ILLICIT DRUGS: by John BarichNews Weekly
Cannabis use linked to suicide, schizophrenia
, May 30, 2009
Drug Free Australia has launched a 47-page study warning of the serious health consequences of prolonged cannabis use. John Barich reports.Long-term cannabis use can lead to severe mental illnesses later in life, including schizophrenia and suicidal depression, a new study has found.
Drug Free Australia (DFA) is currently launching a 47-page research paper on the consequences of acute and chronic cannabis use, entitled, Cannabis - suicide, schizophrenia and other ill-effects
. The publication draws on the latest worldwide research into the effects of cannabis, which is still the most commonly used illicit drug in Australia.
The age of first-time users of cannabis continues to decline, with children and adolescents particularly vulnerable to the drug's adverse effects.
One in three Australians, aged 14 and older, use the drug in their lifetime. More than that, cannabis is widely known as the "gateway drug", introducing many users to other illicit drugs.
Of particular concern is the widespread availability of high-potency cannabis, often referred to as "skunk" or "super skunk", which continues to gain popularity in Australia, thanks to the ever-increasing cultivation of hydroponically-grown cannabis.Memory loss
Cannabis causes severe mental disturbance in users, especially when drug use begins in adolescence. Numerous studies cited in the DFA research paper establish clear links between cannabis use and the onset in users of depression, memory loss, amotivational syndrome (i.e., chronic apathy and an inability to concentrate for any length of time or carry out plans), bi-polar disorder, schizophrenia and an increased incidence of suicide.
Overseas researchers have shown that the risk of a car accident is greatly increased when the driver is under the influence of both cannabis and alcohol. Since the two are frequently taken together, it is significant that, according to a recent French study, the risk of accident when cannabis is combined with alcohol is 16 times higher than when either drug is used on its own.
Cannabis use causes not only severe mental disturbances in the user but also long-term physical harm to a user's cardiovascular system and even to his fertility.
Cannabis smoke contains many of the carcinogens found in tobacco smoke and, like them, can similarly lead to lung cancer. According to the DFA book, "Typically users hold their breath four times longer than cigarette-smokers, allowing greater particle deposits".
Drug Free Australia, in its book, calls for urgent community action to combat the illicit drugs menace. The authors say: "There is need for effective treatment of cannabis misuse. Psychological therapies have been developed based on principles of motivational interviewing, cognitive-behavioural therapy and relapse prevention."
The initial launch of the DFA research paper took place in Brisbane on April 23. This was followed on May 6 by two further launches, one in Perth and the other in Canberra.
The Perth launch, at WA's Parliament House, was attended by members of parliament, trade union officials and members and affiliates of the Family Council of WA. One of the speakers on behalf of the DFA, Wendy Herbert, denounced the failed policy of drug "harm minimisation" (pursued both in the United Kingdom and Australia), which has resulted in children as young as 10 experimenting with - and distributing - dangerous substances such as crack-cocaine. Perth psychiatrist and former president of the Australian Medical Association (WA), Professor Paul Skerritt, described from first-hand observation many of the problems encountered by cannabis users.
The book's Canberra launch was supported by the Returned and Services League of Australia (RSL) and the Australian Family Association, together with Dr Greg Pike, director of the Southern Cross Bioethics Institute, and Major-General Peter Phillips, DFA's director in the ACT.
May 19 saw the South Australian launch of the book at a Rotary Club-sponsored community health forum at the Woodville Town Hall, hosted by local radio identity Tony Pilkington. Speakers at the event included Dr Greg Pike, DFA's South Australian director Paul Russell and DFA youth adviser Jade Lewis.
Further book launches are scheduled in New South Wales at the RSL's state congress on May 27, and at Parliament House, Sydney, on June 23.
DFA executive officer, Josephine Baxter, has said of the launches so far: "Overall, we are getting good coverage for this important research paper. All of the launches are supported by high-profile groups, as well as political leaders.
"It is vital that people understand the complexities and dangers of cannabis; it's definitely a much stronger drug than it was a decade or so ago."
The 47-page book, Cannabis - suicide, schizophrenia and other ill-effects
, is designed to provide concise, clear and accurate information on the subject of cannabis, for use by politicians, decision-makers and researchers.Concerned people are invited to download a copy of the paper from the Drug Free Australia website at www.drugfree.org.auand present it personally to their local MP.- John Barich is WA director of Drug Free Australia.