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Cannabis is ruining our children’s lives
Wales on Sunday
Sunday 05 Oct 2008
The figures – which paint a shocking picture of the state of our nation’s youth – are laid bare in a report compiled by the World Health Organisation.
According to the statistics – about to be published by prestigious journal The Economist – Wales has the third highest rate number of regular young cannabis users in North America and Europe.
The World Health Organisation quizzed more than 200,000 young people in 41 countries and regions across Europe and North America
It showed 11% of 15-year-olds in Wales have used cannabis up to 39 times in the past 12 months.
Only Canada and the United States had a higher rate out of all the countries and regions asked. England, Scotland and Ireland all lagged behind Wales in the cannabis regular use table.
The figures also showed that nearly one in three 15-year-olds in Wales had tried the Class C drug in their lifetime.
Collette White, 51, of St Mellons, Cardiff, knows the impact drugs can have on a loved one’s life. In February 2007, her son, Matthew, 18, was found dead after taking LSD at a birthday party which caused him to hang himself.
Collette believes it was smoking marijuana which sparked the downward spiral of the gifted St Illtyd’s Catholic High School pupil.
She said: “Without a doubt it was the cannabis that started it. It is phenomenally destructive.
“When I was young I knew it was there but we didn’t go looking for it.
“Now it is handed to them on a plate – in schools and in their social circle. It’s not only the drug but the people who they get involved with. You become pressurised into things without even knowing it.
“Some youngsters think they are indestructible but they are not.
“In 18 months Matthew turned from someone who was a really active individual into someone who didn’t really want to do anything.”
Dr Stanley Zammit, a clinical lecturer in the psychology of medicine at Cardiff University said the statistics are a damning verdict on how common cannabis is in Welsh society.
Earlier this year, he took part in research by Cardiff University that suggests smoking the drug can increase the risk of psychotic illness by 40%.
He said: “The study that has looked at the risk of psychosis suggests that people who use cannabis regularly, increases the risk two or three fold of developing a psychotic illness later in their lives.
“People do need to be aware of the long-term impacts.
“The more people use it the more wary they should be.
“Sometimes people can suffer from psychotic symptoms immediately after smoking cannabis like mild hallucinations.
“The people who suffer these symptoms are most at risk of developing problems in the future in my opinion.
“It’s a difficult area to study because you can’t decide whether it’s the cannabis risk or because of other choices in that person’s lifestyle or personality.
“Cannabis use has increased so much over the last 10 or 20 years. It’s almost abnormal not to use it these days.”
Chris Bryant, MP for the Rhondda, said that he was wary about the effects of cannabis on youngsters and would like to see it reclassified.
The Labour MP did not vote for it to be declassified to Class C in 2004.
He said: “I am worried about these figures because one of the biggest worries about cannabis is that it’s very unpredictable.
“It can help some people who are ill but for others it can make them sick.
“The biggest danger is psychotic disorders like schizophrenia. It makes any mental health problems much worse in young people.
“The stuff people are smoking is completely different to the stuff middle-class hippies were smoking in the 1960’s because it’s much stronger.
“People are playing with their own mental health without knowing the consequences.”
Don Barnard, of the Legalise Cannabis Alliance, said the only way to stop youngsters smoking cannabis at such a young age was to legalise cannabis and to control it.
He said: “Personally, I’m not concerned about these figures as long as these youngsters know what they are doing.
“What really matters is that if one in every 10 15-year-old is smoking cannabis then the government strategy is failing.
“Obviously, our organisation would like to see cannabis legalised and then maybe these youngsters will find it harder to get hold of it when it is controlled.”
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