Unspoken risks of cannabis use
The Irish Times 20 May 2019
Sir, – There is currently a great deal of one-sided discussion about cannabis. This discussion has been driven by two separate debates. First, there is the argument in favour of legalising cannabis for medicinal use. Second, there is the argument criticising the use of criminal sanctions to deter people from using cannabis.
Most of the people taking part in these discussions are sincere and well-intentioned. However, as doctors, we are concerned that Ireland is being led down the path of cannabis legalisation. We are opposed to such a move as we strongly feel that it would be bad for Ireland, especially for the mental and physical health of our young people.
We are extremely concerned about the increasing health-related problems caused by cannabis across Ireland. There are several reasons for our concern.
Cannabis use, especially in adolescent years, is associated with increased risk of development of severe mental disorders particularly psychosis.
There is growing scientific data that indicates that cannabis use in young people is related to impairments to memory and thinking, which can endure long after cannabis use has ceased.
Cannabis is now the most common drug involved in new treatment episodes at addiction services nationally.
Cannabis is also the most common substance involved in drug-related admissions to our psychiatric hospitals.
Cannabis smoke contains the same cocktails of carcinogens and toxins as tobacco smoke and therefore it must be assumed that it brings with it all the medical risks associated with smoking cigarettes.
In our view there has been a gross failure to communicate to the people of Ireland these harms which are being caused by cannabis. Responsibility for this failure lies partly with the medical profession but also with the Department of Health and the HSE.
We are also concerned that these debates have been influenced by those with a legalisation agenda. We recognise that there is a difference between decriminalisation and legalisation, but it worries us that many TDs seem unaware of these distinctions.
While there is limited evidence that some products containing cannabinoids have medical benefit in a very small number of conditions, this has, in our view, been grossly distorted to imply that the cannabis plant in its entirety can be considered a “medicine”. Decriminalisation and “medical cannabis” campaigns have proven to be effective “Trojan horse” strategies on the road to full legalisation and commercialisation elsewhere such as the United States and Canada.
Both debates have provided an effective platform for the spreading of misinformation to the public, who are being kept in the dark regarding the harmful side to “weed”. Those harmful effects are magnified now with the prevalence of a much more potent form of cannabis than the form which was common in the 1980s and 1990s. There is evidence that cannabis use has increased in the context of this propaganda campaign and the proportion of people in Ireland who see it as harmless has doubled from 10.1 per cent (2011) to 19.5 per cent (2015).
The medical bodies in Canada finally spoke up regarding their concerns about cannabis policy on the eve of its recent legalisation in that country, but that was too late for the youth of Canada. We are determined not to make the same mistake in Ireland.
We are calling for an urgent and unbiased examination of the evidence about cannabis use and cannabis-related health harms in Ireland and a comprehensive public education campaign. We hope that we can work with the Department of Health and the HSE to address this “ignored” crisis and minimise further harm to the youth of Ireland. – Yours, etc,