The kids just don't want to give up

Thousands use 'E' every week and only suffer a headache, says Liz Hunt

Attempts to deter teenagers from taking drugs by focusing on the health risks are rarely successful. Apart from glue-sniffing and its occasionally fatal consequences, the evidence is minimal for seriously damaging effects on physical well-being by such drugs as cannabis, amphetamines, LSD and even Ecstasy.

There have been several high-profile deaths linked with the use of Ecstasy at raves and dance clubs, and between 40 and 50 deaths have been attributed to the drug since the late Eighties. However there are hundreds of thousands of people using "E" week after week without suffering anything more serious than a bad headache.

Teenagers who smoke cannabis, the most popular of illegal drugs in this age-group, run the same kind of risks as those who smoke cigarettes. Cannabis smoke contains several carcinogens and tends to be held in the lungs for longer than tobacco smoke, resulting in an increased deposit of tar. The World Health Organisation is investigating a link between the drug and cancer of the lungs, upper airways and voice-box after anecdotal reports of an increase in the number of younger patients with these conditions and a history of joint smoking.

The WHO will report later this year, but whatever its finding few believe it will put young people off cannabis. Intensive national and local anti- smoking campaigns have so far failed to combat the attractions of cigarettes despite incontrovertible evidence for their damaging effects.

Stimulant drugs such as amphetamines, when used for months at a time, will suppress the appetite, and can damage teeth and bones by leaching out calcium. In the long-run they contribute to the user feeling run-down and washed out, and it can take several months to recover their weight and general well-being. Some youngsters, still flirting with grunge, would view these side-effects of amphetamine use as an attractive bonus.

Drug experts and youth workers are less blase about the possible mental health consequences of some of the drugs used by schoolchildren. There is some evidence that LSD, magic mushrooms and other psychoactive chemicals, can result in long-term problems, ranging from depression to more serious psychological disturbances.

New strains of cannabis now gaining popularity, such as "skunk", "northern lights" and "buds" have a much higher concentration of tetrahydrocannabinol, the active ingredient, and border on the hallucinogenic. Their use is likely to be more widespread than that of LSD.

But evidence for drug use resulting in mental problems has so far been limited to isolated cases. The fundamental questions remain unanswered: can drugs actually cause mental problems in otherwise healthy individuals, or do they act as a trigger for an existing condition which might have manifested itself later in the user's life anyway?

Until there is more evidence, using health risks to scare would-be younger users is likely to be no more effective than wielding the moral arguments against drugs. Horror stories will have limited impact because for every death or injury associated with the drug, a teenager is likely to know several people who have been using it safely for months, even years.

Drug counsellors believe that to make any impact on the escalating drugs problem in schools, children have to be given accurate information which allows them to make informed choices. If a drug doesn't cause problems, then they should be told so.

There are other arguments against using illegal drugs; the consequences of a criminal conviction, the risk of incurring huge debts, and the effect on the user's future career choices if he or she is known to have used drugs. And these, in the event, are likely to be rather more effective.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Recruitment Consultant / Account Manager - Surrey / SW London

£40000 per annum + realistic targets: Ashdown Group: A thriving recruitment co...

Ashdown Group: Part-time Payroll Officer - Yorkshire - Professional Services

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful professional services firm is lo...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before