"There's an argument out there," Graham McCormack tells Ryan Tubridy, "And I do agree with it to a certain extent, that cannabis is a plant, right? That it’s just a plant. And I get that." He says it in such a way that you know there’s a but coming. And sure enough: "But what happens when you smoke it?" It depends on what your tolerance levels are, he says, what the outcome will be. When you’re young – as Graham himself was when he started smoking cannabis – you don’t give your brain a chance:
"As a teenager, your brain is developing and if you add drugs into that, you’re not giving yourself a fighting chance."
Graham was 11 when he first smoked cannabis. By the age of 19 – by which time he was using a variety of drugs and alcohol, including cocaine, ecstasy, speed, mushrooms and more – he had made his first suicide attempt. It was to be the first of three attempts. Ryan asked him when he hit rock bottom. Graham’s answer was, "many times".
"People say you have to hit rock bottom before things really turn around. And there’s a lot of truth in that. I hit rock bottom six, seven times."
Every time Graham thought he had got as low as he could get, he found there was another low he could reach.
"I felt I was getting deeper and deeper and deeper into a hole and I started to feel that there was genuinely no way out. And every poor choice that I made reinforced that belief that there’s no way out of this."
It took time and a lot of therapy, but Graham managed to claw his way out of rock bottom and learned to stop destroying himself.
The popular perception of drug use involves cities and urban neighbourhoods, but, Graham says, this perception is wrong. Drug abuse is a national problem, not just one confined to cities. He’s been to schools all over the country over the years and he’s heard, as he put it, "some pretty wild stories". He told Ryan about giving a talk in a school in Tipperary a couple of years ago. Graham does a positive mental health talk, involving mindfulness and he takes questions at the end. He fought on the same MMA show as Conor McGregor in 2010, so, he says, most of the questions – especially from the boys – tend to be about that. In this Tipperary school, one boy put his hand up. He didn’t ask a question; he made a statement:
"What he said was, 'Yesterday, a neighbour of mine overdosed and died.’ And I was just shook for a second."
Drugs became a common theme on Graham’s visits and 80% of the schools he went to were in rural parts of the country.
"It’s getting easier to access the stuff now and unfortunately, a drug dealer doesn’t have a heart and doesn’t care what age you are, who you are, what you’re going through. It’s money to them."
You can hear Ryan’s full conversation with Graham McCormack by going here.
If you’ve been affected by any of the issue raised in this article, you can find services that may help here.