Doctors claim Government failing to counteract ‘relentless pro-cannabis messaging’ in media

Group of top 21 doctors write letter arguing ‘avoidable misery’ is being caused by the drug – including record hospital admissions

The Government and HSE are failing to counteract “relentless pro-cannabis messaging” in the media with factual information about its harms, according to a group of specialist doctors.

The “huge amount of avoidable misery” being caused to thousands of people abusing the drug, including record numbers of hospital admissions, is being ignored, they say.

The group, which includes specialists in addiction, emergency medicine, psychiatry, neurology and general practice, describes the upcoming Citizens’ Assembly on Drugs Use as “an opportunity to move on from the endless conversation about legislation and to give renewed priority to the more important issues of prevention and treatment”.

Four years ago a broadly similar group of doctors claimed Ireland was “sleepwalking” into the legalisation of cannabis on the back of a campaign of misinformation about the drug.


In a fresh letter to The Irish Times, 21 doctors say the health problems arising from cannabis use “remain ignored”.

These include an estimated 22,000 people with cannabis dependence and record medical and psychiatric hospital admissions related to the drug – over 1,000 in 2020.

“In spite of the evidence of substantial and increasing harms, the public perception of the harms of cannabis has continued to decline. This in turn drives up use.”

Among under-25s, cannabis is a “bigger issue” than alcohol, according to the doctors, who say a comprehensive public health campaign is needed.

“While there is unrelenting pro-cannabis messaging on social and traditional media, there has been little attempt by Government or HSE to counter this with factual information,” the group says.

“As doctors, we are growing tired of seeing young lives, and the lives of their families, being derailed by the use of this drug. Cannabis problems are evident in every community, rural and urban, from the most affluent to the most deprived.”

The group includes two former presidents of the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO), a former president of the Royal College of Physicians and the head of the school of medicine at Trinity College Dublin.

GP and former IMO president Dr Ray Walley says he sees new cannabis patients on a “nearly weekly basis” and the age at which they present is reducing.

The State is abrogating its responsibilities to collect reliable data on the problem and medical bodies are “behind the curve” in speaking out on cannabis harms, he told The Irish Times.

“We are now where we were 50 years ago with cigarettes, or even worse off potentially.”

“This is not an in-your-face epidemic like heroin was in the 1980s,” according to addiction specialist Prof Bobby Smyth. “It’s an insipid, slow, background problem involving young people who are disintegrated in their houses.”

The Citizens’ Assembly, chaired by former HSE boss Paul Reid, is due to have its first meeting next weekend. It has already been challenged by a pro-cannabis group including three TDs who have questioned whether it is operating openly and transparently.

“We have grave concerns that this vital requirement is not being met,” according to an open letter from deputies Gino Kenny, Thomas Pringle, Violet-Anne Wynne, GP Dr Garrett McGovern, the Cannabis Industry Council Ireland and others involved in drugs policy and services. The group claims an advisory support group created to assist the Citizens’ Assembly was appointed in secret and at short notice.

The doctors in their letter cite data from the first years of legalisation of cannabis in the US and Canada showing public health problems have increased while the black market continues to operate.

“Road traffic accidents involving cannabis-impaired drivers are increasing. Emergency department attendances due to mental and physical effects of cannabis are also increasing. The adverse effects on young children from heavy parental cannabis use is a major concern.

“Cannabis use is associated with increased risk for psychosis, depression, anxiety and suicidal behaviours and worsens outcomes in those with mental disorders.”

Expressing support for the health diversion scheme introduced by Government last year they say no one should be locked up for “simple drug possession”.

Cannabis industry lobbyists in Ireland are “further skewing an already unbalanced public discourse”, they claim.

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen is Health Editor of The Irish Times