New report highlights impact of heavy cannabis use on vulnerable young people
Heavy cannabis use among vulnerable young people can exacerbate existing social problems, such as low educational achievement, homelessness and unemployment, according to a new report for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) from the University of Bedfordshire. However, for others, particularly those in higher or further education, the effects appear to be relatively benign.
The impact of heavy cannabis use on young people, drew on 100 interviews with 16 to 25 year-olds selected because they had been using cannabis on a daily basis for the past six months. Most were smoking ‘skunk’.
When asked about the positive and negative consequences of taking the drug, the young people initially only listed what they felt to be positive: relaxation, socialising, and the feeling of being ‘stoned’.
It was only when various aspects of their lives were probed in more detail that associations between their use and problems such as unemployment, educational under-achievement and homelessness became apparent – particularly for those with less structured lives. Moreover, those with the greatest number of social problems tended to use most heavily.
The report also found that some of the 30 professionals working with young people (such as youth workers and hostel workers) interviewed as part of this research saw cannabis as less harmful than the young people in the study did. This may be because of their differing experiences of cannabis use in previous decades, when high-strength herbal cannabis was less widely available. However, it raises questions about professionals’ awareness of the potentially compounding effect of heavy cannabis use on the problems experienced by vulnerable or excluded young people – particularly if young people are unlikely to identify these problems themselves.
The report’s author, Dr Margaret Melrose, said, “Young people may not be aware of the extent to which cannabis use might exacerbate their existing social problems, and professionals who have had experience of cannabis users in the past may assume the effects are relatively harmless if they take young people’s assessment of the impact of cannabis use in their lives at face value. More probing may be required in order to explore the level and nature of cannabis use and how this may be adding to a young person’s problems.”