Thursday, 10 September 2020
Public Health, Well-being and National Drugs Strategy: Statements
Emer Higgins (Dublin Mid West, Fine Gael)
I thank the Minister of State for confirming that AA meetings are now being permitted under social restrictions. I raised this issue with the Minister, Deputy Donnelly, on behalf of Councillor Kenneth Egan, who is an advocate and a champion for those in recovery.
A dangerous new trend is emerging in my constituency. Parents are contacting me about their children using edible cannabis, a trend identified to me by the Clondalkin Drugs Task Force. Avoiding the foul taste of tobacco, young people are attracted to gummy bears and chocolate laced with cannabis. This is problematic for a number of reasons. First, the sugary taste of sweets and chocolates is clearly more attractive to children, who may never experiment with cannabis if they were forced to smoke it. Second, it takes far longer for people to feel the impact of cannabis when eating it. While the impact of smoking it is immediate, the impact of eating it is not felt for up to an hour. Teenagers may eat a square of chocolate laced with cannabis, feel no impact and then eat the rest of the chocolate bar. As a result, they may accidentally overconsume dangerous amounts of drugs and by the time the effects are felt the teenager is in it over his or her head. What is really terrifying is that there is no antidote to overconsumption of cannabis. Teenagers are forced to wait for the cannabis to clear through their system. The effects of edible cannabis last far longer, as long as 12 hours, than smoked cannabis. If the cannabis triggers psychosis or hallucinations, that leads to hell for the teenager. This is why edible cannabis puts a disproportionate number of people in hospital. A study in Colorado shows that edible cannabis makes up only 1% of cannabis sales there but makes up 11% of cannabis-related hospital admissions. That is worth reflecting on. Eating cannabis makes a person ten times more likely to end up in hospital than smoking it. Of the three cannabis-related deaths in Colorado, all were as a result of edible cannabis. While nobody died from overdosing on the cannabis itself, there was a suicide, a death as a result of a fall and a death as a result of a murder where the defendant claimed the cannabis made him do it.
Already, cannabis use among teenagers has almost doubled in the past few years. Almost one in five Irish 16 year olds are now using cannabis. The emergence of tasty, sugary sweets laced with cannabis will only further increase its use amongst teenagers. Let me be clear on why we need to act now on edible cannabis: in American states where cannabis is legal, edibles account for 11% of the market. We do not want that happening here. We already know that one in six people who start taking cannabis as children become dependent on it and heavy use of cannabis increases the risk of youth suicide threefold. The risk of developing a psychotic illness such as schizophrenia is especially high amongst those who start using cannabis as teenagers. Heavy use of it as teenagers can lead to a drop of six points in IQ. I welcome the Government's commitment to move towards a health-led approach to tackling drugs. In particular, I welcome the fact that one of the Government's five strategic goals is to minimise the harm caused by the use and misuse of substances. Will the Minister of State consider raising awareness of the dangers of edible cannabis among young people to minimise the harm that cannabis is causing in our society?
I know the Minister of State has acted quickly to instruct his Department to gather evidence about the new trend of nitrous oxide. I thank him for everything he has done to shine a light on this issue. I am pleased to report a reduction in evidence of nitrous oxide, in terms of the prevalence of discarded canisters in my local parks. I would like to hear the Minister outline when his Department expects to have gathered evidence, as he has asked them to do, and what the next steps will be.