Coroner's cannabis warning after teenager's death

A CORONER issued a stark warning on the use of 'recreational' cannabis at an inquest into the death of a popular teenager.

Speaking at Hastings Magistrate Court on Wednesday, coroner Alan Craze said: "I know a lot of people take the view that cannabis is harmless.

"I do not think people realise what people use as a pastime, or for recreation, is putting themselves in jeopardy of mental illness."

The inquest heard smoking cannabis dragged 19-year-old Stephen Dengate to the depths of depression — and cost him his life. He was found dead at his Oxford Road home after smoking the drug and sniffing lighter fuel.

The inquest revealed the combination of the two substances had triggered fatal respiratory problems.

Stephen, affectionately known as Scooby, had been plagued by mental health problems after he started smoking the Class C drug at 11.

He had been known to self harm by cutting his arms, lash out and punch walls, resulting in mental health doctors prescribing him Prozac.

Tragically, Stephen had been getting his life back on track when he died in August 2003 — he was enjoying his work as a storeman at Woodgate, Rye, after moving back in with his parents Sally and Michael.

Sally, who discovered her son's body, said of his cannabis smoking: "It started at school, he was bullied, and he used it as a means of escape."

Hundreds attended Stephen's funeral last year, including friends from Xtrax, the youth recreation centre at Havelock Road, where he regularly visited.

Recording a verdict of misadventure, Mr Craze said: "There's no doubt that the death has been caused by a combination of the two drugs.

"Each one has the same effect on the body, and they have been working together.

"Had he taken one and not both together this might not have happened - the cannabis and volatile gas were too much for his body to take."

n Cannabis was controversially reclassified from a Class B drug to C in January.

It can cause a range of mental health problems from anxiety and paranoia to actual psychotic states.