'Skunk' user's sister speaks about drug after his death — (Maidenhead Advertiser)

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Maidenhead Advertiser

Thursday 09 February, 2012

 Written by John Balson

A warning about the dangers of ‘skunk’ cannabis have been backed by the sister of a Marlow man who hanged himself from a tree after suffering years of paranoid schizophrenia.

Christopher Benning, 30, of Berwick Road, was discovered by dog walkers in Hatchet Wood, Frieth, on April 9, last year.

He had smoked ‘stronger forms’ of cannabis from the age of 14 and was diagnosed mentally ill at 19.

His younger sister Juliet, 29, said: “Chris was a troubled soul who lived the latter part of his life plagued by paranoia and fear.”

She added: “The family has always been convinced that Chris’s use of cannabis, in particular skunk, from such a young age was a major catalyst in his development of schizophrenia.”

But she said her family also had concerns about the antidepressant Citalopram he had been prescribed close to his death and which they believe may have contributed to his suicide.

The drug belongs to the SSRI (selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitor) class of drugs, which have been anecdotally linked to suicide.

Juliet said: “Although we, the family, are aware that there may be little statistical evidence to prove the antidepressant Citalopram may lead to a heightened risk of suicide, we have gathered enough anecdotal evidence to prove otherwise.

“We would ask that any prescription of the drug made by those in the health authorities is done so with a warning of these risks.”

Chris BenningAt an inquest yesterday consultant psychiatrist Dr Susan Hardy, who treated Mr Benning, answered questions about the drug.

She said it was better to treat depression rather than leave it untreated.

Bucks coroner Richard Hulett ‘underscored’ the dangers of skunk.

He said he had seen ‘far too many inquests’ where young men ‘whose brains were not yet hard-wired’ had suffered years of mental illness after smoking the drug.

“It seems to me to be compelling evidence against a substance which is half marketed to be legalised as almost healthy and no more harmful than other things,” he said.

“But it is actually the starting point to mental illness and schizophrenia.”

The inquest heard Mr Benning had later smoked heroin and cocaine and was convicted of burglary and criminal damage and served time at Woodhill Prison in Milton Keynes.

He was put into the care of Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Forensic Community Mental Health Teams and had been taking antipsychotic drug Risperidone.

In the last few weeks of his life he had began to hear voices which were ‘sometimes nice, sometimes nasty’ and was still paranoid a gang would kidnap him from his flat and assault him.

He had also shown signs of depression and had become ‘flatter and flatter, his mother Victoria Benning told High Wycombe Law Courts.

However, his death came as a shock and was described as ‘totally out of character’ because he had only ever shown ‘fleeting thoughts’ of suicide.

Mr Hulett said he saw no failings in the treatment of Mr Benning and praised the family and clinicians for the ‘detailed and close’ support they had shown.

Recording a verdict of suicide, he added: “The mystery of this inquest is that he did what he did, when he did it – which was entirely against the entire run of his case history.

“I think it will remain the case that the family and all the professionals will remain entirely flummoxed as why this happened to him and why there was such a sudden change.”