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Health Risk Not Rising: Cannabis Users


Tuesday, February 3rd, 2009 Health Risk Not Rising: Cannabis Users

According To a BBC report (27 01 09) by Jim Reed, it has been argued by Professor David Nutt, who chairs the government’s Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) that men who use cannabis on a regular basis have a one in 5,000 chance of developing schizophrenia. In addition he states that the risk from mental health as a result of smoking cannabis is no greater than getting drunk.

Professor Nutt says, We’ve written three reports and read every paper published for the last 30 years. We do not believe the risks are going up.”

“When we look at the evidence, we have seen a huge increase in the use of cannabis but a fall in schizophrenia.”

“Alcohol is probably more likely to cause dependence than cannabis.

“It causes brain damage through vitamin deficiency and withdrawal can lead to psychosis. Overall the mental health risks of alcohol and cannabis are not dissimilar.”

Notwithstanding, the government has upgraded cannabis to a class B substance against the advice of the ACMD. In part this is because it is believed by the government that there is growing evidence to suggest that cannabis damages health.

Moreover as indicated in the report, cannabis has been closely linked to schizophrenia, an illness which can cause hallucinations, paranoid or bizarre delusions and disorganised speech and thinking.

A good example is that of Alec Jacobs, a 29 year old from Kent. He claims he was indeed a heavy cannabis user, he went on to develop the disease.

He says, “I was hearing voices and getting anxious and depressed. I think cannabis definitely played a part in doing something to me,” he told Newsbeat.

“I was smoking a lot of skunk which I think sent me into a psychosis.

“By the age of 21, I found it hard being around people and I couldn’t smoke it anymore because it wasn’t doing me any good whatsoever.

“I think there is definitely a lasting effect. I still get depressed and anxious and feel sort of trapped in a way.”

However, according to Professor Nutt who argues that the link between cannabis use and that kind of severe mental health problem is “probable but weak”.

The latest research suggests the government would have to stop 5,000 men and 12,000 women from smoking cannabis to prevent a single case of schizophrenia in both groups.

“Using cannabis will tip a few people over the edge but in terms of most of the population, there isn’t really a risk there.”

Notably the vast majority of people suffering from schizophrenia, will also have other mental health issues such as depression. What needs consideration is that in extreme cases this could lead to dangerous levels of behaviour.

A 27 year old male, Mark middlebrook was sentences to life last year in relation to the stabbing and subsequent death of his girl friend Stevie Barton. middlebrook believes that she was plotting to kill him.

Hitherto the court had heard how he had made his mental problems worse by the continuance of smoking cannabis.

BBC Newsbeat spoke to the mother of Stevie’s and a former psychiatric nurse. She did not blame the drug for her daughters death.

She is quite candid when she says, I always say cannabis didn’t kill my daughter, Marc did,” she said. “I know lots of people - doctors, professionals, nurses - who have smoked cannabis for years and do not commit crimes.”

“It’s no good standing there wagging your finger and saying this is wrong. People need to be able to know the facts and there is a lot of information and counter information around cannabis use at this time.”

“What message are you giving to people when you downgrade cannabis to a Class C and then take it back up to a Class B? It’s that you don’t know what you are doing.”

“Let’s not turn this into a witch hunt. Let’s not damn all cannabis users, that would be wrong.

“We need an adult approach. Let’s get some education.”

More than 3,000 people filled in a joint Newsbeat and 1Xtra News online questionnaire on cannabis use.

The smokers who replied overwhelmingly said the upgrade would not force them to cut down.

Of the 2,494 people who claimed they used cannabis, 2,229 said it wouldn’t change the amount they smoked.

Only 102 said they would give up or take less after the upgrade.

The results of the questionnaire were based on input from listeners who chose to get involved and are not representative of the UK as a whole.

Many people were angry at the decision to upgrade.

Katie from Manchester said: “It was against the advice of an independent body. It belittles the idea that some drugs are worse than others.

“It wastes police resources. It was clearly politically motivated rather than with health interests in mind.”

Cannabis strength

Around one in five 16 to 24-year-olds have taken cannabis in the last year, according to the latest stats from the government.

Of the 2,494 cannabis users who responded to the Newsbeat/1Xtra News questionnaire, 605 said they spent £10 a week on the drug; 858 spent between £10 and £30; 461 spent between £30 and £70; and 131 spent more than £70 a week.

433 of the users said they spent an average of nothing, so could be taking the drug with friends without paying for it.

Of the 2,494 cannabis users who responded to the Newsbeat/1Xtra News questionnaire, 1,172 said they smoked the stronger skunk varieties against 599 for traditional herbal or grass and just 186 for resin.

465 people said they either smoked a mixture or didn’t know what they were smoking.

As for the source of the drug, 1,716 smokers said they normally bought off friends, 551 from dealers and 39 from a shop or cafe.

190 users said they grew cannabis themselves.

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