HC Deb 08 June 2004 vol 422 cc127-9
1. Mr. Bill Tynan (Hamilton, South) (Lab)

What research he has commissioned on possible links between the use of cannabis and mental health problems. [177285]

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Ms Rosie Winterton)

Since 2000, the Department of Health has commissioned five research projects focusing on cannabis use problems and the dual diagnosis of mental health problems and substance misuse. We also continue to monitor the worldwide research and to draw on the advice of a range of expert advisers to inform our policy.

Mr. Tynan

I congratulate my hon. Friend on the current research programmes, but she will recognise that other countries such as Sweden, the USA and Holland have established a link between mental health and cannabis use. Does she agree that our knowledge of the long-term effects of cannabis use is very poor, and will she therefore start a comprehensive research programme, funded by the Government, to ensure that we are not building up a crisis for the future?

Ms Winterton

I assure my hon. Friend that the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs keeps the evidence of harm from all controlled drugs under constant review. There is evidence that cannabis, like any other drug, can cause short-term paranoia and psychosis, but at present there is no clear evidence that schizophrenia, for example, is caused by using cannabis. However, the advisory council keeps that under review.

Ann Winterton (Congleton) (Con)

The United Kingdom's leading scientists know, because of the research undertaken here and elsewhere in the world, that the use of cannabis does in fact bring on psychotic effects and cause schizophrenia later in life. Will the Minister concede that the policy of declassifying cannabis, which has sent out mixed messages to the young, will exacerbate the problem, causing tremendous personal problems to young people and great cost to the individuals concerned, their families, the national health service and society at large?

Ms Winterton

I assure the hon. Lady that the effects of cannabis use are closely monitored and that the evidence is examined by the advisory council, which is independent. Reclassification took place only as a result of the advice received from that council, which continues to keep the matter under review.

John Mann (Bassetlaw) (Lab)

Australia and New Zealand adopt a policy similar to ours on the classification of cannabis, but the research from their national addiction centres says that skunk, in particular, creates psychosis. Why are we not copying those good Commonwealth friends, which adopt a similar policing policy, and learning lessons from their health messages?

Ms Winterton

We certainly look at all the evidence. There is an independent advisory council to do that and we are also investing in drug treatment areas. There has been an increase of 101 per cent. in the amount of money going into drug treatment facilities, which is now £260 million, and the work force has increased up to the target by 2008 of 9,000. As I have said, we keep the matter under review, but we want to ensure at the same time that we provide proper facilities for treating people who suffer from substance misuse.

Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham) Con)

If the Minister keeps all the evidence under constant watch, she must acknowledge the research that shows that up to 80 per cent. of all psychotic cases in inner cities in this country report a history of cannabis use, and that people's use of cannabis as teenagers can make them seven times more vulnerable to developing psychosis, delusional episodes or manic depression. There are also links with the exacerbation of schizophrenia, which already costs the NHS £1 billion. Why, therefore, when the Government decided to reclassify cannabis earlier this year and spent £1 million advertising the fact, was not a penny spent on highlighting the risks of the link between cannabis and mental illness, and why has the number of drug advisers in our schools been contracting?

Ms Winterton

It is certainly not true that we do not highlight the harmful effects of cannabis. The extremely successful "Frank" campaign has particularly targeted young people, pointing out to them the serious effects of cannabis.

There is evidence that cannabis, like any other drug, can lead to short-term paranoia and psychosis, but there is no clear evidence that schizophrenia, for example, is caused by cannabis use. The issue is kept under constant review and monitored by an independent advisory council.

John Robertson (Glasgow, Anniesland) (Lab)

Does my hon. Friend agree that, while the use of cannabis does not necessarily lead to the use of other drugs, it enhances their use because it provides access to them? Is it not time that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton, South (Mr. Tynan) said, we established a proper inquiry into the use of cannabis, the reactions to it and where such use leads?

Ms Winterton

I assure my hon. Friend that we monitor the effects of cannabis, like any other controlled drug, through the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, and we will not stop doing so. We look at the evidence and the research, and we receive independent advice from the council.

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