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22/01/2008 00:00:00

UK: Fears over increased cannabis use

An increasing number of adults are seeking medical help for problems
linked to cannabis use, sparking fears more people are taking the drug.

Last year around 360 people in Norfolk needed medical help at hospitals
or clinics for problems related to cannabis use, compared to just 249
the previous year.

It is thought people are being treated for mental health problems, such
as psychosis, paranoia and schizophrenia, as well as medical ones.

Cannabis is known to disrupt blood pressure and exacerbating heart and
circulation disorders.

The figures have led to claims today that the recent downgrading of the
drug from a class B to C has increased its use.

However, Norfolk Primary Care Trust (PCT) said the rise reflected
improvements in drug treatment and recording and not cannabis use.

Sandra Flannigan, from Norwich Mind, described the increase as
“worrying” and said people need to be more aware of the potential
psychological side-affects of using the drug.

She said: “People are still very complacent because they think it is a
non-additive drug but it is very easy to get psychologically addicted to it.

“People should take a step back and look at the long term effects. Short
term the drug can make people paranoid, make them suffer memory loss and
they can become paranoid.

“In the long term we are talking about severe depression being caused by
cannabis. There has been a massive rise in mental health problems as the
use of cannabis has gone up.”

She estimated that more than 70pc of people she refers for
rehabilitation have some history of smoking cannabis and some people
with pre-existing mental health problems use cannabis in the mistaken
belief it will alleviate their anxieties.

William Armstrong, coroner for the Greater Norwich area, was also
concerned at the rise.

He said: “There is clear evidence of cannabis aggravating the effects of
mental health conditions, and there is a considerable amount of evidence
that cannabis can be harmful for people with mental health problems.”

There have been fears nationally that cannabis addiction has soared
because the drug has got much stronger.

Norwich North MP Ian Gibson believes the city is being increasingly
targeted by drug dealers, which is making the problem worse.

He said: “We have to hope this is just a small blip and that this will
go down next year. Norwich is obviously being targeted at the moment by
drug dealers, I hope this problem disappears.”

Norfolk Constabulary said the number of seizures of the drug had more
than doubled, from 29 in 2005 to 60 in the first nine months of 2007.

A police spokeswoman said: “Cannabis is currently a Class C drug and
there are a number of dangers in relation to using it.

“One issue is that cannabis is often linked with other harder drugs. We
know that a number of drug dealers will supply a range of different
drugs and will often use cannabis as an introduction for their customers
to other more harmful substances.”

Daniel Harry, partnership liaison officer from Norfolk Drug and Alcohol
Action Team (DAAT) said: “There are a number of issues with the data
collection that suggest that there has not been an increase in the
numbers of cannabis users in treatment. In particular, the number of
agencies returning treatment data to the DAAT rose in 2006/07. It is
likely, therefore, that the increase in clients treated for cannabis in
this year is due to this increased recording.

“There are a range of treatment options available for cannabis users in
Norfolk. When someone refers themselves or is referred into treatment
they are assessed by a skilled substance misuse worker to determine the
most appropriate treatment for them. This is most likely to be a period
of structured counselling but may also include assistance with general
health and social care needs.”

Author: Evening News: Norwich via UKCIA

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