Up and down the country, too many families are suffering the torture of watching their children squander their futures—bright children who have so much to live for ending up with so little. All too often, that is brought about by an addiction to skunk cannabis—a drug that is ruining young lives.
I am not a clinician or a scientist, so I am not going to give a hugely exhaustive overview of the chemical content of skunk cannabis. All I would say is that the THC— Tetrahydrocannabinol—content of skunk cannabis is now six times higher than it was in the cannabis of the ’70s and ’80s: 18% compared to 3%. The CBD—Cannabidiol— content of skunk cannabis, which is the bit of the chemical that counteracted the psychotic effects of THC, has now been removed from the drug. What we see is young people suffering as a consequence.
It is believed that skunk cannabis works by releasing dopamine into the brain, which creates a sense of euphoria, but it also has many side-effects—hallucinations, delusions, paranoia, attention impairment and emotional impairment. The problem is that young brains do not properly form in adolescence; they do not do so until they are in their early 20s. What the drug does in its simplest form is to open up gates in the brain that may never close again, or, if they do close, only partially.
If a youngster smokes skunk cannabis, at best their academic performance will be retarded. So many teachers have told me about young, bright children getting to a certain age and then their academic performance just goes backwards—not slowly, but rapidly, as they go from being at the top of the class, to the middle, to the bottom and to not turning up in class at all. That is a tragedy; a young mind is a terrible thing to waste.
Too many young people suffer severe psychotic effects linked to skunk cannabis. One in four of us carry a faulty gene for dopamine transmission. If a youngster has that gene and smokes skunk cannabis, they are six times more likely to get a psychotic illness than the average youngster out there. If both parents give them two of these genes, they are 10 times more likely to suffer a psychotic incident and suffer long-term brain damage.
With your indulgence, Mr Deputy Speaker, I would like to read a few tragic stories. In a sense, I am a voice for all those parents who cannot be here tonight. Here is the first:
“Our son was a normal, bright, outgoing, sociable boy and good at sports. He started taking cannabis at about 15 years old. He experienced a dramatic change in personality at 23, which resulted in a major psychotic episode. In recent years, he has been under psychiatric care and on antipsychotic medication, and has not been able to keep down a steady job. He has been sectioned twice and remains under a community treatment order. His continuous use of cannabis has destroyed a fine young man who now has no ambition or awareness of responsibility. However, he is beginning to accept that the cannabis habit will lead to more severe mental health problems. It is hugely distressing to watch this lovely boy turn into a complete stranger.”
Another parent wrote:
“George was our only son to turn to drugs. His addictions began early—tobacco in junior school, cannabis in senior. At first we were in the dark but George’s hand was forced by events and we were informed. He was warned. However, nothing stopped him. His life and 2 marriages were ruined. The French wife aborted their 2 babies—she could not cope with George in tow—the dangers, the poverty, the filth, the dark, loving, violent, mesmeric personality he had become. George asked me to drive him to the clinic and wept all the way in the car. I tried to comfort him but I ached for my unborn grandchildren. He knocked me down a few times—he always apologised—George was such a gentleman. He spent 2 years in a mental hospital. He was very schizophrenic by now.”
Sadly, George is now dead.
Let me read just two more stories to the House. Here is the first:
“Michael became noticeably unwell aged 16 in February 2003 whilst on a family holiday. I found some cannabis in his room. This was a shock as Michael didn’t even drink alcohol as far as I was aware. His mood changes were almost immediate. Laughing one minute, crying the next. He spent all day in bed and had no energy, no motivation. By December 2003, Michael was sectioned under the Mental Health Act. It was the worst day of my life—he cried for his parents and had to be held down. He just screamed—it was heart-rending. After being there for 3 months, he was discharged. I thought this was the end, it was unfortunately the beginning of a road that I would not wish on my worst enemy. It is like Russian Roulette who becomes psychotic.”
Nine years later, the torture continues for that family.
Here is the final story:
“We were a normal, happy, busy family with four children until our second child, 16 ½ became involved with a new group of friends and started taking cannabis. Within a very short space of time, our happy, funny, healthy son turned into a screaming, paranoid, unhappy young man. He refused to go to college, worked only occasionally, and became a violent thug. When confronted, he would turn on us both physically and verbally, on one occasion breaking his father’s ribs because his father had intervened when he was threatening me. He would kick doors in, smash glass panels, destroy washing baskets, crockery, ornaments, etc. Our lives became a living hell. He has been clean from cannabis for a year now and is gradually rebuilding his life. He still has flashes of paranoia, has no qualifications and will always have to fight to overcome his criminal convictions.”
Those are harrowing stories, and they have been repeated thousands of times across the country. Child and adolescent mental health services across the country are dealing with thousands of youngsters and adolescents who are suffering from severe psychotic illnesses, and there is a causal link with skunk cannabis.
For the past decade we have talked about harm reduction, and we have an organisation called FRANK that leads the educational process on drugs, but harm reduction is not enough. There is no safe amount of skunk cannabis that a youngster can smoke. I do not condone drinking, but a youngster can have a glass of wine or a bottle of beer and suffer little ill effect, although I would not recommend that young people do it. Taking skunk cannabis is like holding a loaded revolver to your head and playing Russian roulette. You do not know whether you have the gene, and you do not know when the gun will fire the bullet. Some people who become addicted to skunk cannabis end up with such severe psychoses that they take their own lives. It would be interesting to know from coroners how many young people who have committed suicide recently were addicted to skunk cannabis.