Recovery Plus 54 Feb 2016 Scans of users’ brains show a decrease in volume, which might be permanent, in parts of the brain’s grey matter (cell bodies), hippocampus (learning), thalamus (receives and passes on messages) and amygdala (emotions). A decrease in white matter has been seen in the cerebellum. Violence and aggression are usually linked with alcohol, with cannabis perceived as a ‘peaceful’ drug. But a New Zealand study found young male users almost 4 times more likely to be violent than non-users – the risk for alcohol was about 3. Violence is thought to be linked with psychosis or withdrawal. A Swedish study found more suicides among cannabis users than those who used amphetamines, alcohol or heroin – and the manner of death was more violent. Cannabis smokers are almost 20 times more likely to commit suicide by jumping than a non-user. Some high-profile homicides have also been linked to cannabis use. Less dramatic but harming more young people are the effects on personality and academic performance. Because THC persists in brain cells, it interferes with other neurotransmitters. New connections are made in learning and memory processes. During adolescence, this is particularly important as there is normally a growth spurt of these new nerve branches but their formation is impaired. Just one joint a week or even a month will ensure the permanent presence of the drug. Cannabis users can become anxious or apathetic. The risk of deep depression is doubled even in weekly users and can lead to suicides. In 2009, it was found that serotonin, the natural ‘happiness’ neurotransmitter, is reduced. Children’s brains are undeveloped. They will not be fully mature till their 20s. The younger a person starts using cannabis, the worse the damage. School grades fall, As and Bs become Cs and Ds. An average grade D student is 4 times more likely to have used cannabis than an average grade A and some miss out on university places. A teenage user continuing to smoke will lose an average of 8 IQ points. The IQ of non-users rises. A cannabis personality develops, users have fixed opinions and fixed answers. They find it hard to find words, can’t take criticism, and can’t plan their day. Trying to talk to them is futile. They and their families suffer from their violent mood swings, houses get trashed, family members get injured. At the same time, they are lonely, miserable and feel misunderstood. They are twice as likely to drop out of education. An Australian report commented that, while alcohol and cannabis both carry health risks, the overwhelming evidence is that cannabis is the drug for life’s future losers. “You have one real chance at education,” I tell pupils. “Few children using cannabis, even occasionally, will achieve their full potential.” As with alcohol, cannabis users shouldn’t drive. Over 24 hours after taking THC, airline pilots trying to “land” on flight simulators made errors butthought they were fine. An average joint (20mg) is thought to have the same effect as being just over the drink-drive limit. Combining alcohol and cannabis is 16 times more dangerous than either drug alone.
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