Teens and marijuana: 'I'd go to school stoned and not learn anything'
The interviewees in this article are primarily heavy users for whom the drug has become problematic, but this is not the whole story.
Jane, a 21-year-old from Donegal, smokes marijuana three or four times a week. She first smoked when she was 14, but she does not feel that the drug adversely affects her.
“It’s become an acceptable drug,” she says. “I don’t think families even see it as a drug any more, not like something like cocaine.
“I know a few people who need to smoke a joint in order to sleep and others whose whole lives revolve around it, but I think most can take it or leave it. It doesn’t make me paranoid. I go without it for long periods of time, and I can’t see myself smoking it forever.”
For a known minority, however, cannabis curbs motivation, impairs cognition and damages mental health. Drug programmes such as those run by Crinan Youth Project and Ballymun Youth Action group do essential work despite cutbacks.
“I did other drugs – acid, ecstasy, cocaine – but I could always knock them on the head,” says Stephen. “The one I could never get rid of was cannabis. It was the pot of gold in my day. I couldn’t imagine life without it. Now that I’ve stopped it’s a bit like waking up from a weird dream. I actually get a buzz from watching the telly or playing snooker or going to the cinema. I don’t need it any more.”
Some names have been changed
Does cannabis turn you into a dope?
How has cannabis changed in recent years? “The hash that was around when I was a teenager was a very different beast to the grass being smoked now,” says Dr Bobby Smyth of Trinity College Dublin.
“It’s like comparing a shandy to a bottle of tequila. Studies in Britain show that those who smoked skunk with the higher levels of THC are more likely to suffer psychotic symptoms than those who smoked the milder strain.”
The New Zealand study reported in the media this week shows an eight-point drop in IQ for long-term users who smoked cannabis from adolescence into adulthood. This worries Smyth.
“That study involves people who were 38 the last time they were interviewed, so it must relate to people who weren’t smoking the modern cannabis. If the current cohort of teenagers are smoking the more potent cannabis, one would expect that the effect would be even more potent for them.”
The study found adults who quit the drug did not suffer impaired IQ, but teenagers suffered a permanent effect. What about those who smoked cannabis heavily as teenagers and have perfectly normal lives now? “People will vary in terms of the extent to which it affects them. Some cannabis smokers will get away with it. They’ll smoke their brain off as teenagers and there won’t be much of an impact. But for others there’ll be a more profound impact.
“We just don’t know who’s in danger of developing these cognitive problems or psychotic-type problems. It’s a roll of the dice. But the idea that you could pour any chemical into your brain week after week and year after year and that your brain isn’t going to be changed by that is delusional.”