Vulnerable young people who are heavy cannabis users do not fully appreciate the detrimental effects the drug has on them, it has been claimed.
A report commissioned by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation found that youngsters with the greatest number of social problems exacerbate their situation by smoking the drug.
When young people were asked about the positive and negative consequences of smoking cannabis, they initially only discussed what they felt to be positive: relaxation, socialising, and the feeling of being stoned.
Interviewers from the University of Bedfordshire found it was only when various aspects of their lives were examined in greater detail that associations between their use and problems such as unemployment, educational under-achievement and homelessness became apparent.
The report also found that some professionals working with young people saw cannabis as less harmful than the young people in the study did.
The researchers suggest this may be because of their differing experiences of cannabis use in previous decades, when high-strength herbal cannabis was less widely available.
Dr Margaret Melrose, the report's author, said: "Young people may not be aware of the extent to which cannabis use might exacerbate their existing social problems, and professionals who have had experience of cannabis users in the past may assume the effects are relatively harmless if they take young people's assessment of the impact of cannabis use in their lives at face value."