Soft Drugs With Hard Consequences | Culture| Arts, music and lifestyle reporting from Germany | DW | 14.05.2006
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Soft Drugs With Hard Consequences

Cannabis is the most widely used illegal drug in Germany. But the consequences of its use are underestimated, particularly by teenagers, who are starting to consume it at an ever younger age.

For many young marihuana smokers, first comes euphoria, then addiction

For many young marihuana smokers, first comes euphoria, then addiction

Sebastian is a 36-year-old sitting down to lunch in a popular restaurant in Cologne. He lights up a joint, as he puts it, "to relax from work." The restaurant is in a hip part of town, so he says no one even notices his pot-smoking. "I don't look like a junkie hanging around the train station," he says.

Erkan is 24 years old, tall and athletic. He is a car salesman, loves to play soccer and has been a regular marihuana-smoker for years. He does not believe he is addicted: "You can't get addicted to smoking pot as long as you exercise enough. Having a proper job keeps you from getting addicted, too." He believes only people who do not make the most out of their lives become addicted to drugs.

Pot-smoking is permitted

Cannabis is one of the most frequently consumed drugs in Germany. According to the Federal Statistics Office, 26 percent of the 18-to-59 year-old Germans surveyed admitted to having consumed cannabis at least once in their lives. The biggest group to use the drug were young adults: nearly 50 percent of 18-to-24 year-olds have consumed the substance at least once.

Cannabis Festival in Holland

Cannabis can be consumed in a variety of ways

Federal Drug Commissioner Sabine Bätzing recently presented a national report on drugs and addiction which stated that young people are starting to smoke marijuana at an increasingly younger age. "The younger they begin to consume, the greater the risk of psychological addiction," the report said. The age at which most young people start to smoke pot is 16. The report said that around 400,000 people in Germany are addicted to or consume too much marijuana.

Actually, smoking pot has never even been legally banned in Germany. According to the law governing narcotics, the "BtMG," those who "cultivate, manufacture, trade or import, export, divest, distribute or otherwise bring narcotics (i.e. cannabis) into circulation without trading them or those who buy or otherwise acquire them" can be punished. Possession and transportation of the drug are also illegal. The BtMG does not address consumption, thereby making it legal.

Pot prompts panic attacks

Tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC -- cannabis's active ingredient -- is used in medicine to deal with pain, to alleviate the suffering of AIDS and cancer patients, but also to fight skin allergies and to treat neurodermatitis. These methods of treatment, however, are very controversial. While some people debate the pros and cons of cannabis use in the area of medicine, more and more long-time marijuana smokers have been contacting drug outreach clinics with complaints of burn-out and depression.

Cannabis auf Rezept in den Niederlanden

Medicinal marijuana can be had by prescription in the Netherlands

Christian Stasik, a neurologist based in a small town near Cologne, spoke of young people who had said they were overcome by anxiety or panic attacks, constant outbreaks of sweat or racing of the heart.

"Many of my patients think that people can become mentally ill only by taking hard drugs," he said.

That has been proven wrong. Smoking pot can provoke particular symptoms. A study by the Mannheim-based Central Institute of Mental Health showed that consuming cannabis can prompt schizophrenia.

Haschisch Anbau im Gewächshaus Niederlande

The cultivation of hash has changed dramatically in recent decades

One of the reasons for this development is the progress of technology. Modern machinery, automated watering systems and computer-controlled lighting enable cannabis cultivators to breed plants with greater concentrations of THC. The pot so popular among hippies in the 1960s normally had a maximal THC content of 8 percent. Nowadays, it is not unusual for marihuana to have a THC-content of 20 percent.

While many people consume marijuana because they say it relaxes them, makes them feel euphoric, less anxious or more sexually aroused, studies at the Brain Research Institute at the University of Bremen showed that consumption of cannabis during puberty can lead to long-term damage such as memory disturbances and a lack of motivation.

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