Page last updated at 08:27 GMT, Monday, 16 February 2009

Cannabis advert warns of danger

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The campaign focuses on the negative effects on the brain

An advertising campaign warning of links between cannabis use and mental health damage has been launched.

The TV advert depicts the drug's side-effects as memory loss, paranoia and panic attacks, using unwanted guests at a party in the user's brain.

The 2.2m Home Office campaign, backing up the drug's reclassification as class B, is aimed at 11 to 18-year-olds.

It urges youngsters curious about the drug to "Talk to Frank" by calling an information line or visiting a website.

The Frank campaign aims to give youngsters advice on the dangers of drugs, the law around their use and how to get help.

Spokesman Chris Hudson said "binge smoking" Britain's most commonly used illegal drug to achieve maximum effect may be putting people's mental health in serious danger.

We need hard-hitting campaigns like this to convince people just how frightening the effects of cannabis can be
Marjorie Wallace, Sane

"There is evidence of a link between cannabis and mental health problems such as schizophrenia, and those who first use it at an early age may be more at risk," he said.

"You never truly know what you're getting and stronger cannabis, such as skunk, can increase the chance of suffering a nasty reaction."

In the advert, cannabis user Simon smokes a joint and at first feels giggly, talkative and craves food, before the side effects of the drug take over.

Marjorie Wallace, chief executive of mental health charity Sane, said: "We need hard-hitting campaigns like this to convince people just how frightening the effects of cannabis can be.

"For those who are vulnerable, taking it may not be just chilling out for an evening but could mean robbing themselves of their chances in life."

Personality change

William Bell, who started smoking cannabis when he was 14, said the advert would have more of an impact on 10 and 11 year olds.

"It might stop them starting," he told BBC News. "I started using about 14 and in about two years, I became a regular smoker - five or six spliffs a day, which is not unusual.

"My moral guidelines became very blurred. I was stealing, lying, very much living in my own little bubble."

His mother Debra, of the Talking About Cannabis Parental Action Group, said when they first discovered he was smoking cannabis, they were not overly concerned.

"At the time we were thinking cannabis was fairly innocuous," she said.

"The alarm was not raised until much later. It was serious personality changes. William went from being very academic, very sporty, a good student, loving son. It was this sense he started to turn against the family."

New penalties for cannabis users were introduced when the drug was reclassified.

Anyone caught in possession of the drug is now given a warning, followed by a fine and prosecution for a third offence. Dealers can be jailed for up to 14 years.

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