The IMO has supported the position on cannabis adopted by the American Medical Association (AMA) through a motion at its AGM on 15 April.
The meeting supported the AMA position that cannabis is a dangerous drug and a serious public health concern; the sale of cannabis for adult use should not be legalised; and stronger public health messaging on the health effects of cannabis and cannabinoid inhalation and ingestion is required, with an emphasis on reducing initiation and frequency of cannabis use among adolescents.
Proposing the motion, Consultant Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist in adolescent addiction services, Prof Bobby Smyth, said cannabis generated 75 per cent of his work and that of adolescent addiction services nationally.
“It is a significant public health issue and that is why doctors should be and are interested in it. On the issue of policy responses there is a real movement internationally to push legalisation,” according to Prof Smyth.
He said big tobacco and big alcohol had heavily invested in the cannabis industry.
“They are actively lobbying in Ireland, they are on our media regularly, and their PR people are trying to drag us down this particular rabbit hole. The medical consensus and the review of the data emerging from Canada and the US indicate that the health harms that worry us as doctors seem to deteriorate and they get worse with legalisation, and not better, and for that reason the AMA opposes the legalisation of adult sale.”
He said public perception of the harms of cannabis had been declining for the last decade against the backdrop of the “pro-cannabis narrative that has been pushed on the public by the legalisation agenda… That needs to be countered by providing [the public] with accurate, honest, factual information about this particular substance’s risks.”
Seconding the motion, Dublin GP Dr Ray Walley said the drug had been legalised in parts of the US for ten years and further data was emerging on the health impacts.
He said cannabis was carcinogenic and caused harm in the arteries in a similar manner as cigarettes. “But it is also coming out that it causes more emphysema – more severe emphysema – than cigarettes.”
Dr Walley said the United Nations had recently issued a press release “indicating legalisation has not worked in countries” and advocating that governments identified other solutions.
“Prevention is always better than cure and we have limited education of this in our schools,” he added. “I would see somebody coming in with cannabis problems into my surgery, one [person] every week to two weeks, and my colleagues similarly are meeting these difficulties. Not only are we dealing with younger people all the time, we are dealing with families who are frustrated that they knew ‘no dangers’…”
Dr Walley urged education through school curricula and other avenues to highlight the dangers of the drug.