From young people stoned “all day long” to life-changing health benefits — the pros and cons of cannabis are scrutinised in a probing TG4 documentary due to air tomorrow night.
As part of the ongoing Tabú series looking at issues affecting Irish society, 22-year-old NUIG student Dáire Ní Chanáin is on a mission to find a way of dealing with her anxiety and depression that is not pharma-led.
Dáire is particularly keen on testing the potential benefits of CBD oil. CBD, or cannabidiol, is a naturally occurring cannabinoid constituent of cannabis.
Dáire encounters Bobby Smyth, consultant child and adolescent psychiatrist working in HSE adolescent addiction services, who believes people are confusing the potential benefits of CBD with cannabis.
Dr Smyth warns that CBD is just “one chemical within the cannabis plant” but that the perception seems to be that “the whole cannabis plant is somehow safe or harmless or a medicine”.
In fact, chronic use of cannabis by young people is a major problem.
“At this point in time, cannabis is the biggest contributor to our workload of all the drugs out there,” he says.
“I really have been blindsided by the severity of the addiction related to this modern weed.
“It is the only drug in adolescence where people use it from first thing in the morning ‘til last thing at night.
“They are stoned all day long.”
He believes it would be a mistake to make cannabis freely available to anyone to prescribe for any condition.
“I would end up seeing a lot more teenagers who are addicted to this drug,” he says.
Colin Doherty, neurologist at St James’s Hospital, says CBD is not a dangerous drug but THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) is.
THC is the main psychoactive compound in cannabis and Dr Doherty says “there’s a section of our society, particularly young people, adolescents, who are addicted to street versions of cannabis with THC in it”.
On the flip side, Dáire meets a number of women who swear by the health benefits of CBD to alleviate the symptoms of their own chronic health conditions, or the symptoms of their children.
Among them is medicinal cannabis campaigner Vera Twomey, from Aghabullogue, Co Cork, who fought a high-profile campaign on behalf of her daughter Ava, who has Dravet’s Syndrome, a severe form of epilepsy.
Ms Twomey travelled to the Netherlands last summer so Ava could receive CBD oil and THC oil to help alleviate the symptoms.
Towards the end of 2017, Ava was granted a special licence which allows her to receive cannabis treatments at home.
Ms Twomey says her daughter is now seizure-free.
“She’s smiling from her eyes, the suffering isn’t in her eyes anymore,” she says.