Teens and marijuana: 'I'd go to school stoned and not learn anything'
A new study shows a significant drop in IQ for long-term users who smoked cannabis from adolescence into adulthood. Here, some young adults discuss their experiences with the drug.‘I FIRST STARTED smoking cannabis when I was 12,” says Stephen, a 26-year-old from Ballymun, in north Dublin. “It took me away from the life that I was in. I came from a big family and had an awful lot of angry people around me and a lot of drink and drugs. I used to pray to God to take me out and put me in another family. Cannabis took me away for a few hours.
“Two or three of us would chip in and grab a £10 deal. You could go to the field and have a few joints and not listen to your ma and da. We’d sit in the fields with the horses, two stolen cars and a lump of hash. We’d sit in the cars, smoke the hash and then rally the cars around the fields.”
Soon Stephen was stealing to fund his cannabis habit and entered a cycle of paranoia, depression and anxiety attacks from which he says he has only recently emerged. He has completed the cannabis programme run by Ballymun Youth Action Group. (“We set it up in response to a demand,” says a community addiction worker, Karl O’Brien.) He has signed up to a Fetac course and is reconnecting with his two young sons (whose names are tattooed on his arm). He says he’s seeing life clearly for the first time in a decade.
Attitudes to cannabis have softened. It is often seen as less harmful than even legal drugs such as alcohol. In more recent years, however, a succession of studies have noted adverse effects on the mental and cognitive health of some long-term users, particularly those who used in their teenage years.
A newly published study of cannabis users in New Zealand has shown that regular users who smoked from their teenage years suffered an irreversible drop in IQ. (Those who smoked only in adulthood suffered an IQ drop, too, but this seems to be reversible over time after abstaining from the drug.)
Furthermore, the type of cannabis available has become more potent: cannabis resin has been supplanted by grass or skunk.
“I did enjoy it [cannabis] a lot at the start,” says Stephen. “I enjoyed the giggles and the laughing, but after three or four years that feeling stopped. I was paranoid. That was made worse because I was hiding from everybody, because I owed them money. I felt I couldn’t go outside the door. I couldn’t go to some of my own friends’ funerals because I owed money. And I felt like I was dead if I didn’t have [cannabis]. I didn’t want to live if I didn’t have it. I’d rob anything. I know it’s not heroin, but I know people spending four times as much on weed as heroin. And I know people being physically battered over money for weed.”
Tony, a young-looking 21-year-old who is still involved with the programme, is a bit more sceptical of its danger. “I don’t think it’s that harmful really,” he says. “I saw somewhere that more people die every year from eating peanuts than smoking cannabis. I suppose it could kill you if you ran up a debt and someone shot you over it. That could happen.”