The Truth Behind Cannabis

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Disclaimer: The views expressed within this article are entirely the author’s own and are not attributable to Wessex Scene as a whole.

Many of my university peers justify their cannabis use stating that if you don’t take ‘too much’ and you don’t start ‘too young’, then nothing bad will happen. Many of us are still young and still developing. It’s frightening that so many of my friends and colleagues are not aware of, or ignore, the risks that they are putting themselves at, every time they get high.

Rethink.org state that it is widely accepted that cannabis use can cause short term psychotic episodes, but it has also found that cannabis use can cause severe mental health problems such as schizophrenia, bi-polar disorder and psychosis. Research has discovered that individuals who take cannabis are 2 times more likely to develop schizophrenia than someone who doesn’t take cannabis, and 6 times more likely to develop schizophrenia if they are a heavy cannabis user compared to someone who doesn’t take cannabis. Similarly, TalkToFRANK say that smoking cannabis can reduce or suppress your sperm count, affecting your ability to have children. They also state that the risks on an individual’s mental health can include:

  • Impairing your memory so you can’t remember things or learn new information
  • Giving you mood swings
  • Making you panicky or even aggressive
  • Causing hours (or days) of anxiety, paranoia and hallucinations, which only settle down if the person stops taking it – and sometimes doesn’t settle down at all
  • Increasing your chances of developing illnesses like schizophrenia, especially if you have a family background of mental illness and you start smoking in your teenage years

But if facts and statistics are not enough to discourage you, then perhaps a real-life account will. I have recently been in contact with Mary Charlton. Her daughter Jane, a lady in her mid-30s, suffers from Depersonalisation Disorder (DPD), brought on by cannabis use. Jane was previously a high-functioning university student at the University of Southampton, when she attempted to get high by eating a yoghurt mixed with cannabis. Jane is physically small, and has subsequently discovered, very susceptible to all medications – needing much less than a standard dose. She used a single dose, only to discover another single dose had already been put in the yoghurt, without her knowledge. This resulted in an adverse reaction where Jane began to experience extreme forms of anxiety. These feelings did not stop and subsequently developed into Depersonalisation Disorder. Some people may experience depersonalisation as a symptom, others are unlucky enough to have it as a disorder. Little is known about this condition but it is as common as OCD; occurring in 1% of the population. DPD can make you feel as though you are in a dream or as if you are observing yourself from outside your body. Now 18 years later, recovery is not an option for Jane and instead she now focuses on self-managing her disorder. Unfortunately, Jane still struggles with relapses, each one worse than the last. During her most recent relapse, Jane lived in a blacked-out bedroom for weeks. She would put on her dark glasses and peak round a crack in the door to see if she could make the two-yard dash to the bathroom. She was unable to read, watch TV or engage in conversation.

But what is it like to suffer from Depersonalisation Disorder? The following are Jane’s own words;

‘You go out one Friday night after work and have a few too many to drink. Everything feels fuzzy and a just a little bit out of your control, but you bring all your focus to bear on navigating your way safely to home and bed. Saturday morning brings a headache and a promise to indulge less next time.

Now imagine an alternative reality where you wake up and you’re still drunk. You can identify what’s in front of you, but you want to rub your eyes to help you make out the edges of things more sharply. You hear what is said to you, but there is a delay as you struggle to process it. You can speak but you can’t be totally certain that what you’re saying is appropriate. All the cognitive processes that you normally take for granted are laboured. A lot like being drunk. But permanently now. As the condition progresses to months, you start to struggle with your memories. Your connection to childhood memories slowly starts to disintegrate. They only exist in the third person. The same process happens with your future; you can’t crystallise a view of the next few weeks, months or years. You exist only in the present, but the present is a tortured place where you can’t quite access the world.’

An onset of DPD prompted by recreational drug use is not uncommon, and cases are known of regular users suddenly being incapable of snapping out of a high or a comedown. Some people might fear they are going crazy.

Cannabis may have medicinal benefits and may even be a life saver for some people. The picture may be a complicated one but that does not mean recreational use is safe. You may be fortunate enough to not have a family history of severe mental health illness, you may not have started taking cannabis young and you may not take it regularly but that does not mean you are immune to the risks. The potential is still there for you to develop serious, irreversible and life changing health problems.

Surely it is not worth it?

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Adult and Mental Health Nursing Student

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