Pubdate: Sun, 13 Jun 2004
Source: Observer, The (UK)
Copyright: 2004 The Observer
Author: Tony Thompson, The Observer
Bookmark: (Cannabis - United Kingdom)


Increasing numbers of people are becoming dependent on cannabis, The 
Observer has learnt.

Department of Health figures show that drug centres are reporting growing 
numbers coming to them with problems related to the drug. Nine per cent of 
all those attending clinics cited cannabis as the main reason they were 
attending, rather than any of the other drugs they were using, twice as 
many as a decade ago.

With a separate study by the World Health Organisation showing that one in 
five 15-year-olds in Britain smokes cannabis - more than twice the world 
average - there is concern that many are becoming addicted to the drug 
earlier in life.

Although government experts insist cannabis is non-addictive, there is 
growing evidence suggesting that regular users of high-strength varieties 
may develop a chronic dependence.

There is also increasing clinical evidence linking cannabis use to mental 
illness, particularly schizophrenia, psychosis, anxiety and depression. US 
research shows that 80 per cent of new cases of psychosis in some hospitals 
have been triggered by cannabis use.

Someone who starts using cannabis aged 15 is at more than four times the 
risk of developing schizophrenia over the next 11 years than someone 
starting smoking the drug at 18. And 18-year-olds who have used cannabis at 
least 50 times have a seven-fold increased risk of developing psychosis in 
the next 15 years.

Last month The Priory, one of Britain's leading addiction treat ment 
centres, responded to an increase in inquiries about cannabis dependency by 
publishing a new leaflet for users and their relatives.

The group's medical director, Michael Rowlands, said: 'There is no doubt 
that cannabis is addictive and that we are seeing an increase in 
dependence, especially among the young and those smoking the stronger 
varieties of cannabis.

'The reason there is still some debate is that most chemical depen dencies 
have severe withdrawal symptoms. In cannabis they tend to be quite mild. 
However, all the other indicators of addictiveness are present.'

Ryan, 19, started smoking cannabis with friends at 14. He quickly became a 
regular user and now smokes four or five joints every evening, spending ?70 
a week.

'They say it's not addictive but I don't know about that,' he said. 'At the 
end of the day I'm clucking for a joint. If that doesn't make me addicted, 
than what does?

'I think if I smoked hash it wouldn't be so bad, but I smoke skunk and that 
really knocks you out. I'd like to think I could give it up if I wanted to, 
but the truth is I've never tried and right now I don't want to.

'I've had to go without it a few times and then I find it almost impossible 
to go to sleep.'

Research from the US shows that cannabis use is the most common reason for 
12- to 17-year-olds to be placed in treatment centres, accounting for 60 
per cent of reported cases. It found treatment for cannabis dependence or 
habitual use among youngsters has risen by 142 per cent in a decade.

Experts in the UK say that, if anything, the situation is even more severe 
here, because general rates of use are higher.

In January cannabis was downgraded from a Class B to a Class C drug, a move 
designed to allow police to focus their attention on the trade in heroin 
and cocaine. Many are concerned this gives young people the impression is a 
safe drug and encourages them to experiment.
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