Weed might as well be legal. As far as banned narcotics go, in many countries it's as close to socially acceptable as you're going to get. So it's no surprise that the psychological addiction to cannabis – which, angry commenters, is 100 percent a thing, as demonstrated in multiple studies and medical journals – isn't exactly taken seriously.
Now, health experts have warned that the NHS is unprepared and ill-equipped to provide help for the number of weed smokers who want help for problems resulting from their cannabis use. Researchers at a conference at the University of York highlighted the discovery of "concerning, expected" new symptoms felt by intensive users of cannabis and synthetic alternatives like Spice, such as agitation and impulse control problems.
One study looked at by the researchers showed that while use of cannabis has fallen, the amount of heavy users is still significant, with 73 percent of all cannabis consumed by 9 percent of users.
"We're effectively seeing a surge of people presenting for treatment, but centres are not sure what to do with them," explained Ian Hamilton, a lecturer in mental health in the Department of Health Sciences at York University. "It's like going in for heart surgery but finding the doctors don't have the necessary equipment to do it."
It's not that patients aren't seeking out the appropriate help, either. The researchers pointed out that an increasing number of people seeking help for drug use are citing cannabis as their primary problem, but that the drug is not taken seriously by many healthcare professionals. "It was people using cannabis who had the knowledge and expertise of the drug and its effects, rather that the treatment staff," concluded Hamilton.
The numbers asking for help make up an overwhelming majority of those seeking help for any kind of drug use – especially among young people. Of those seeking treatment for drug use in 2014, 43 percent of the 18-24 age group named cannabis as their primary issue, compared to just 16 percent for opiates including heroin.
The researchers seemed to have lumped together synthetic cannabis with bog-standard weed, which is a little misleading, as the synthetic stuff – which was banned under the Psychoactive Substances Act – works on different neuro-receptors, has a different effect on users and has been shown to be physically addictive, with withdrawal symptoms similar to those experienced by heroin users going cold turkey. It might be called synthetic "cannabis", but that's where the similarities end.
Still, their research found, the use of synthetic cannabis is more likely to lead to emergency medical treatment than any other drug, with one in eight weekly users seeking emergency medical treatment.
In a statement, Rosanna O'Connor, Director of Alcohol, Drugs and Tobacco at Public Health England, said: "It is clear that while substance misuse treatment is working well for many, there is a need for increasingly specialist approaches to support a range of complex needs, especially among the more vulnerable in our communities. It's vital that local authorities continue to invest so those in need of help are supported on the road to recovery, giving them the best possible chance of living a better, healthier life. "
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