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Hyde Park haze illustrates clear need for cannabis education

Eleanor Thomas
May 13, 2024

Last month, many open spaces around the country welcomed a new annual event. ‘420’ - the 20th of April, sees thousands of people descend on public parks to celebrate what is now the day devoted to cannabis consumption.

Hyde Park, often a key hub of 420 activity, painted a bustling picture. Mobile footage surfaced of layers of smoke lingering above crowds, with music blaring from various sources and general chatter permeating the soundscape.

Police were present, though not committed to full dispersal orders as is often the case with large-scale gatherings of other forms. Prior to the event, a Met spokesperson had said that “officers will intervene and use enforcement where proportionate and necessary.”

Though several arrests had been made by the evening, each annual event, which also crops up in areas like Bristol and Leeds, tends to pass by without widespread disorder. For what I assume is the majority of those in attendance, the events are a harmless and enjoyable day of subtle-resistance and collective celebration. That it comes when the sun is often shining is a natural plus.

But is cannabis itself as harmless as many may assume?

For use outside of medicinal purposes, there remain many concerns as to its potential long-term effects, particularly in reference to mental health. Of course, it should be made clear that for certain conditions like epilepsy and MS, cannabis (or cannabis-derived products) can prove life-changing. Further research and prescription should continue where cannabis is proven to be an effective form of treatment.

"Awareness of some of the potential negative impacts of cannabis use require a more public explanation. " Quote

Recreationally, however, research suggests that there may be detrimental effects that cannabis can have on the user; effects that have perhaps been less effectively communicated to the younger generations within which it proves most popular. Past its illegality, awareness of some of the potential negative impacts of cannabis use prove elusive in popular psyche and therefore require a more public explanation. This is particularly important as we continue to see the evolution of cannabis and the increasing prevalence of high potency ‘skunk’, which can have considerably more damaging health impacts than traditional forms of the drug.

YouGov’s biannual tracker on perceptions as to the harm of cannabis uncover the figures that you might naturally assume: young people are the most likely to deem cannabis as ‘not very harmful’, whereas older generations perceive the opposite. Whether or not one can say that the latter have a more detailed understanding of the potential harmful effects is uncertain, but the glaring disparity is important to consider.

Admittedly, much further investigation in the field is required. But considerable research so far has suggested that cannabis-use is linked with the early onset of psychotic disorders in those who are predisposed. It is also clear that those with mental illnesses are more likely to use cannabis than those without, with potential further health repercussions as a result.

Other research has shown an increased risk of depression in those who use cannabis during adolescence, though this is not yet wholly agreed upon.

It is interesting to have noted recent research by Creation Healthcare, which found that disagreements related to the link between cannabis and psychotic disorders – in this case particularly schizophrenia – extends into the discussions of healthcare professionals themselves.

Though only an analysis of social media conversation, which has limitations in revealing the scope of debate, their investigation proves highly informative. It found, for example, that healthcare professionals were divided on whether cannabis was a causal factor in the development of schizophrenia, or whether the connection was purely correlational.

While it found some healthcare professionals were certain that there was no evidence of a causal link, others were unsure. A US Doctor posted on X that ‘nobody had ever shown that cannabis causes schizophrenia”. Elsewhere, a Canadian psychiatrist said that “more and more evidence” was pointing towards a causal link. Together they represent the polarisation of the argument. Creation’s research found that 22 per cent of the total posts discussing the connection suggested that there was a causal link, while 21 per cent said that there was not.

If healthcare professionals themselves remain void of a full consensus, it is not surprising that disagreement about the potential implications of cannabis-use rage also in the public sphere. While this debate may continue, it is important that the basic conclusions are effectively communicated to everyone – not least those who use the drug. An individual may know that they are predisposed to psychotic disorders, but not be aware of the potential implications that cannabis use may have. They may be aware of neither, but tackling a lack of awareness can only be positive in cases of public health.

It may be that even when fully aware of the potential repercussions, Hyde Park remains as saturated as ever next April. But we can at least be reassured that youngsters will know exactly what they are risking when they do.

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Eleanor Thomas is a Health writer for Comment Central.

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