Pubdate: Sat, 26 Nov 2005
Source: Australian, The (Australia)
Copyright: 2005sThe Australian
Author:  Jeremy Roberts
Bookmark: (Cannabis)


JENNY Downing has lost one son to the mental illness brought on by 
marijuana and almost lost another. Now she wants John Howard and 
other parents to learn from the mistake she made of letting the drug 
into her family.

Mrs Downing, who lives in the South Australian country town of 
Maitland, watched as her sons Ben and Tim descended into chronic 
marijuana abuse, losing touch with their family - and reality - for 
more than 10 years.

Both edged towards mental illness before Ben managed to kick the 
addiction. His older brother Tim - the stronger-willed of the two - 
is lost to the family, full of suspicion and paranoia.

"At the outset, the drug appears to work for them, helping them work 
and study better, be more creative, more relaxed, and socially at 
ease," she writes to the Prime Minister in a letter.

"Then, after regular use from six months to two years, depending on 
the age of the user and the potency of the drug, the drug turns on 
them and causes a form of psychosis."

Mrs Downing told The Weekend Australian she spent this time 
"stumbling in the dark".

"I want other parents to know the warning signs," she said. "If you 
take a step back and admit that marijuana is the beginning of mental 
illness, we can make a difference if we intervene."

Ben, 31, said he started smoking at the age of 14 because of "peer 
pressure and curiosity".

Later he would blame his morose outbursts on the death of his father 
from colon cancer when he was 11 years old.

Soon he was given an ultimatum by his mother and stepfather.

"He could choose marijuana or he could choose a stable family life," 
Mrs Downing said. "He chose marijuana."

She vividly remembers Ben leaving the family home in Maitland, on the 
Yorke Peninsula.

"I will never forget the day he walked up our drive and into never, 
never land."

She said Ben was influenced by his older brother Tim's domineering 
personality, but eventually got psychiatric help and started making 
decisions that were good for him. "He stayed an adolescent for 10 
years but now he is up and running."

She thought Tim, 34, had a job dismembering chickens at a factory in 
Adelaide. But she could not be sure.

Mrs Downing has seen the human side to mounting research showing a 
link between marijuana use and mental health problems, as reported in 
The Australian in the past month.
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