Pubdate: Sat, 17 Sep 2005
Source: Sunday Times - Ireland (UK)
Copyright: 2005 Times Newspapers Ltd.
Authors: Will Iredale and Holly Watt
Bookmark: (Cannabis - United Kingdom)
Bookmark: (Youth)


The number of children treated for mental disorders caused by smoking
cannabis has quadrupled since the government downgraded the legal
status of the drug, according to a leading drug charity.

Since April last year, three months after police stopped arresting
anyone found in possession of small amounts of the drug, the overall
number of users treated for such conditions rose 42%, according to
data from Addaction.

But it is the figure for children that will cause the greatest alarm.
Addaction treated 1,575 cannabis users for psychotic problems between
April 2004 and April 2005, of whom 181 were aged 15 or below -- a rise
of 136 on the previous year.

Many experts blame the relaxation of the law and the wider use of
skunk, a high-strength variant of cannabis.

"A minority of people who take it repeatedly and over a long period,
particularly people who take it as adolescents, will suffer psychotic
episodes. They may ultimately suffer schizophrenia," said Robin
Murray, professor of psychiatry at King's College London.

Addaction's findings are backed up by recent government figures that
reveal a 22% leap in hospital admissions attributed directly to
cannabis. They show that 710 people were sent to hospital with mental
illness caused by cannabis in the 12 months to April 2004, up from 580
in the two previous years.

The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs is meeting next weekend to
decide whether there should be a full review of the working of the
cannabis law. It was set up by Charles Clarke, the home secretary,
after research released earlier this year suggested cannabis may cause
mental illness.

A New Zealand research project involving 1,000 people born in 1977
found that cannabis could double the risk of mental illnesses such as
schizophrenia. A Dutch study by Professor Jim van Os also discovered
that frequent cannabis use during adolescence increased the risk of
psychotic symptoms later in life, especially among those genetically
vulnerable to mental illness.

A member of the committee said this weekend, however, that the panel
was unlikely to recommend any revision of the law because there was
still insufficient evidence to show any increased risk. One option it
is considering is upgrading skunk but leaving "ordinary" cannabis as a
class C drug.

Jonathan McDonnell, project manager for the Buckinghamshire branch of
Young Addaction, said that last year 250 cannabis users under 19 were
referred to his unit for treatment; 85% of those were skunk users.

He said that the higher street price of skunk -- UKP 20 for an eighth
of an ounce rather than UKP 12 for normal cannabis -- meant that many
users were now involved in "junkie crimes" such as burglary and
robbery, traditionally the preserve of hard-drug users.
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