Figures show massive leap in ‘cannabis casualties’
THE number of people detained in hospital for mental and behavioural problems due to cannabis has more than trebled in the Lothians. The new figures come just days after Home Secretary Charles Clarke’s decision not to reclassify the drug from class C to class B.
Statistics set to be released by the Scottish Executive in a parliamentary answer will show that the number of cannabis-related casualties soared from 45 to 136 – the highest rise in Scotland.
In Greater Glasgow during the same period, discharges more than doubled from 74 in 2002-03, to 158 in 2004-05. However, it is unclear whether the rise is due to more people with mental health problems admitting they smoke cannabis, following its reclassification to class C.
The latest Executive figures have been obtained by the Scottish National Party’s health spokeswoman, Shona Robison. She said: “It is obviously concerning that there’s been such a huge jump. There has certainly been evidence of mental health problems linked to cannabis use and these figures add weight to that. “One of the big worries is that there has not been a clear message given out to young people that cannabis is not a cost-free drug and that there are long-term effects on the people who use it.” Mrs Robison said research was needed to establish how much of the rise was a direct result of the drug’s reclassification.
The data also shows that acute hospital discharges for problems related to cocaine also soared by almost 300 per cent in Scotland – up from 56 in 2000-01 to 190 in 2004-05.
Last year, drugs expert Professor Neil McKeganey said that reclassification of cannabis would lead to increased usage. Prof McKeganey, of Glasgow University’s centre for drug misuse, warned that smoking cannabis could lead to lung damage, depression, anxiety and could cause psychotic episodes in people suffering from schizophrenia.
Last week, Mr Clarke said he had decided against reversing the decision two years ago to downgrade cannabis to class C. The Home Secretary said he accepted the drug could trigger serious mental illness but pledged a publicity campaign to warn of the dangers. Mr Clarke said the decision was supported by police and most drug and mental health charities.
Cannabis was reclassified to class C in January 2004 after it was decided that it was not as harmful as other class B drugs such as barbiturates, amphetamine and codeine. Class C means it is ranked alongside anabolic steroids and GHB, a rave drug. The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs told Mr Clarke that although capable of “real and significant” effects on mental health, cannabis was not as harmful as other class B drugs.
A spokeswoman for the Scottish Executive stressed that cannabis remained illegal and harmful. She said: “It brings a risk to physical and mental health and that’s why we are updating our education campaign on it, and our police forces continue to report people to procurators fiscal over it.”