Young people 'see cannabis as safer than alcohol'

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smoking cannabisImage source, Getty Images

"For me, having cannabis in the evening is the equivalent of having a glass of wine on a Friday night.

"People of my generation see cannabis as safer than drinking and safer than smoking," says Faye, 22.

"The health risks [of drinking and smoking] have been drummed into us."

Faye's comments come as Lord Hague has said he wants to see "decisive change" in the law on cannabis and that the government should consider legalising recreational use of the drug.

Faye (not her real name) says the message at her school was simply: "Under no circumstances must you do drugs." Meanwhile, however, pupils were given much more specific information about the dangers of alcoholism and smoking tobacco.

"We were just taught to say, 'No.' But young people are going to come into contact with drugs at some point in their lives," Faye says.

She believes the education system is struggling to keep up with drug trends and that a message of: "Just say no," does not prepare for youngsters for the realities of a society where drugs are widely available.

"You're told your whole life, 'These drugs are bad for you and they could kill you,' and then when you do these drugs and you're fine and having fun, you reflect on your education and think that maybe everything you've been told is wrong," Faye says.

Negative effects of taking cannabis

  • It may make you feel faint or sick
  • It can make you sleepy and lethargic
  • It can affect your memory
  • It makes some people feel confused, anxious or paranoid, and some experience panic attacks and hallucinations
  • It interferes with your ability to drive safely

Source: NHS Choices

In some cases cannabis can increase anxiety and paranoia, lead to confusion and even hallucinations, according to the Royal College of Psychiatrists.

There is also "compelling evidence" that regular cannabis use increases the risk of developing psychotic illnesses, such as schizophrenia, particularly in adolescents, according to Dr Marta Di Forti, from King's College London.

Writing in the Telegraph newspaper, Lord Hague says that as far as cannabis is concerned "any war has been comprehensively and irreversibly lost".

"The idea that the drug can be driven off the streets and out of people's lives by the state is nothing short of deluded," he writes.

"Surveys of young people attest that they find it easier to purchase cannabis than virtually anything else, including fast food, cigarettes and alcohol."

Statistics from NHS Digital have recently found secondary school children in England are more likely to have tried drugs than cigarettes.

The research, published in November, interviewed 12,051 pupils in 177 schools in the autumn term of 2016.

Analysis of the results showed 24% of the 11- to 15-year-olds interviewed said they had tried recreational drugs at least once in their lives - a nine percentage point rise on the last survey conducted in 2014.

'I love the way it makes me feel'

Darren (not his real name), now 24, has been smoking cannabis since he was 13.

"After a busy day at work, you go home and light up and it just relaxes the mind, the body. And, all of a sudden, everything's OK," he says.

"I love the way it makes me feel relaxed."

Darren agrees with Faye that many young people see cannabis as the safer option to drinking alcohol.

"You hear how alcohol can kill, cause liver damage, affect your speech," he says. "People lose limbs and life by doing silly things.

"But you don't hear that so much about weed. So, it sounds like a softer option - 'I'm getting a buzz, but I'm not going to die.'"

Darren admits that smoking cannabis may have had a detrimental affect on his exam grades and general achievement.

"I've done great. But maybe I could have done better? That's the conflict I have daily with smoking weed," he says.

"It's lovely in the moment. But then the guilt kicks in an hour later.

"And it's costly. And it makes me lazy, sometimes."

'More normalised now'

But Darren says that, whatever the positives or negatives of cannabis, the idea of its use being confined to seedy pubs and clubs is far from reality.

"You walk out of work or the shopping centre and there are people who sell weed and they'll have no issue approaching you," he says.

"It's much more normalised now. People think of it as teenagers on the street corner - but it goes far beyond that, I know.

"There are mothers out there smoking it. There are grandparents, police officers, teachers."

Faye adds: "It's not just school kids - it stretches far beyond the people you think would do drugs."

She believes the taboo around the use of cannabis for private recreational use should be challenged.

"I did some ecstasy because they're cheap - but now I do cannabis," Faye says. "It's a treat. It's not something I do regularly.

"I just think we need to stop judging people, at the end of the day."