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05 Nov 2021

Understanding the impact of cannabis on young minds

SANE has long campaigned for more research into the effects of using cannabis, as an unknown proportion of people who are vulnerable to mental illness will develop terrifying psychotic symptoms, leading to lifelong mental health issues.

In 1999, Terry Hammond’s son was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia following excessive exposure to cannabis. This led Terry to highlighting the dangers of cannabis and the need to support families. He has had a distinguished career in mental health. In 2006 he received the Marsh Award in recognition of his mental health and campaigning work.

Gone To Pot by Terry Hammond

Here, we share an excerpt from Terry’s book Gone To Pot – Cannabis: What Every Parent Needs To Know.

Another side to a complex plant

Growing up in south London in the sixties, cannabis was not part of working-class culture – it was mainly drinking. Yes, cannabis was about, but mostly it was used by students and the middle-classes. I never came across it until a relative in the 1980s started to use it to relieve muscle spasms caused by multiple sclerosis. But it was not until I started looking after people with schizophrenia that I discovered another side to this complex plant.

I was working for a special needs housing association looking after people with long-term mental health issues. A resident, Justin [not his real name], approached me and asked: “Can you see the TV in my eyes? Look closer, and you will see my eyes are tuned into Channel Two. Go on have a good look.”

I did look, being careful not to go along with his obvious delusions and being careful not to upset him. I responded: “I can’t see what you can see, Justin, but I believe that is what you are seeing.”

Justin had recently been discharged from a psychiatric hospital and placed in the supported home I managed in the early 1980s. Three years earlier, he had put a brick through the window of a TV shop, jumped inside and sat amongst his “friends”. He was arrested, put in prison, then later moved to a psychiatric hospital.

As part of his rehabilitation, he was placed in supported care. I later discovered that Justin had been a long-term user of cannabis as had several other residents we looked after. This was the first time I started to question whether cannabis might be linked to mental illness.

More than 30 years on, we now know with reasonable certainty that the new more potent strains of cannabis are linked to long-term mental health problems, especially teenagers, whose brains are still developing.

It is essential that parents try to understand this incredible and complex plant that has healing qualities but can also wreck the minds of young people. 

Author, playwright, and campaigner Terry Hammond helped to make our chief executive, Marjorie Wallace, aware of the scandalous treatment of people with mental illness, leading to The Forgotten Illness articles in the Sunday Times and the formation of SANE.

If you would like to know more about the impact cannabis is having on young teenagers and what you can do to protect your children visit:

You may also be interested in My son and cannabis (BBC News)

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