|CANNABIS is as socially unacceptable as cocaine or heroin and the drugs barons who profit from it should be pursued with the full rigour of the law.|
That’s according to Brian O’Shea TD, Labour Party spokesman on Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, who was a member of the Dail Committee which compiled a new report entitled “What everyone should know about cannabis’.
“It is reliably estimated that there are some 300,000 users of cannabis in the State and in view of the consequences for their mental and physical health, the Committee recommends that a national strategy be drawn up with the aim of reversing the exponential rise in cannabis use over the last decade,” said Deputy O’Shea.
“Particular emphasis must be paid to young women of childbearing age and to their children, as well as to young people in general, given their vulnerability to mental health problems.
“The Committee also expressed support for further neurobiological and clinical research to examine the long-term cognitive impairment effects associated with heavy cannabis use, particularly those impairments relating to heavy use in adolescence and to prenatal exposure to cannabis.
The Committee also drew attention to the physical effects of cannabis use and pointed out that the health risks are greater than those for conventional tobacco as cannabis smoke contains more carcinogens and a higher tar content.
Deputy O’Shea said given that the cannabis trade in Ireland is worth an estimated •375 million and is the largest component of the vile drugs trade, the Committee was united in expressing the view that greater resources be devoted to the criminal investigation side and that there be a more proactive pursuit of those who gain from it financially as is the case with Class A drugs.
“Awareness of the risks of cannabis use needs to be raised through public information campaigns focused particularly on young people and their parents and we need to understand that cannabis is primarily a health issue,” said Deputy O’Shea.
The Committee recommends the adoption of preventive strategies where primary prevention attempts to reduce the number of new cases of cannabis use, where secondary prevention seeks to lower the rate of problem cannabis use and where tertiary prevention seeks to decrease the amount of disability associated with problem cannabis use.
The committee also reported that it wanted integrated treatment for those who were suffering from both mental illness and substance abuse as individuals experiencing these combined disorders face particular difficulty receiving diagnostic and treatment services although separately these disorders are treatable.
“Cannabis is the most widely used illegal drug in western societies and I have no reason to believe that the position with young people using cannabis in Waterford is any different to elsewhere,” said Deputy O’Shea. “In the past, use of cannabis has been seen as less serious than other drugs and, in some quarters, was regarded as harmless but the findings of the Committee suggest this is far from the reality.
“Over one third of Irish schoolchildren have tried cannabis by the age of 16 and nine per cent of Irish sixteen-year olds use cannabis at least three times a month, with as many girls as boys now using the drug. About one in ten, or 28,000 current users of cannabis are dependent on the drug. “Surveys indicate that the majority of Irish people do not want cannabis legalised and a substantial minority of past and current cannabis users do not wish to see it legalised either.
“There is now compelling evidence that cannabis abuse can result in the development of psychotic illness in later life,” says Deputy O’Shea. “Prolonged exposure to cannabis can induce changes to neurotransmitter pathways in vulnerable people, which can result in serious illness such as schizophrenia in some and result in cognitive impairment in others.
“In recent years it has also become clear that the human brain continues to develop during adolescence and it appears that cannabis use during this developmental phase, when brain architecture relating to some higher functions is being fine tuned, is most likely to result in long-term impairment,” added Deputy O’Shea.