The College of Psychiatrists of Ireland (CPsychI) have said cannabis use poses the “gravest threat to the mental health of young people in Ireland today”, with some doctors reporting drug use among children as young as seven.

New figures from the CPsychI have revealed hospital admissions among young people with a cannabis-linked diagnosis have trebled in the space of 12 years.

Calling on the government to introduce a public awareness campaign about the dangers of cannabis, the psychiatrists’ group, which represents over 1,000 professionals around the country, say one in three young people will become addicted if they use the drug on a weekly basis.

A new leaflet released by CPsychI says cannabis use can be linked to psychosis, self-harm, suicidal behaviour, depression and anxiety, pointing to increased THC levels as a major factor in the effects of “high-potency” cannabis.

“Cannabis represents the gravest threat to the mental health of young people in Ireland today. It is by far the most widely used illegal drug in the country and we know that its potency has spiked in recent years, leading to a significant rise in hospital admissions among young people with a cannabis-related diagnosis,” President of the CPsychI Dr. William Flannery said.

“However, despite this there is still a general feeling among the public that the drug is mostly harmless. This conception needs to be challenged at every turn because psychiatric services are under huge pressure due to this problem.”

Speaking to Newstalk, Consultant Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist Dr. Gerry McCarney said that when an “extremely damaging” substance like cannabis is “added to the mix” of intense human relations “particularly during the lockdown period”, the group saw an “increased rate in self-harm and suicidal ideation.”

“I work in a specialist service so I suppose I’m seeing a particular cohort, so I work predominantly with under 18s and we’ve seen a few this year who are aged 11, they don’t present to us after the first day they’re using so you assume the general history would be that it would take two to three years from beginning experimentation until someone presents to see us,” Dr. McCarney said.

“So if you’re going back you’re talking about maybe seven, eight, they’ve started dabbling, in the most extreme cases.

“What’s happening in those situations is they’re going out in an older group with people they know, their peers, maybe brothers or sisters and they’ll have a smoke while the others are engaging in it more full-time and have a toke here and there.

“But over time, that increases so at a younger age, that’s what it would suggest, that they have begun to experiment at an extremely young age.

“The average would be between 12 and 14 for the cohort we’re dealing with when they begin to experiment at that age but we do get the outliers for whom the experimentation begins at an extreme age that’s very concerning.

“There’s a softer impact which is still hugely damaging as it takes away one’s focus, ambition, memory, energy and so when you look at career progression and progress in life, it really has a serious impact on how people can apply themselves.”