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Recovery Plus The greatest concern about cannabis is perhaps that its dangers are too-often downplayed. Research findings are ignored, misinterpreted and denied. Mary Brett lists the facts. your library’s essential reference Feb 2016 53 About the author Mary Brett is a trustee of the Cannabis Skunk Sense charity (www.cannabisskunksense. co.uk) and author of Drugs: It’s just not worth it. She provides the secretariat for the All-party Parliamentary Group on Cannabis and Children and has been invited over the years to give evidence on prevention to various Home Affairs Select Committees on Drugs, particularly that on Breaking the cycle. She is a former biology teacher (30 years at a grammar school for boys), a member of the Prisons and Addictions working party at the Centre for Policy Studies and a former vice president of Eurad, Europe Against Drugs. She has been interviewed as a cannabis expert on national and local television, radio and press. ‘skunk’ averaged 16.2% up to 46%. 80% of the cannabis seized, mostly grown here in “factories” and “farms” was skunk. The rest was hash (resin), with about 4-6% THC. The Dutch are considering banning the sale of skunk with a THC content of 15% or more. They equate it with the UK’s class A drugs, cocaine and heroin. “Old-fashioned” herbal cannabis had about equal amounts of THC and an anti-psychotic substance CBD (cannabidiol). CBD used to counteract some of the psychotic effects of THC, but it is almost absent (0.1%) from skunk. Addiction, substance dependence. Most drugs that can be abused – heroin, cocaine, alcohol, nicotine and cannabis – increase the amount of dopamine, the “pleasure” neurotransmitter in the brain. It’s also increased by eating, listening to music, exercise etc. But two other substances are produced. One reduces the brain’s natural production of dopamine so more is needed to get the same effect; this creates tolerance to a drug. The other creates new connections and receptor sites, making the brain more open to the drug. These cravings persist for a long time and come back even years after a person has stopped. I tell children that they can increase the release of dopamine naturally with the brain in control, for example by jogging, rather than stuffing it with random amounts of chemicals which then take charge with unknown and sometimes tragic outcomes. Physical dependence happens when cannabis replaces anandamide. Production of anandamide drops; it’s not needed. If a person then stops taking cannabis, the receptor sites are empty. They have to be filled otherwise withdrawal sets in – irritability, sleeplessness, anxiety, depression, sometimes even violence. It takes time for the anandamide to resume production. Withdrawal from cannabis is not as dramatic as drugs like heroin since THC persists in cells for a long time. Of everyone who tries cannabis, 10% will become addicted. In teens this rises to 1 in 6. A record number of children are being treated for cannabis addiction. 13,581 youngsters under 18 were treated in 2013/4 – a 50% rise in 7 years including 200 aged 12 or under. Treatment averaged 150 days and involved counselling and support. Rehab specialists told us that cannabis addiction is the most challenging to treat. What does this mean for children’s health? Cannabis can cause psychosis. We have seen this from long-term studies from birth, and the fact that cannabis increases dopamine. The brains of people with schizophrenia and psychosis have excess dopamine. The first paper linking cannabis and psychosis was published in 1845. It’s simply a matter of how users they take at a time – too much and they can suffer a psychotic episode. Skunk users are almost 7 times more likely than hash users to suffer. This was work done by Professor Sir Robin Murray and his team at London’s Institute of Psychiatry in 2009. He was also involved in the work on CBD. Some people have a genetic vulnerability to schizophrenia. In general, cannabis users are at least 2-3 times more likely to develop this lifelong condition than non-users.


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