Pot Shock

PATIENTS suffering the effects of cannabis abuse are being treated by Tasmanian public hospitals every day, says a leading health authority.

People with short-term drug-induced psychosis and longer-term mental illness, compounded by pot smoking, are seeking medical help at an increasing rate. Mental Health Services clinical statewide director Peter Norrie said the Royal Hobart Hospital was seeing many cannabis cases.

First-time pot smokers were turning up at the Royal with full-blown psychosis — delusional, confused and anxious. Other more regular pot smokers with long-term mental illness were fronting for treatment for episodes likely to have been triggered or related to using cannabis.

“These days it’s close to every day,” said Dr Norrie, who is a senior clinical consultant psychiatrist at the Royal. He said he was talking about “drug-induced psychosis or long-term mental illness associated with pot smoking”. Dr Norrie said it was “very common” for first-time users to present with “floridly psychotic” behaviour.

He said psychiatrists were increasingly concerned with the link between substance abuse and mental illness. Cannabis use had been linked with depression, anxiety and schizophrenia. International studies show modern strains of marijuana are from three to 10 times stronger than those used by previous generations.

“Clinically psychiatrists have suspected a link for many years and the latest research seems to confirm this,” Dr Norrie said.

“The chicken-and-egg debate has raged for years – whether pot causes psychosis or people with a tendency to psychotic illness are predisposed to smoke pot.”

Dr Norrie said the first signs of schizophrenia were often a lack of engagement with society. But those symptoms could also be what is commonly known as “typically teenage” or a sign of the onset of depression.

Disengaged teenagers could then turn to cannabis.

If psychosis did occur it was hard to tell whether smoking pot was a cause or a symptom. Dr Norrie said some pot smokers appeared to be able to continue the habit without serious mental illness but others were prone to individual cases of psychosis or longer-term mental disease.

“There’s a certain group of people who smoke pot who are unlikely to develop mental illness but there’s certainly a significant number of the population who suffer from mental illness and pot smoking adds to the risk,” Dr Norrie said.

Drug-induced psychosis usually consists of paranoia, confusion and anxiety.

Sufferers present with memory problems and delusions. They can believe they have special powers, hear and see things that are not there and are unable to distinguish what is real.

Source: Sunday Tasmanian 30th January 2005

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