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Legally regulating cannabis market could help those at high risk, say experts

Posted on 7 February 2017

A legally regulated cannabis market would result in more effective strategies aimed at helping drug users to access the right support and guidance, say researchers at the University of York.


Practitioners report that cannabis users are presenting to the NHS in increasing numbers.

In a new report published by the drug policy think tank, Volteface, the team, which included researchers at the University of Bournemouth, demonstrated that there is a disparity in how cannabis is prioritised by drug and alcohol providers, wider community services, local authority commissioners, and public health bodies, which has impeded the quality of support and guidance available. 

Among people showing signs of cannabis dependence, only 14.6% have ever received treatment, help or support because of their drug use, and 5.5% have received this in the past six months.

Research showed that out of non-opiate clients accessing treatment, cannabis users were the most likely to have unchanged use at the six-month review, which equated to 42% of those who entered treatment. This means cocaine and amphetamine users are more likely than cannabis users to have reduced their consumption at the six-month mark. 

Policy dialogue

Dr Ian Hamilton, lecturer in mental health at the University’s Department of Health Sciences, said: “There are many issues connected to cannabis use, such as anxiety, paranoia, illegal activity and unemployment, but these issues are largely missing in policy dialogue on the regulations of the drug. 

“Practitioners report that cannabis users are presenting to the NHS in increasing numbers, but there is too much uncertainly around treatment regimes in an unregulated market in order to target the appropriate level of care that individuals require.  

“An urgent review is needed to ensure individuals receive the optimum not the minimum treatment response.” 

Holistic service

The report recommends a shift towards holistic service provision and promotion by drug and alcohol service providers and wider community services, to increase interaction and engagement with support.

It also suggests that a move towards a regulated market would establish a better dialogue with problematic cannabis users, offering opportunities for harm reduction advice to be delivered at point of purchase. 

Dr Hamilton continued: “Access to cannabis users is a real problem.  We need to understand the culture of cannabis use in order to improve interventions and we can only do this in a regulated market.  

“This kind of approach would result in more public guidance and controls that will lift the stigma of accessing support services.” 

Further information:

The report can be downloaded here: http://volteface.me/publications/black-sheep/ 

Contact details

Samantha Martin
Deputy Head of Media Relations

Tel: +44 (0)1904 322029

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