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Effective treatments for cannabis use hampered by “benign” image – conference told

Posted on 8 June 2016

Some cannabis users have developed an “inverted expertise” on the drug – often equipped with more up-to-date knowledge than the people trying to help them, a conference held at the University of York was told.

A group of national experts gathered at the University’s King’s Manor to exchange ideas on effective treatment for cannabis users.

There has been a dramatic increase in the number of people seeking treatment for problems related to cannabis use over the last decade. Research has revealed there was a 64% increase in the number of people seeking treatment between 2005 through to 2015 in England. Cannabis has also now overtaken heroin as the drug most likely to prompt calls for help.

The increase in requests for treatment is in contrast with the steady decline in the population's use of cannabis, delegates were told.

Researchers at the University of York - including Ian Hamilton, Lecturer in Mental Health and Charlie Lloyd, Senior Lecturer in Health Sciences - and the University of Leeds are investigating why so many cannabis users are seeking treatment and how services are responding.

Initial findings suggest that individuals seek help with problems which are not usually associated with cannabis, such as irritability and poor impulse control.

Also, that treatment services are not sufficiently prepared to offer effective interventions, as cannabis is still seen as a benign drug.

Dr Mark Monaghan, a lecturer in Criminology and Social Policy at Loughborough University, told the delegates: “There is this ‘inverted expertise’ around cannabis in which the users have all the up-to-date knowledge of the local markets and the service providers are lagging behind.

“This can have a significant knock-on effect for the kind of services they are providing. Cannabis users are quite knowledgeable in what is going on in terms of the market.

“The providers are slightly lagging behind in terms of their knowledge base. Because they are lagging behind they don’t have intelligence on what the consumers are using; it creates this situation where they don’t really know what to do.”

He added: “We need to know what people are using and we need to offer them evidence-based treatments.

“Treatment across the sector is really variable. We do need more research on the changing nature of the cannabis market. We need to explore the reason why more people are presenting to treatment centres.”

Ian Hamilton, Department of Health Sciences' Lecturer in Mental Health, who organised the event, said: "This is the first research that has looked at both the demand for cannabis treatment and the reasons why there's been a significant rise in it. The outcome of the conference today was agreement amongst commissioners, providers and researchers that there is a problem we need to explore, around why people are presenting to treatment services, and how we can offer effective interventions once they are in treatment."