A group of senior doctors have warned about Ireland's relaxed attitudes towards cannabis.
The Cannabis Risk Alliance, a group of 20 senior doctors from across the medical community, has said cannabis is now the most common illegal drug involved in new treatment episodes in the country’s addiction centres and psychiatric hospitals.
They claim the Government is “sleepwalking” towards legalising the drug for medicinal purposes without considering the harms associated with the drug.
The group outlined their position in a signed letter published in the Irish Times.
Dr Bobby Smyth, speaking on behalf of the group, said: "Cannabis is increasingly perceived to be a harmless drug, whereas in reality it is the main drug causing new addiction-related and psychiatric cases presenting in Ireland today.
"We are gravely concerned that the Government is ploughing ahead without objectively considering the full effects of cannabis or even properly communicating the risks posed by the drug to society at large.
"The Government is sleepwalking into supporting the use of so-called ‘medicinal’ cannabis while ignoring the extensive evidence of its harms. This gives the perception that the drug is harmless and gives the wrong message to young people."
He said the group was calling on the Government "to initiate an urgent and unbiased examination of the evidence of escalating cannabis use and cannabis-related health harms in Ireland, as well as a comprehensive public education campaign to counter the pro-cannabis propaganda which has gone unchallenged for the past eight years."
Dr Ray Walley, a GP and former President of the Irish Medical Organisation, said he had seen a significant increase in the numbers of people presenting with cannabis-related issues.
"This is destroying families, and the Government needs to properly investigate the harm this drug can cause before blindly introducing legislation that will have a huge effect on society," said Dr Walley.
"Cannabis has changed fundamentally in the past 20 years.
"Modern cannabis, known as ‘weed’, is vastly stronger than the hash which was used in the past. Cannabis has never been more dangerous than it is now."
Professor Mary Cannon of the Department of Psychiatry, Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, added: "Cannabis use is associated with an increased risk for psychosis, suicidal behaviours, and other mental disorders. These risks have been consistently shown in large international studies.
"The evidence for the harms associated with cannabis use is much, much stronger than any evidence for its use as a ‘medicine’.
"The risks for mental health are highest among young people who use high potency cannabis."