The harmful effects of cannabis and its role as a gateway illicit drug have been confirmed in a large study published last week. It looked at the frequency of cannabis use before the age of 17, and seven developmental outcomes up to age 30. The Antipodean researchers found that those who are daily cannabis users are over 60 per cent less likely to complete secondary school or to complete a degree compared to those who have never used the drug.
Published in the journal Lancet Psychiatry, the authors also found that daily users of cannabis during adolescence are seven times more likely to attempt suicide, and are eight times as likely to use other illicit drugs in later life.
Although not measured in this latest study, cannabis use in adolescence has also been associated with an increased risk of psychosis in adulthood.
There is evidence to show that brain development during adolescence can be harmed by frequent cannabis use and that cognitive functions can be permanently reduced. This impairment and the low energy and reduced initiative associated with persistent cannabis use are the likely reasons for the poor educational outcomes shown in last week’s research.
Notwithstanding these potential harms, a recent Eurobarometer survey found some 56 per cent of young Irish people believe cannabis should be legalised, an increase of 15 per cent since the last survey in 2011.The number who consider regular cannabis use to be dangerous was down six per cent to 46 per cent. This compared to 63 per cent of other young Europeans.
With global moves to decriminalise and legalise cannabis gaining momentum, it is important to protect adolescents from gaining easier access to the drug; a delay or prevention of cannabis use will have broad health and social benefits. But this must not prevent the legalisation of medicinal cannabis here. An amendment to the Misuse of Drugs Regulations, which would benefit people with multiple sclerosis and other debilitating diseases, is long overdue.