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My James Loved Life, But Cannabis Stole Him Away

Samantha Booth, The Daily Record, 22nd July 2006

TEENAGER James Hanlon was only 17-years-old when he took his own life.

The once fun-loving footballer had sunk into a pit of paranoia and depression so deep he felt he could no longer carry on.

And the cause of the once happy teenager's downfall? The so-called soft drug cannabis.

His heartbroken mum Eileen now knows better than anyone just what a devastating effect the drug can have, but the sad thing is when James and his friends spent long evenings in his attic room, Eileen would be pleased that she knew where they were.

The mum-of-two said: "I know now how naive I was. "He used to take up loads of snacks but I just thought he was a growing boy.

"Then when I found cigarette papers I just thought it was for roll-up cigarettes. I just thought he was just being a moody teenager.

"I didn't know anything about drugs then but I know all too well what cannabis can do now.

"James changed and finally took his own life. The whole thing was a heartbreaking nightmare for us."

James was always a happy wee boy. He lived for football and the chirpy red-headed striker won dozens of trophies.

But once he started to smoke cannabis at the age of 15, it wasn't long before his life changed.

Eileen said: "As time went on I began to worry that something was wrong because he was so withdrawn and moody.

"I went on the internet and found out what I could about drugs but nothing quite explained what was happening to my son."

When James was 16, his friends stopped coming round and the youngster would spend all his time upstairs in his room alone.

He started going to college but couldn't cope, he told his mum everyone was talking about him and they thought he was a freak.

Eileen said: "I never thought James had mental health issues but it got to the stage where we had to make him go to the doctors.

"He admitted that he smoked cannabis and the doctor told him it was at the root of his problems.

"I know he stopped taking it right away but it was too late, the damage had already been done."

James committed suicide on Christmas Eve, 2002. Eileen had gone up to his room to see if he was all right and he told her he was going to have a lie-down.

A few hours later the concerned mum went back up to check on her son and found him dead.

She said: "It was utterly devastating. I thought he was just sleeping but when I got nearer to him I realised he was dead.

"He had taken an overdose.

"In the months before he died he had talked about killing himself. We had even found suicide notes but I never thought he would actually do it."

James had not touched the drug since his visit to the doctors when he was 16. He had been cannabisfree for about 18 months but the damage had already been done.

Instead of his mental health improving when he stopped smoking the drug, James just seemed to get worse.

He became very depressed and his paranoia became so great he barely left the house.

Eileen said: "We knew he had to get more help but it was difficult to get anyone to understand what he was going through. The doctor had prescribed anti-depressants but they were no good.

"It was heartbreaking for me as amum to watch my son going through that, but it must have been even worse for him.

"I wouldn't wish it on anyone."

Eventually James's mental state became so bad he was admitted to hospital with cannabis psychosis.

For the next year he spent most of his time receiving treatment as an in-patient, but nothing seemed to help.

Eileen said: "I think James was expecting a magic pill which just didn't happen and when he came out of hospital for the last time he told me he thought there was nothing more they could do."

JAMES tried to struggle on and a few weeks before he died, he made a huge effort for his sister's 21st birthday party.

However, after an hour it all became too much for him and he told his mum he had to go home.

Acouple of days before he died Eileen knew her son was in bad shape and she begged the hospital to admit him. He was sent home two hours later and the next day he killed himself.

Eileen said: "The pain of losing James will never go away but I hope that by telling his story others might be spared from going through the same.

"He would have been 21 a couple of weeks ago and I see his friends getting on with their lives and I think about all the things James has missed out on because of cannabis.

"People have to realise it is not a harmless drug, especially when it is young people taking it before their brains are developed.

"At least though there is far more information and help available now than there was even four years ago when James died, so hopefully that can help others."

Eileen has found a measure of solace in helping others since James died.

She has become the contact for the Glasgow branch of The Compassionate Friends, a support group for people who have lost a child. As Eileen says, no-one can understand what it is like until they have been through it themselves, and she has found an amazing amount of support herself from talking to others in a similar position.

She also mans the helpline for SOBS, a group which helps people who have lost a friend or relative through suicide.

And the destructive impact cannabis can have is never far from her thoughts.

She said: "I see it everywhere. "I have four close friends and three of us have had huge problems with our children through smoking cannabis.

"And it is incredible how many of the suicide victims I hear about through SOBS have also smoked the drug.

"Its dangers can't be underestimated but now I hope awareness is finally growing."

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