Devastating figures reveal true toll of cannabis on the UK’s health
Devastating figures reveal true toll of cannabis on the UK’s health as 125,000 people are admitted to hospital over the drug in just five years
- Some 15,000 teenagers have been hospitalised after taking cannabis since 2013
- The levels of admissions in England have jumped by more than 50 per cent
- Last year, 31,330 people required hospital treatment having taken cannabis
- Experts fear regular cannabis use can interfere with brain function and memory
More than 125,000 hospital admissions have taken place over the past five years as a result of taking cannabis – including 15,000 teenagers – some of whom were rushed to hospital suffering from serious psychosis
The number of cannabis-related hospitalisations per year in England has leapt by 50 per cent
Analysis carried out by NHS officials for this paper has also revealed how children below the age of ten have been admitted to hospital after taking the powerful and addictive substance. Some people hooked on the drug have taken their own lives after suffering hallucinations and many more are now unable to lead normal lives, according to doctors.
The number of cannabis-related hospitalisations per year in England has leapt by more than 50 per cent since 2013 – from 19,765 to 31,130.
The dramatic rise has coincided with an increasingly liberal approach to policing the Class B drug in many parts of the country. In Durham, police now turn a blind eye to possession – and even small-scale cultivation. Last week, the Royal College of Psychiatrists announced it was setting up a panel to consider backing legalisation of cannabis – arguing that could be a way to control its increasing strength.
But evidence from the US, where nine states have legalised recreational use, shows that is not happening. In Colorado and Washington State, for example, the average strength of the drug is going up. And since it was legalised in Colorado in 2014, cannabis-related trips to emergency rooms by teenagers have quadrupled, according to an academic report.
Evidence is also building that regularly smoking cannabis during teenage years can affect brain development – shrinking the hippocampus, essential for memory and regulating emotions.
Last night, Tory MP Craig Mackinlay said the figures were a stark wake-up call to those considering legalisation. ‘Far too few people are aware of the severe mental health problems cannabis can cause, particularly on younger, developing brains,’ he said. ‘Caving in to populist demands to legalise a harmful drug is not the way to deal with preventing its normalisation and use.’
Around 2.4 million people in Britain smoke cannabis, including a million 16- to 24-year-olds. While rates are little changed over the last decade, there are signs teens are starting to use it more. Cannabis has been growing stronger and stronger over the years – a key reason why more people are ending up in hospital, say doctors.
Tory MP Craig Mackinlay, pictured, said too few people are aware of the severe mental health problems cannabis can cause
Powerful varieties known as skunk now account for 94 per cent of cannabis consumed in Britain, according to recent research.
It contains at least four times as much of the main psychoactive compound tetrahydrocannabinol as previously dominant types of cannabis. ‘THC’ is strongly linked to increased risk of psychosis.
Yet there is a growing perception among youngsters that cannabis is harmless. Experts say many interpret the Government’s decision to let doctors prescribe cannabis-based medicines as a green light to smoke it – even though the medicines and street drugs have hugely different effects. Addiction specialist Dr Cyrus Abbasian said: ‘The main reason we are seeing more cannabis-related hospital admissions is its increasing strength.’
In some areas cannabis strength has increased tenfold since the 1990s, from two to 20 per cent THC, he added, with less powerful forms so hard to find in the UK that users go online to buy from overseas.
Ex-mental health nurse Ian Hamilton, a lecturer at York University, said people were increasingly ending up in A&Es with ‘absolutely terrifying’ cannabis-induced psychotic episodes, as its growing strength meant they had no idea how much THC they were consuming. ‘People can see things, hear things, become hyper-anxious, or enter a state of “depersonalisation” where they don’t feel they are real,’ he said.
They can end up vomiting, while the anxiety can ‘make your heart-rate go through the roof’.
Home Secretary Sajid Javid, pictured, will allow doctors to prescribe cannabis-based medicines from next month although he said has no plans to legalise recreational use of the drug
Consultant psychologist Matthew Gaskell, of Leeds and York Partnership NHS Trust, said stronger cannabis – including the synthetic version spice – was leading to ‘more cannabis dependence in addiction services, and great difficulty stopping’ among regular users. He said: ‘Acute intoxication can have severe effects including a rapid heart rate, vomiting, violent behaviour, seizures and suicidal thoughts.’
The NHS figures show there were 125,290 cannabis and spice-related hospital admissions in England from April 2013 to March 2018, including 14,888 under-20s. Of those, nine were admissions of children under ten.
Researcher Hannah Fletcher, of HealthWatch Essex, a local watchdog, who interviewed 717 youngsters, said cannabis use was now prevalent among teens. One told her cannabis was ‘everywhere’ in secondary school. ‘Some thought it was actually good for them,’ she said.
Last Thursday, Home Secretary Sajid Javid announced that, from next month, doctors will be able to prescribe cannabis-based medicines. These usually contain low levels of THC. Mr Javid has made clear the Government has no plans to legalise recreational cannabis use.
13 fast-food joints, 38 dope stores. Is this the high street of the future?
America’s appetite for fast food and coffee is well-known, but the residents of Pueblo in Colorado have almost three times as many marijuana stores as branches of McDonald’s and Starbucks combined.
The 38 ‘high street’ stores selling marijuana already dwarf the 13 selling either Big Macs or lattes – and the number is soon expected to overtake the town’s 46 bars.
Unease about cannabis deepened when parents discovered that Pueblo’s schools were being flooded with marijuana-laced sweets.
This is a line of people queuing up in Denver, Colorado on January 1, 2014 on the first day marijuana sales in the state were legalised
Two years ago, doctors held a press conference to call on the city’s council to ban marijuana shops, but a vote on the proposal was defeated. Among those speaking out was paediatrician Dr Steven Simerville who claimed that between seven and ten per cent of newborn babies in the city were testing positive for THC, the main psychoactive constituent of cannabis.
While data about the effects of the legislation – and commercialisation – of cannabis across America is limited, Dr Simerville’s concerns are shared by many in the medical world.
Deepak D’Souza, Professor of Psychiatry at Yale University, said business was poised to cash in on an industry already worth $9 billion (£6.8 billion) in the US. ‘What is the purpose of these companies to commercialise this? To sell as much product as possible.’
Colorado was one of the first states to legalise marijuana for recreational use and adverse effects are beginning to emerge.
A study from the Children’s Hospital Colorado and A&E departments in its network found visits due to cannabis had risen from 146 in 2005 to 639 in 2015.
There is also growing evidence of the potential ill-effects of the drug on mental health. One study, from RTI International, a US non-profit organisation which researches tobacco and drug use, found that the use of medicinal marijuana had caused a two per cent increase in the prevalence of serious mental health issues.
The study, published in the International Review Of Psychiatry, said: ‘Prevalence of serious mental illness still remained significantly higher in states with liberal medical marijuana laws than in states without legal marijuana.’
Such statistics have not dampened enthusiasm for the drug. Colorado’s tax revenue from the trade last year was $247 million from $1.5 billion of sales.
The windfall offers no comfort to Lori Robinson, whose son Shane, 25, committed suicide at their family cabin near Yosemite National Park in 2012.
He began smoking cannabis in his teens and later used medicinal marijuana in California, where he had moved and where it was legal.
Mrs Robinson, the founder of campaign group Moms Strong, said: ‘When you start legalising drugs – and marijuana is a drug – you start normalising drug use.’