Cannabis, mental health and the law

 

Sir, – I welcome the recent comments by the College of Psychiatrists of Ireland (CPI), highlighting the risks and harms associated with regular cannabis use, particularly in adolescence (“Cannabis ‘gravest threat’ to mental health of young people”, News, May 4th).

It has provoked the rather predictable debate between those at polarised ends of a wide-ranging discussion.

What the CPI has done, to its credit, is to remind us all as a society of the indisputable links between potent cannabis strains (high in THC – the substance that causes the “high”) and the increased risk of dependence and/or serious mental illnesses such as psychosis.

It’s important that these reminders are not dismissed.

What’s interesting is that the problems it has highlighted have developed within an era of prohibition and criminalisation.

Therefore it seems the CPI inadvertently supports the need to review this issue, and if anything its recent publication strengthens the argument of those calling for the introduction of regulation and/or decriminalisation, concerns notwithstanding.

International data might lend further support to these calls, although opposing views are understandable and need to be respected.

I’m most struck by the CPI’s assertion that cannabis poses the greatest risk to mental health in young people, which seems at odds with the opinion of the United Nations (UN) special rapporteur for health, including mental health, from 2014-2020, Dr Dainius Puras. Dr Puras is a professor and the head of the Centre for Child psychiatry social paediatrics at Vilnius University, Lithuania, and has repeatedly identified poverty, social deprivation, lack of educational attainment, and employment opportunity as the most important determinants of mental health problems worldwide. Might the Government move to ban these problems too? – Yours, etc,

Dr DAMIEN LOWRY,

Chartered Senior

Counselling Psychologist,

Dublin 6.

Sir, – Your front page on April 4th tells us of the “gravest threat” represented by cannabis, according to a group of psychiatrists. It is certainly alarming that such a large cohort of our young population are at risk of self-harm in this way.

It is similarly the case that grave threats associated with drug use come from the illegal status of this seemingly ubiquitous activity. A young person dabbling in drugs will soon endanger their lives through coming in contact with criminal gangs, risking being criminalised if caught in possession, falling into debt with unscrupulous people, being poisoned by unregulated and adulterated substances, getting overcharged and driven to poverty or criminal activity to obtain drugs, and many more dangers. All of these hazards are highly likely outcomes for our young people attracted to this “glamour” underworld.

It is important when pointing out the dangers of drug use that we acknowledge the harm that has been done to our society by the blinkered approach taken by our legislators. The scourge of gangland exists wholly because of the ever-present demand for illegal produce. And a very large segment of the petty crime that is inflicted upon society every day is committed by drug users in need of money. Our streets are filled with evidence of shattered lives. Our courts are tied up in pointless punishment of sick, damaged people. Addiction services are hampered by the everyday criminalisation of the clients in need of these services. We know the damage done inside family homes by this misguided policy of perpetuation.

If the 50-year-old war on drugs was working, I would be the first to support it. How long will it take us to accept that it has failed? Across Europe there are more enlightened policies in place which have been shown to offer hope. It’s time we followed the evidence and brought this problem out of the criminal system where it can be challenged by effective and appropriate policy. – Yours, etc,

ART V McGANN,

Clontarf,

Dublin 3.