5 September 2007
Talented, bubbly and pretty, Laura Bower-McKnight had it all to live for.
A gifted musician, the 22-year-old studied at the prestigious Royal Welsh College of Music and seemed destined for a career in the performing arts.
But her life once so full of promise was prematurely ended when she killed herself after cannabis turned her into a shambling wreck and left her a depressed recluse terrified of going outdoors.
She was found dead at her family’s home last week after hanging herself from the end of her bed.
Her heartbroken mother told how smoking a single joint of the potent “skunk” variety of the drug triggered a psychotic episode in her violinist daughter and set her on the road to her death.
Carol McKnight, 44, demanded to know why cannabis was downgraded to the status of a “soft” drug as she spoke of the devastating effects of cannabis on Laura in a bid to warn others of the dangers it poses to mental health.
The Government controversially downgraded cannabis from a grade B drug to grade C – meaning those caught in possession of it usually escape with a caution.
Housewife Mrs McKnight said: “People think nothing of cannabis nowadays. They just don’t realise this drug can tip you over the edge.
“A lot of people try it.
“With the government downgrading it, I think young people assume it is completely harmless.
“But it can destroy your mind.”
Laura was regarded as an intelligent and creative pupil during her time at Robert Pattinson Secondary School, North Hykeham, Lincolnshire.
She went on to secure a sought-after place at the Royal Welsh College of Music, Cardiff, before going on to university, but soon she dropped out.
Having returned to the family home in North Hykeham, troubled Laura, who had previously smoked normal cannabis with friends, tried a joint of skunk – and the experience proved devastating.
Mrs McKnight said: “It wasn’t the real Laura, the always-on-the-go, lovely young woman, the musician, the passionate writer, the artist.
“It tipped her into psychosis. We lost our wonderful girl for a while. Her behaviour became completely erratic. She was doing very odd things.
“She was ill – she had a mental illness. But people are ignorant of mental illness, and they labelled her as a loony. They did and said horrible things.”
In one incident drinkers in a local pub put up a newspaper cutting with the headline “Troubled Britney Spears” but wrote Laura’s name over it.
The effects of the bullying, coupled with a course of anti-psychotic prescription drugs, left her so depressed that she felt unable even to leave the house.
Her mother added: “Laura was an extremely sensitive girl, and at this point she was vulnerable. I think she just felt there was no future.
“I know she didn’t do it to hurt us – she never could. She had just come to the conclusion that the best parts of her life had already been lived.”
Laura, who had battled anorexia in the past, could not be resuscitated after she was discovered hanging from her bed last Friday afternoon.
Mrs McKnight said she and her husband Malcolm, Laura’s stepfather, now only hoped their daughter’s death would serve as a warning to others.
She said: “Laura would have wanted us to highlight these issues. We were so close. It’s just a massive, irreplaceable loss from our lives.
“There are a lot of young, vulnerable people. Expectations of them are so high. Drug use, depression and suicide among them is a growing problem.”
Mr McKnight, 44, an engineer, added: “Different people have different limits with drugs. For some even the tiniest amount can be too much.”
A recent Government-commissioned report warned that a single joint of cannabis raises the risk of schizophrenia by more than 40 per cent and that taking the drug regularly more than doubles the risk of serious mental illness.
The grim statistics came only days after Gordon Brown ordered a review of the decision to downgrade cannabis to class C, the least serious category.
The Prime Minister is said to have a “personal instinct” that the change should be reversed, with more arrests and stiffer penalties for users.
Previous studies have shown a clear link between cannabis use in the teenage years and mental illness in later life.
Research completed by leading psychiatrist Professor Robin Murray in 2005 showed that those who smoked the drug regularly at 18 were 1.6 times more likely to suffer serious psychiatric problems, including schizophrenia, by their mid-20s.
It is thought that, used during teenage years, the drug can cause permanent damage to the developing brain.