Pubdate: Tue, 20 Mar 2007
Source: Liverpool Echo (UK)
Copyright: 2007 Trinity Mirror Plc
Author: Ben Rossington, Liverpool Echo
Bookmark: (Cannabis - United Kingdom)


SUPER-strength cannabis so potent that just one puff can cause 
schizophrenia is being grown by Merseyside drug gangs.

Cannabis resin, usually smuggled in from Morocco, has been replaced by 
home-grown super skunk as the drug of choice for sale by criminal gangs on 

Experts warn this new strain of cannabis is so incredibly strong it can 
bring on the early signs of schizophrenia from a single puff.

Today Merseyside's police chief has warned that organised gangs are moving 
into the production of the drug as a quick way of making cash.

Recent raids by the force include:

- - A cannabis farm found in a house in New Brighton last Thursday.

- - 1,000 cannabis plants in a UKP1m drug factory found by firefighters 
called to a blaze at Elmsfield Close, Gateacre, on March 8.

- - A hi-tech cannabis factory with UKP200,000 worth of plants inside a 
semi-detached house at Jeffereys Crescent, Huyton in February.

- - In January, 41 addresses in west Everton were targeted by officers who 
seized cash, a hydroponics system for growing cannabis, industrial 
fireworks and class A and B drugs.

Cultivated in houses rigged with professional heating, lighting and feeding 
equipment, the crushed cannabis leaves are thought to be up to 25 times 
more potent than that smoked in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Instead they have been replaced by a mental health timebomb waiting to explode.

Merseyside's chief constable, Bernard Hogan-Howe said: "Cannabis is not the 
harmless substance some people believe it to be.

"This new super-strength cannabis is here on Merseyside and is creating 
problems now.

"The legacy of people taking this drug today could well be felt for 
generations to come."

According to the National Treatment Agency, an arm of the NHS, just under 
3,500 people in the north west sought treatment for cannabis addiction last 

The number of under-18s treated nationally doubled to nearly 10,000 over 
the same period.

Research to be published this week in The Lancet is said to show skunk, 
which has high levels of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), is more addictive and 
socially dangerous than class A drugs such as LSD and ecstasy.

Schizophrenia is a mental disorder where the sufferer struggles to tell the 
difference between real and unreal experiences, to think logically, to have 
normal emotional responses to others, and to behave normally in social 

The new findings prompted a national Sunday newspaper to this week 
climbdown from its 10-year campaign to have cannabis legalised.

The Independent on Sunday ran a front page article this weekend under the 
headline "Cannabis: An Apology", saying that if the facts about cannabis 
had been known when the paper launched the campaign, it would never have 
fought for it to be legalised.

The destruction of seven cannabis factories unearthed on Merseyside in 
recent weeks means millions of pounds of the drug has been taken of the 
region's streets.

Organised gangs are now setting up business as a way of cultivating huge 
profits from cannabis.

They buy or rent innocuous-looking houses in residential streets, strip 
them down to make more growing room and transform them into an illegal 
production line.

Mr Hogan-Howe said: "In the 1960s, the overwhelming majority of cannabis 
was grown in Morocco. It was then illegally imported to the UK.

"Home-grown production at the time was amateurish, small scale and of low 
potency. Now we are seeing relatively small scale but efficient production 
of plants in the UK."

Mental health charity Rethink have been campaigning for more education for 
youngsters about the effects of cannabis.

Director of Public Affairs Paul Corry said: "Cannabis is not a risk-free 
drug. For a significant minority of people it is a trigger for developing a 
severe long-term mental illness like schizophrenia.

"We have called on the government to honour its pledge for a UKP1m health 
campaign to take the risk message into schools and local communities.

"The government must honour its promises so that young people are aware of 
the true risks of cannabis.

"Current education guidance does not cover the mental health effects of 
cannabis, stating only that 'no clear causal link has been proven'. Young 
people with experience of mental illness and cannabis use should deliver 
this education. Young people are far more likely to listen to their peers."

- ---------------------------------------------------

ECHO Essentials

PARENTS can spot if their child is smoking cannabis by looking out for the 
following indicators:

- - Secretive behaviour.

- - Loss of interest in usual activities.

- - Unusual restlessness or sleepiness.

- - Unexpected or uncharacteristic changes of mood and behaviour.

- - Irritable, aggressive behaviour.

- - Loss of appetite.

- - Unexplained need for cash; possibly stealing from bags and wallets left 
lying around the house.

- - Unusual smells or stains on clothes.

Useful websites for parents concerned their children may be involved in 
taking cannabis are:
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jo-D