The cannabis Anne smoked as a teenager bore
Cannabis debate: 'I let my son have skunk. It ruined his life'
little resemblance to the drug that changed her son's personality
By Jonathan Owen and Rob Sharp
Anne Waterman has followed the debate about the health hazards of cannabis with close interest. Academics and doctors say potent skunk is the cause of soaring psychiatric problems in the young; pro-drug campaigners sniff anti-cannabis conspiracies and claim there is no proof of a link.
Two weeks after The Independent on Sunday reversed its landmark campaign for the decriminalisation of cannabis, saying new evidence meant it could no longer be regarded as a "safe" drug, Mrs Waterman has watched both sides in a highly charged debate. And she has wondered about the sense of it all.
For Mrs Waterman, there is no argument. An educated woman with an open mind - she tried cannabis herself during the Swinging Sixties before moving to a six-bedroom Surrey mansion to raise her own children - she was sufficiently liberal to allow her eldest son to smoke the drug at home as a teenager.
"I had smoked cannabis myself as a teenager and found it innocuous," the 59-year-old told The Independent on Sunday last week. "I had no problem with him doing this at home because he seemed a lot happier on it and had always had trouble making friends before."
The results were to prove catastrophic. It was not long before her 16-year-old son David, considered a model pupil at his private school and an accomplished musician, had moved from conventional cannabis to skunk, which can be up to 10 times stronger.
"I discovered that he was smoking something called skunk which I had never heard of," she said. "I didn't know what it was. He said it was no different but the smell was considerably stronger and more acrid... and unpleasant. His behaviour started to change, and he was not going to college. He was missing homework and getting rather lazy and sleepy."
Within a matter of weeks, she saw her son change, becoming aggressive and belligerent when he was once shy. He was getting through an eighth of an ounce of skunk - 15 joints - a day.
Anne became be terrified of her own child. "He was unpredictable; his moods were aggressive, violent and very paranoid. Then he started cutting himself on his arms. He was throwing things around in his room. He threatened to kill my husband and started to lash out at me. I was so scared of what he might do that I hid the knives in the house and started to lock my bedroom door at night."
By this time, David was 18 and had failed his A-level exams in sociology, art and philosophy at college. He began seeing a psychiatrist for cannabis-induced psychosis. His mother could not bring herself to have him sectioned, despite being physically attacked by her son.
She said, "On one occasion the psychiatrist said to him 'your mother is frightened that you will hurt her' and he said 'that's ridiculous, I haven't hit her for three months', clearly not realising that to hit me was a terrible thing."
Matters got worse. David started dealing skunk. He had started to use other drugs, too. The dealing was to fund his purchases of LSD, cocaine, heroin and ecstasy.
Her family was badly affected. Mrs Waterman's other two sons and daughters had to stop inviting their friends around because they were scared of what their brother might do.
She recalled: "He was belligerent and aggressive. I was very distressed. I didn't know what to do. I was frightened of my own son."
Her son's psychiatrist was increasingly worried about Mrs Waterman's state of mind and advised her to attend a Families Anonymous meeting.
She found that sharing her experiences with others helped her to pluck up the courage to issue her son with a choice. "I issued David an ultimatum - stop the drugs or completely leave. He left."
He swapped the family's home in Surrey's commuter belt and ended up living rough on the streets. But her son had yet to hit rock bottom. He started bombarding his mother with abusive and threatening phone calls.
In desperation, she went to a solicitor and took out an injunction against her son to stop him from coming near the family home.
"I had to change my phone number and would communicate with David only by letter. I didn't see him for nearly two years. He ended up sleeping rough for years before getting into a hostel."
Her son is now 25 and has finally managed to get clean last year. He is now trying to rebuild his relationship with his mother. As debate continues to rage about the risks attached to skunk and whether it is a "gateway" to other drugs, Anne is in no doubt.
"Skunk is much much stronger than conventional cannabis and the biggest problem from my point of view is it produces psychotic effects," she said, "Whether or not you're schizophrenic is not important. The fact is that it produces behaviour that's schizophrenic. I hold it responsible for turning my very nice lad into a frightening, aggressive person."
Some names have been changed
Families Anonymous, a counselling service for those concerned by the use of drugs by their friends or family, can be contacted on www.famanon.org.uk or 0845 1200 660
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