There is both good news and bad when it comes to addiction among the UK’s teens. The good news is that alcoholism among those 18 years old and younger has dropped some 29% over the last year. The bad news is that the number of cannabis addictions has sharply increased. The Huffington Post UK reported on June 23 that more than 13,500 children received treatment for cannabis addiction last year. That is up more than 50% since 2005.

The Huffington Post UK also pointed out that among the total number of children receiving some sort of treatment for drug or alcohol addiction, 68% were addicted to cannabis. Most of these children told caregivers that cannabis was their biggest problem. Such numbers should be a wake-up call to both parents and their children.

The Main Problem

Cannabis is largely regarded as a harmless recreational drug in the West. However, it is not. In fact, the real danger in using cannabis is that the risk of addiction increases tremendously as the age of the user goes down. In other words, a 12-year-old trying cannabis for the first time is much more likely to become addicted than someone in his or her mid-20s. Simply put, THC (the active compound that produces the high from cannabis) affects juvenile brains differently than adult brains.

Making matters worse are statistics that show juvenile cannabis addicts are much more likely to develop psychosis later in life. Psychotic episodes can include everything from mild mood swings to violence. Kids who regularly use skunk, an especially potent form of the drug, are seven times more likely to experience psychotic episodes.

The truth of the matter is that cannabis is not harmless. It has a very definite impact on brain functioning that can affect cognition, memory and self-control.

Competing Solutions

So how do we solve the cannabis problem among children? There are two competing solutions. One favours legalising recreational cannabis use so that it can be tightly regulated. The United States is cited as an example of how legalisation can work. Proponents claim that US kids use cannabis far more often than alcohol, despite the fact that recreational use is illegal in all but two states. It is claimed that tight regulation of legal alcohol is what keeps it out of the hands of children.

Whether or not that is true depends on how one interprets the data. Nonetheless, proponents of legalisation believe that developing a commercial market for the drug would make it easier to control.

The other solution is to pursue additional avenues of education and intervention. Those who prefer this solution believe that the support services for young people are inadequate to properly combat the problem. They believe that increasing such services would go a long way toward preventing kids from trying cannabis in the first place.

This second solution is also one that is hard to verify from current data. It sounds like a reasonable solution, but the education and intervention we have employed thus far does not seem to have stemmed the tide all that much. Would expanding such programmes provide an equitable result?

Perhaps the real solution is somewhere in the middle. On the other hand, perhaps the solution has nothing to do with either legalisation or education. The one thing we do know is that 13,500 juvenile cannabis addicts is simply not acceptable. At some point, we have to figure out why young people are turning to drugs and alcohol with a mind to address those root causes. Until we do, we are merely treating the symptoms of the problem rather than the problem itself. And that will not work.

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