Treatment groups alarmed at surge in use of potent cannabis among youth

Treatment services are alarmed at the “escalating” use of potent herbal cannabis among young people and “massive” debts they are building up.

New Irish research shows that adolescent cannabis use physically changes brains in vulnerable people.

The developments come after gardaí last week seized an estimated €3m worth of cannabis plants in Co Kilkenny, in one of the biggest grow houses ever uncovered.

The number of cannabis factories seized by gardaí has jumped from 50 in 2006, to about 230 in 2009, to 579 in 2011.

“We have seen dramatic changes in the last year, year and a half. The quantities people are using now is very different to even three years ago,” said Dr Bobby Smyth, a consultant child and adolescent psychiatrist with the Youth Drug & Alcohol (Yoda) Service in Dublin.

“Hash is pretty much gone, it’s all weed now,” he said referring to cannabis resin, traditionally the dominant form of the drug. A study has found herbal cannabis (weed) is about three times more potent than resin.

Dr Geraldine Ring, director of services at the Matt Talbot Adolescent Centre in Cork, reported far greater use of herbal cannabis, while Dr Smyth said young people were accumulating huge debts.

Dr Eamon Keenan, clinical director of HSE addiction services in Dublin said: “Higher potency herbal cannabis is causing problems for our service. It can lead to more significant mental health problems, such as anxiety, paranoia and even hallucinations.”

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