Home Office U-turn on cannabis as link to mental illness deepens


Last updated at 01:45 27 March 2008

Youngsters are to be given a stronger warning on the dangers of cannabis following a U-turn in the Home Office.

It is to scrap guidance that cannabis should be avoided by those who already suffer mental health problems.

Instead, young people will be warned that "anyone who uses cannabis could be doing so at a risk to their mental health".

The climbdown over the content of the Government's controversial drugs advice website FRANK was disclosed by Home Office Minister Vernon Coaker.

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Only last month Mr Coaker told MPs that he "did not accept" that the guidance could lead young people into believing cannabis is safe if they have no existing mental health problems.

The U-turn comes in advance of a key report next month on whether cannabis should be reclassified as a Class B illegal drug.

The Home Office's Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs will tell the Government whether its experts believe the downgrading of cannabis in January 2004 should be reversed.

Since then those caught with the drug have been unlikely to be arrested.

Senior medical experts have given evidence to the ACMD that the official attitude to the dangers of cannabis has been "complacent".

Professor Louis Appleby, national director for mental health, told the ACMD in February that "the evidence is pointing towards cannabis as a cause of severe mental illness".

Mr Coaker's revision of Government advice was disclosed to Tory MP Graham Brady, who is chairman of the All-Party Group on Cannabis and Children.

The Frank website currently advises youngsters of "increasing evidence of a link between cannabis and mental health problems such as schizophrenia.

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"If you've a history of mental health problems, depression, or are experiencing paranoia, then taking this drug is not a good idea," it adds.

Mr Coaker has now written to Mr Brady: "I have looked into the advice being provided by FRANK and want to reassure you that our warnings about cannabis are not confined to saying there is only a risk if you have a predisposition to a mental health problem.

"After reviewing the advice on the website, I have asked the Department of Health (which manages the FRANK website) to review the current advice given on the site with a view of making it clear that anyone who uses cannabis could be doing so at a risk to their mental health."

Last night Mr Brady said: "I am delighted and I hope this shows a new readiness to listen.

"There is mounting evidence about the link between cannabis and mental health problems and we need to make sure that everyone knows about it.

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"It is particularly important we keep up the pressure on the Government in advance of the decision over the reclassification of cannabis which is due within the next few weeks."

Shadow Home Secretary David Davis said: "This is another example of the chaos and confusion that embodies this Government's policy on drugs.

"First their decision to reclassify cannabis sends out the message the drug is OK then their own guidance does the same. Yet another mixed message.

"No wonder the number of under-18s receiving treatment for cannabis has increased 16 per cent since last year."

The FRANK website has been heavily criticised since it was launched five years ago saying that some regarded drugs as an "essential" part of party celebrations and advising cocaine users to show "moderation".

Mary Brett of Europe Against Drugs said: "FRANK is misleading, libertarian and far too soft.

"The evidence about cannabis has been around for years. If the Government is beginning to take notice, that is very good news."

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