d be different if I was smoking gear.”
Dr Bobby Smyth, a Trinity College Dublin academic who works with the HSE’s youth drug and alcohol service in Tallaght, says just because cannabis seems less harmful than other drugs, this does not mean it’s harmless. Most youth workers contacted for this article say the numbers accessing their services with cannabis-specific issues has increased (this despite a recent NUI Galway study suggesting fewer under-18s are smoking the drug overall).
“It’s the biggest single drug that presents to us, and it’s become more dominant as the biggest substance in the past year or two,” says Smyth. “There are multiple factors. Drugs are very culturally influenced. They go in and out of fashion, and at the moment cannabis is quite fashionable. It’s very available and the quality is good.
“We’re seeing teenagers spending €50 a day on cannabis. That’s about €1,400 a month. The amount of money people are spending on cannabis now is similar to what people would spend on a heroin habit. They’re getting the drug on ticket, and eventually the dealer comes knocking at their parents’ door looking for the money. That’s usually when they’re referred to us.”
Part of the problem is cannabis has changed. The market is now dominated by strains of locally produced grass that have, over the years, been modified to contain higher levels of the psychoactive chemical tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC. “This makes it much more powerful and pleasurable,” says Smyth. “But it also increases the risk of doing damage.”
Twenty-year-olds Siobhan and Trevor are sitting in a counselling room at Crinan Youth Project, based at the old Magdalen laundry on Sean McDermott Street. Both of them feel as if they’ve been clean “for ages” (four months and six weeks respectively). They started smoking hash young, Siobhan at 12, Trevor at 16, but couldn’t go back to it, they said, once they’d experienced stronger weed.
For a long time each of them thought that the paranoia and anxiety they felt were rational responses to reality and had nothing to do with the drug. Trevor maintains that each bag of weed “should come with a warning like on a packet of cigarettes, because it f***s up your head. Each bag should have a picture of a guy looking like this . . .” He does an exaggerated impression of an anguished man holding his head in his hands.
“At the start you’d get a real buzz off it,” says Siobhan. “But then it’s like 10 personalities in a bag. Your mood can change very quickly. I’d be walking to the shops terrified, because I’d be convinced someone was following me and was about to punch me in the face.”
Siobhan is looking for work and Trevor is planning to resit the Leaving Cert. “I couldn’t have done that when I was smoking,” he says. “I wouldn’t have got out of bed for it.”