The following is the gist of a programme broadcast on Radio 4 – it clearly shows the problems resulting from the re-classification of cannabis.
Update from 2 parents since last November.
Parent 1. Boy had now “totally flipped” Came into parents’ room in the middle of the night totally petrified and convinced that someone had a gun to kill him. He blames Blunkett. It must be safe or he would not have downgraded it.
Parent 2. The worst time was New Years Eve when parents came home from a party to find him smashing up the house. Had to call police, he was uncontrollable.
Interviewer: Because there is an increased usage at an earlier age are we looking at a mental health time bomb?
Angie, mother of Daniel, interviewed last December:
From the age of 14 to 18, he smoked around 1 joint per hour and developed serious mental problems. Now 27, 6’2” tall, has got worse. For last year has been “on the edge”. Main problem is getting his money for dope. Gets manic, extremely forceful, extremely overbearing and demanding. Lives in Lambeth.
Angie says children of 11 and 12 smoke it in skate parks etc. Used to be a Brixton problem, now can smell it in any town centre. She spoke to youth workers. 13 year olds sit around all day smoking dope, no crack.
Met. Police: Youngsters think it’s legal, they are confused.
Ros. Griffiths, Community worker in Brixton for 20 years.
Attitudes have changed since down-classification. She has seen more experimenters in playgrounds, estates, streets, as young as 9 to 10. Even more alarming is to see them dealing at that age. They are not aware of the side effects and don’t care. Cannabis is “soft”, reinforced by downgrading so it’s OK. They think it’s legal.
Terry Hammond, Rethink.
Agrees this is reflected nationwide. Last year Rethink had over one third of a million phone calls and hits on their website about cannabis. Therefore have a large base to draw on. All is obviously anecdotal at this time that it is on the increase. But young people believe they have been given the green light about pot. Agreed that the starting age for using is 11 to 12, but some much younger.
Prof Robin Murray
Last November several studies linked cannabis with psychosis. If they are daily smokers by age 15, risk psychosis by age 26 is 4.5 times. Start at 18, risk is 1.5 times of psychosis by 26.
Starting young they may get hooked earlier, brain changes at puberty so brain development may be affected. Not all of them become psychotic. Smokers don’t all get lung cancer but a quarter of cannabis users are probably at risk if they take enough. We know now there is a greater risk if they have a family history, have had a bad trip or tend to have suspicious or strange beliefs. Now found that genes are different to the norm in those who become psychotic.
Interviewer: Any truth in the idea that children predisposed to mental illness will take cannabis? Murray: Some: Children at 11 with mental problems are more likely to have taken it by age 15. Maybe they find it reduces anxiety, or they fit in better and are not so isolated. They use it to “get in”.
Interviewer: Would you say that cannabis is one of the biggest problems faced psychiatric wards? Murray: I have been saying it for some time! It’s worse now, it’s VERY difficult to convince patients that cannabis is causing their problems. They say that’s not what the government says. Their general understanding is that it is safe. It’s difficult to get them to stop. Now if they find them dealing cannabis on the wards the police WON’T come – they used to.
Eden Ward, Lambeth Hospital
12 beds – small unit, acutely ill, need intensive and individual care. Julian, an outpatient since 1983. Main reason for illness, smoking substances like cannabis. Paranoia, voices, hallucinations, (speech was very slurred). In 1997 spent 15 months in hospital.
Doctor: 70% of patients are users of cannabis and/or/other substances eg crack. He guesses that in 20 to 25% of them their problems are caused by cannabis. Patient, now 31, using since 19. diagnosed as a bipolar manic depressive. Due to cannabis being smoked all day and at night too. Addicted. The “high” often gives him problems.
Tracy, a senior clinical nurse on the ward: “You can often tell when patients have been smoking cannabis. Their behaviour changes, their mental health goes and they can be agitated and violent, often paranoid.”
Contribution from a medical person on the ward: “Last weekend a patient had gone out and smoked cannabis and the ward became chaotic. They get very aggressive. The law has changed and you can’t do much if they have small amounts of cannabis on them, as long as it’s not much. All you can do is tell them not to smoke it on the ward. They had to stop a mother bringing it in to the ward for her daughter”.
Have close liaison with the hospital and will campaign and support them. They have a partnership with the hospital.
John Power, Detective superintendent, Yorkshire Police
Police don’t turn a blind eye. Says that there is no significant problem with hospitals in the Sheffield area. The police would liaise with the hospitals.
No doubt that police policy is that the top brass co-operate with the hospitals. But try phoning them on a Saturday night or early Sunday morning. They will NOT come for possession they have other priorities.
We would send someone if it was possible.
Interviewer: WHO says two fifths of UK 15 year olds have smoked cannabis, ECMDDA says one tenth have used it 40 times in the past year. Caroline Flint was not available! But Gov. statement put out: “All controlled drugs are harmful. Young people and families need credible and realistic information about the dangers of drug misuse. The Gov. continues to highlight the health risks associated with cannabis use and ensures that information is distributed to young people, parents and teachers”. Michael Howard has said that from day 1 he would reclassify cannabis back to B.
Andrew Mitchell, Shadow Police Minister
Drug use is a serious curse. Signals of semi-decriminalisation – worst possible signals. If reclassified to B they would know where they stand. All police units have different messages, it’s very difficult to see what is going on.
Terry Hammond, son has cannabis psychosis. It would not help him. Must take the criminal aspect out of it, it is wrong. Shift the focus from the moral criminality debate to a health debate. Good gov. would deal with the issues of health.
Agrees. Down-classification was done because no one paid attention to the law. The Gov., Flint and Blunkett at the time effectively said that there were no harmful consequences. Now they have rowed back from that position. In the buildup to down-classification, the true extent of psychosis wasn’t known. Now it is so I think they are moving back to decent education.
Involved with Home Office education programme. Gov. only budgeted £230,000. USA, Australia, Sweden all spend millions of pounds. Home Office needs to SPEND.
Met Police say they have saved 180,000 hours/year in Met alone.
It has released lots of manpower. Takes 4 to 5 hours to arrest for possession of small amount, a few minutes for a caution, the time saved is a great benefit. Possibly a few more have been arrested but not significant. Not significant increase in drugs being seized.
Not a good argument. If police were to reclassify burglary and make it legal, even more time would be saved. It’s been disappointing as it hasn’t separated the trading of cannabis from the trading of other drugs. The same people trade in cannabis as trade in the others and will move you on to them There is much more visible trading.
Agrees. Police time saved is not the best way to look at it. Gov. have placed a burden on the NHS. Mental Health costs Britain a massive £77 BILLION per year. This is taken from the Sainsbury report. It is not acknowledged. Cannabis exacerbates the problem. Gov. needs to get a grip. We need to get ourselves into gear. Need to get energy from Gov. Re-focus, take away the criminal issue, make it a health education issue.
Great sadness. Mental health services are overwhelmed. People are arriving with cannabis psychosis. They don’t get good treatment, nor do these with problems unrelated to cannabis. Mental health services in big cities cannot cope. Recently talked to 100 psychiatrists. Asked them who would invite relatives or friends in to see their units. Only one would be prepared to do this. We are awash with mental health problems and cannabis is a big contributor.