Cannabis use by young significantly increases mental health risks

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Cannabis use by young significantly increases mental health risks

About one in five Irish 15-16-year-olds report using cannabis. That means one in five adolescents are using a drug that can have a multitude of demonstrably negative effects on their short- and long-term mental health at a time when their brains are at the peak of their development.

Until relatively recently, cannabis use among Irish adolescents was in decline. In 2003, 17 per cent of 16-year-olds said they had used the drug in the past month; that number dropped to 7 per cent in 2011. The reverse began soon after. While there’s no single reason for this, one possible explanation is that the percentage of teenagers who view cannabis as “low risk” increased from 10 per cent in 2011 to almost 20 per cent in 2015.

As a society, we have come to view cannabis through rose-tinted glasses. Contrary to increasingly common belief, cannabis is not a harmless panacea, and it can be addictive. An estimated one in six who start smoking or ingesting cannabis before the age of 18 become dependent.

While the effects of alcohol and tobacco on physical health are well known, the public do not seem to be aware that cannabis can be toxic to young people’s developing brains. Over the past couple of decades, numerous scientific studies have shown that cannabis use in young people significantly increases the risk of developing mental health problems.

Heavy use of cannabis in adolescence can have long-term effects on memory and cognition

There is strong evidence that cannabis use increases the risk of depression and anxiety in young people. The risk of youth suicide increases three-fold. There are a large number of studies now showing that cannabis use causes psychosis.The risk of developing a psychotic illness such as schizophrenia is particularly high in people who start using high potency cannabis during adolescence; it is estimated that 50 per cent of all new cases of first-episode psychosis in Amsterdam are due to cannabis.

Cannabis use in adolescence and young adulthood can have serious effects on a person’s lifetime prospects. The comic stereotype of the lazy stoner is, in reality, no laughing matter: heavy use of cannabis in adolescence can have long-term effects on memory and cognition and can lead to a drop of up to six IQ points.

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