Depressed pupils turning to drugs

MORE than 70 per cent of depressed and demotivated schoolchildren in Ipswich are using cannabis, new figures revealed today.The revelation comes on the same day that it was revealed that cannabis crime has soared in the UK since laws on the drug were downgraded.

MORE than 70 per cent of depressed and demotivated schoolchildren in Ipswich are using cannabis, new figures revealed today.

The revelation comes on the same day that it was revealed that cannabis crime has soared in the UK since laws on the drug were downgraded.

Nationally drugs offences recorded by police have risen by 23 per cent to 178,500 in one year, mainly due to an explosion in official warnings for carrying cannabis - up from 88,000 to 120,000.

Before the drug was downgraded in 2004, those who were given official warnings would have faced arrest and possibly jail.

In Ipswich, the scale of the problem was discovered in a survey of those excluded from school, attending pupil referral units or being helped by youth workers.

In excess of 130 children were questioned over a six-month period about the use of cannabis.

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Following the findings Ipswich has now organised its first-ever Health Jam event to in a bid to deter teenagers from using the drug.

The event, which is to be held on the Cornhill from 10am to 2pm next Wednesday, will strive to get the hard hitting message about its dangers across in light-hearted way.

A spokesman for Ipswich Borough Council said: “Between September and December 2005, there were 13 calls to the ambulance service in Ipswich for 'overdose' relating to cannabis use. This was more than for any other illicit drug during this period.

“The survey targeted 132 of Ipswich's most vulnerable young people, and the data suggested that the majority were using large amounts of cannabis, on a frequent basis, and smoking the stronger strains, which contain more of the active ingredient THC.

“Many of these young people reported feelings of anxiety, boredom and depression, which appeared to be symptomatic of a completely de-motivated lifestyle.

“Other features of this lifestyle included a poor diet and a lack of participation in sports, and complaints from close acquaintances and partners about the users' constant intoxication.”

Brian Tobin, project manager for the Iceni Project, which helps rehabilitate drug addicts in Ipswich, said most of his clients attributed their drug addictions to the use of cannabis in their teens.

To make matters worse, today's society is also blighted by a stronger strain of cannabis than in the past.

Mr Tobin said: “Cannabis is firmly entrenched in our society. The difference between 20 years ago and now is the strength. Most of it is cultivated as home-grown. That produces greater strength than herbal cannabis or cannabis resin. It is around twice as potent as it was.

“The scientific evidence that is coming out now indicates if you do smoke cannabis regularly you are likely to exhibit mental health problems.”

Demotivation, paranoia and depression are often seen to be a mainstay of users' lives.

Mr Tobin said: “We have seen a lot of youngsters who lose their educations and livelihoods because they can't be bothered to go to school. They are smoking it day in and day out. People become dependent on it because it makes them feel normal and gets them through the hurly-burly of life.

“We have got to get out of this thing where people say it's harmless because it's not.”

THE poll in Ipswich echoes national concerns about the association between cannabis use, mental health, and other cognitive and motivational impairments.

Among the symptoms are impaired work performance, lower self-esteem, depression, and social withdrawal.

The Health Jam event will be a high-profile multi-agency one. Its aim is to help provide healthy alternatives to a user's lifestyle.

Tibbs Pinter, Ipswich Borough Council's substance misuse officer and the event's organiser said "It's time to take responsibility and rally members of the community to support one another in developing a safer and healthier Ipswich.

“A key focus of this first Ipswich Health Jam is to encourage and celebrate principles of healthy living in order to promote alternative choices to smoking cannabis."

At least 14 different groups and anti-drugs agencies will be taking part in Health Jam. It has been designed as a celebration of youth encapsulating a range of activities including sports, music, information, advice, and healthy eating.

N Has your child's life been blighted by drugs? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or send an e-mail to eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk

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