Preying on our children

EXPERTS have today warned of the dangers of taking cannabis after it emerged that families across Suffolk were being torn apart by the effects of the drug.

EXPERTS have today warned of the dangers of taking cannabis after it emerged that families across Suffolk were being torn apart by the effects of the drug.

Several parents contacted The Evening Star following revelations last month that a 14-year-old's addiction to the drug had led him on a path of destruction.

The Claydon teenager has been in trouble with the police, persistently run away from home and shown complete disrespect for his mother since he started taking the drug a year ago.

Today psychologist Lilian Power said the effects of the drug could be devastating, particularly to already vulnerable teenagers. Already this year she has seen three people aged in their 20's and 30's who are facing a bleak future through cannabis, having spent the last ten years in their bedrooms, unable to work.

She said it was difficult to attribute teenage rebellion to drug-taking but said adolescents could struggle to get through their teens if they took cannabis regularly.

Ms Power said: “Normal adolescents go through a process in order to find themselves and normally that means rejecting everything they stand for.

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“Without the cannabis they will work through that and move forward but with the cannabis they can't find a place to stand and can't find a way forward.”

She said that habitual use of cannabis can force youngsters into a cycle of demotivation and not being able to function well.

She added: They typically get more involved in computers and isolated from their peers.

“They lose their sense of urgency about getting out of that world and getting on with their lives.”

Cannabis was declassified from a Class B to a Class C drug in 2004 but it is not clear whether this has led to an increase in its use.

Carole Slater of Ipswich's Iceni Project said cannabis related referrals to the rehabilitation centre had increased steadily over the past few years.

She said she believed declassification of the drug had sent out a message that it was OK to take it, although in some cases it could be addictive.

She added: “Everyone says you can't get physically dependent on it but the World Health Organisation's definition of physical dependency is anything which, if withdrawn has an adverse physical reaction. It is not addictive in the same way as an opiate or cocaine.

“The strength of it has increased over the years and, despite what is said, there is a physical withdrawal.”

Ms Slater said statistics suggested that 65 per cent of 15-year-olds had experimented with the drug and three pc had gone on to have an addiction.

Research is continually being carried out to establish the long-term effects of the drug but Ms Power said people with mental health problems and troubled teenagers were most likely to suffer at its hands.

She said: “People who have had any incident of mental illness can be tipped into paranoia and psychosis.

“Anyone who has been depressed at all should not touch it, even if their friends are fine on it. Every psychiatrist in the country has seen people who are disturbed and are using cannabis, although you can't necessarily make a link between the two.”

Alan Staff, director of modernisation for Suffolk's Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS) said: “I'm not surprised by the Star's findings at all.

“The use and availability of cannabis has obviously gone up so we see a far higher proportion of young people who use cannabis in various ways.

“That can range from people who use it very occasionally to others who use it very, very regularly in an almost dependent way.

“With young people and young minds, cannabis is going to have a more significant impact than perhaps it would on someone a bit older.”

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