Cannabis health woes for older users

A TENFOLD increase in hospital treatment for cannabis poisoning or dependence among people in their 30s and 40s suggests the habit has run out of control for a hard core of long-term users.
Australian research shows that while cannabis consumption overall decreased during the past decade, the rate of hospital treatment rose. Treatment rates are highest among people in their 20s, but the steepest increase has been among older people, with those in their 30s only slightly less likely to seek help than younger people by 2007, the study shows.
Seven years earlier, people in their 30s were being treated at only half the rate of their younger counterparts, according to the findings of the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre at the University of NSW. Their faster rise in cannabis-related health problems coincided with greater frequency of daily use.
“These people started their use early and have [in some cases] then gone on to develop problems,” the study leader, Amanda Roxburgh, said. “They might not necessarily think that they have a problem with their use until it kicks into crisis mode.” People in their 20s were about 50 per cent more likely to have used cannabis during a one-year period compared with those in their 30s. But of those who did so, nearly 20 per cent of the older age group had developed a daily habit, against about 15 per cent of the younger adults.
Ms Roxburgh, whose results are published in the journal Addiction, said the rise in problematic use might reflect increased cannabis potency, though there was no formal evidence the drug had become stronger. Its falling price suggested it was being produced more efficiently – perhaps through indoor hydroponic cultivation – and this might have made it more accessible.
Jan Copeland, who heads the National Cannabis Prevention and Information Centre, said older people were more likely to consider cannabis safe. “These people come from age groups where cannabis is a benign herb and natural,” she said. “But when you are doing something every day you don’t realise the difficulties when you try to stop”.
Cannabis use among people aged 14 to 19 more than halved between 1996 and 2005, but the study also found pockets of harmful use in that group. Nearly two-thirds of young daily cannabis users reported difficulties controlling their use.
Members of this group were also more likely to report smoking 10 or more cones or joints a day, and if they were treated in hospital for their cannabis use were more likely to be treated for psychosis than older users.
Professor Copeland said young people now understood cannabis could be dangerous, and fewer were experimenting, but dedicated treatment programs were still needed for young people with a serious habit.
Will Temple, chief executive officer of the Watershed drug and alcohol recovery and education centre in Wollongong, said his centre had gone from treating almost no cannabis users to in the past six months treating 30 per cent of clients for cannabis use.
Source: The Sydney Morning Herald 29th March 2010

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