Home > Rethinking the response to cannabis use.

Dillon, Lucy (2018) Rethinking the response to cannabis use. Drugnet Ireland, Issue 64, Winter 2018, p. 24.

PDF (Issue 64, Winter 2018) - Published Version

The study ‘It’s only weed’: rethinking our response to young people’s cannabis use in Ballymun was carried out by Ballymun Youth Action Project, and published in May 2017.1 Service providers based in Ballymun, Dublin who work with early school-leavers (aged 16—24 years)2 noticed that a cohort of young people were becoming increasingly difficult to motivate both to turn up for appointments and to engage with when attending key working sessions. It was decided to explore the factors that were impacting on retention and progression rates for this group. Through discussions among key stakeholders, cannabis use was identified as contributing to the problem; programme participants were reporting both ‘high levels of use and, for some, high levels of drug debt’ (p. 6). The research had two aims: 

  • To provide a rapid assessment of cannabis use prevalence within particular education/training centres and community settings in Ballymun
  • To explore the relationship that the young people in these settings have with cannabis


Data were collected from young people attending two youth education/training projects and one ‘street’ site, i.e. young people not engaged in any education and training programme. A questionnaire was developed based on the ‘existing evidence based tool’, i.e. the cannabis use problem identification tool (CUPIT) (p. 12). Overall, 73 young people from the training projects took part and 23 from the street site.


Key findings

Seventy-eight per cent of young people had used cannabis in their lifetime. Of the 58 who had used in the last 12 months, 35 (60%) were using daily. In response to the question ‘How does cannabis fit into your life?’, among the most popular responses were that using cannabis ‘is relaxing’ (22%), ‘helps with boredom’ (18%), ‘helps me sleep’ (15.5%), ‘helps me forget problems’ (11%), and makes me ‘feel less nervous and stressed’ (10%). The authors suggest that cannabis has become increasingly culturally tolerated and accepted in their community as a way of coping with problems. This can result in a more minimised view of cannabis and its negative impacts on the user and those around them. They argue that similar cultural accommodation has existed in their community and other similarly marginalised ones for benzodiazepines and other prescribed medications.


Based on their research and an examination of the literature on cannabis use, the authors identify ‘significant concerns’ (p. 26) with the impact of cannabis use on young people’s engagement with education and the long-term impact on their memory and brain function. Daily cannabis users in the study were found to be experiencing problems with health, finances, family relationships, and educational/vocational performance. Some described an ‘inability to regulate and control their use’ (p. 27) and this was associated with a lack of engagement in structures such as educational or vocational training.

Fifty-seven per cent of the current users had considered changing their cannabis use in the past three months. In response to an open-ended question about what their reasons would be for reducing their use, financial implications emerged as the most important factor (20%). Others were employment (17.5%), physical health (17.5%), family relations (15%), and appearance, children, and mental health (all at 5%).


Cutting across the study was the finding that when compared to the street group, the young people who were in education or training and used cannabis used it less frequently; used a smaller amount when used; spent less on it; and were more motivated to change their use.



The final chapter of the report makes a number of recommendations for interventions and responses to the use of cannabis among young people.


Current knowledge base: There is a lack of knowledge about the current strains of herbal cannabis among some members of the community, service providers, and other stakeholders. The authors suggest that the ‘high level of apathy’ (p. 30) towards cannabis is often based on people’s experiences of former strains of the drug that were of a lower potency. They recommend that stakeholders ensure that their institutional knowledge on problematic cannabis use is in line with current evidence. Also, that priority should be given to raising awareness among users, family members, and concerned others about the new strains of cannabis.


Prevention and early intervention: There needs to be ongoing support for prevention and early intervention responses to cannabis use. The authors suggest challenging the norms and attitudes to cannabis use, and increasing local and service user knowledge about cannabis and the impact of its use.


Targeted responses to daily users: Given the findings that a significant proportion of daily users of cannabis expressed an interest in changing their behaviour, the authors highlight the need to have tailored services to meet their needs. It is suggested that services draw on the international evidence base for this purpose.


Maintaining the focus of cannabis on community conversations and responses: The authors reflect on the ‘heightened interest’ (p. 31) that cannabis use has attracted as a result of the increasing prevalence of its problematic use, and its negative impact on users and communities, including problems related to drug-related debt and intimidation. They note that the momentum gathered through this and the consultation process for the new national drugs strategy should be maintained. Cannabis-related responses should be considered at all levels of policy and on national strategic platforms.

1  O’Brien K and Foley B (2017) ‘It’s only weed’: rethinking our response to young people’s cannabis use. Dublin: Ballymun Youth Action Project. https://www.drugsandalcohol.ie/27246/

2  The Equal Youth Cannabis Initiative in Ballymun is made up of representatives from a number of service providers working in Ballymun with early school-leavers (aged 16—24 years). They work to a model of interagency cooperation to meet the needs of these young people.

Item Type
Publication Type
Irish-related, Open Access, Article
Drug Type
Intervention Type
Issue Title
Issue 64, Winter 2018
February 2018
Page Range
p. 24
Health Research Board
Issue 64, Winter 2018
Accession Number
HRB (Electronic Only)

Repository Staff Only: item control page