Escalating cannabis-related health problems among young people has coincided with the arrival of a more potent form of the illegal drug, medical experts have shown.
The experts, including adolescent addiction psychiatrist, Dr Bobby Smyth, have published a study in the Irish Medical Journal showing a “concerning picture” from a health perspective for Irish young people.
“A combination of displacement of low potency hash by higher potency 'weed', a recent growing perception that cannabis is relatively safe and increased use appears to be driving harms upwards,” they warn.
The study entitled 'Cannabis use and Associated Health Problems – What's the Harm?' points out that, of all illegal drugs, cannabis is the one which causes the greatest amount of disability among older teenagers. The risk of dependence is highest in those who start using cannabis in adolescence.
Dr Smyth, together with Dr Anne O'Farrell from the HSE's health intelligence unit and Antoinette Daly from the Health Research Board, used data collated from two national population surveys and three national treatment databases, focussing on people under 34 years.
“There is a need for a public information campaign to ensure young people are better informed about the hazards posed by cannabis,” they said. “Given the evidence of escalating health harms, doctors should become more involved in these discussions.”
Earlier this year, a group of more than 25 senior doctors signed a letter expressing concern about increasing health-related problems caused by cannabis use.
The group, called the Cannabis Risk Alliance, argued that society had “taken its eye off the ball” about the harmful effects of the drug. Dr Smyth was one of the doctors who signed the letter.
In the study, the authors cite statistics showing that past-month cannabis use among adolescents and young adults increased after 2011, coinciding with a decline in perceived risk of regular use.
The treatment of cannabis use disorders and cannabis-related hospital admissions has increased significantly since 2011 as the drug has grown more potent.
The rate of cannabis-related hospital admissions increased threefold from 2005 to 2017.