Cannabis is just as harmful as cocaine should be classified as a Class A drug, police chiefs say

Cannabis is just as harmful as cocaine should be classified as a Class A drug, police chiefs say 2
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Cannabis is just as harmful as cocaine and crack and should be classified as a Class A drug, police chiefs have warned. 

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A group of Tory police and crime commissioners (PCCs) will demand that the drug be put on a par with crack and cocaine.

If adopted, the change would see the maximum penalties for possession increase from five to seven years, and the maximum penalty for supplying cannabis would increase from 14 years in prison to a life jail sentence.

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David Sidwick, the Conservative Police and Crime Commissioner for Dorset, said there was growing evidence linking psychosis and mental ill health, cancer and birth defects to cannabis use.

Calling it a ‘gateway’ drug used by county lines gangs to lure in users, he warned: ‘No child ever went to a drug dealer for heroin for their first deal – they would all have started with a bit of weed.’

The proposal is also being backed by Alison Hernandez, PCC for Devon and Cornwall, and Avon and Somerset’s police and crime commissioner Mark Shelford. They will present their plans at the Conservative Party Conference alongside academics. 

Police and Crime Commissioner for Dorset David Sidwick

Police and Crime Commissioner for Dorset, David Sidwick

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A group of Tory police and crime commissioners (PCCs) will demand that the drug be put on a par with crack and cocaine (stock photo)

A group of Tory police and crime commissioners (PCCs) will demand that the drug be put on a par with crack and cocaine (stock photo) 

Cannabis is most widely used illegal drug in the UK – but it can cause a myriad of health problems

Cannabis (also known as marijuana, weed, pot, dope or grass) is the most widely used illegal drug in the UK.

The effects of cannabis can vary a lot from person to person. It can also vary depending on how much or how often it’s taken and what it contains.

Some examples include: Feeling chilled out, relaxed and happy; laughing more or become more talkative; feeling hunger pangs (‘the munchies’; feeling drowsy, tired or lethargic; feeling faint or sick; having problems with memory or concentrating; experiencing mild hallucinations; feeling confused, anxious or paranoid. 

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Cannabis and mental health

Regular cannabis use increases the risk of developing a psychotic illness, such as schizophrenia.

A psychotic illness is one where you have hallucinations (seeing things that are not really there) and delusions (believing things that are not really true).

The risk of developing a psychotic illness is higher in people who: start using cannabis at a young age; smoke stronger types, such as skunk; smoke it regularly; use it for a long time; smoke cannabis and also have other risk factors for schizophrenia, such as a family history of the illness

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Cannabis also increases the risk of a relapse in people who already have schizophrenia, and it can make psychotic symptoms worse. 

Other risks of regularly using cannabis can include: feeling wheezy or out of breath; developing an uncomfortable or painful cough; making symptoms of asthma worse in people with asthma; reduced ability to drive or operate machinery safely

If you drive while under the influence of cannabis, you’re more likely to be involved in an accident. This is one reason why drug driving, like drink driving, is illegal.

Source: NHS

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The Home Office said there were no plans to upgrade cannabis to a Class A drug but illicit substances were kept under constant review. 

Mr Sidwick told The Telegraph: ‘People who call this drug recreational haven’t seen the harm that psychosis and other cannabis-related conditions can do, and the costs that heap on our health service and society more generally.

‘We aren’t just talking about ‘a bit of weed’ anymore, this does the same harm as crack and heroin. 

‘That’s why we need the penalties for this illegal gateway drug to match those of class A substances.’

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Cannabis is currently classed as a class B drug, with a maximum sentence of five years in prison for possession.

Though advocates say it can make people feel happier, sceptics warn that regular cannabis use increases the risk of developing a psychotic illness. Results from European neighbours offer an insight into the potential pitfalls of the policy – with Portugal seeing a huge surge in cannabis-induced psychosis after it decriminalised the drug in 2001. 

In January, King’s College London professor Sir Robin Murray said around a third of the psychosis patents he sees at his practice in south London are mostly young people suffering from debilitating paranoia and hallucinations caused by use of high-strength skunk. 

Sir Robin suggested the high number of cases in his practice are now impacting the facility’s ability to care for patients.

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He told The Times newspaper: ‘I think we’re now 100 per cent sure that cannabis is one of the causes of a schizophrenia-like psychosis.

‘If we could abolish the consumption of skunk we would have 30 per cent less patients [in south London] and we might make a better job of looking after the patients we have.’

Sir Robin works at the first NHS clinic in England to specifically treat cannabis smokers suffering from psychosis.

Running from Maudsley Hospital in Camberwell, south London, patients are typically seen for a minimum of 15 weeks, with treatment including one-on-one sessions with specialist therapists.

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The aim of the clinic is to first help cannabis users wean themselves off the drug before helping them to manage without it – helped by weekly group therapy sessions with fellow patients and experts.

Sir Robin has praised the clinic, reporting it to be a success, even when services moved online due to the Covid pandemic.

Regular cannabis use increases the risk of developing a psychotic illness, such as schizophrenia.

A psychotic illness is one where you have hallucinations (seeing things that are not really there) and delusions (believing things that are not really true).

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Cannabis is just as harmful as cocaine and crack and should be classified as a Class A drug, police chiefs have warned (stock image)

Cannabis is just as harmful as cocaine and crack and should be classified as a Class A drug, police chiefs have warned (stock image) 

The risk of developing a psychotic illness is higher in people who: start using cannabis at a young age; smoke stronger types, such as skunk; smoke it regularly; use it for a long time; smoke cannabis and also have other risk factors for schizophrenia, such as a family history of the illness

Cannabis also increases the risk of a relapse in people who already have schizophrenia, and it can make psychotic symptoms worse. 

Other risks of regularly using cannabis can include: feeling wheezy or out of breath; developing an uncomfortable or painful cough; making symptoms of asthma worse in people with asthma; reduced ability to drive or operate machinery safely

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If you drive while under the influence of cannabis, you’re more likely to be involved in an accident. This is one reason why drug driving, like drink driving, is illegal.

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