Tim Loughton: Drugs dealers are no respecters of national boundaries. It would be crazy if cheaper supplies of cocaine came south across the border from Scotland or vice versa, and absurd if one of the effects of devolution was to create drug soft spots in certain parts of the United Kingdom. I hope that that is not one of the after-effects of devolution. It is absolutely essential that we are tough on drugs, be it through this Bill in this House for England and Wales or through similar measures in other parts of the United Kingdom that the Bill does not cover.
We need much better joined-up working so that people who have committed low-level antisocial behaviour offences and have not been poisoned by drugs do not end up in custodial sentences shoulder to shoulder with hard-line drug users and pushers. We need to strike the right balance between coercing offenders into drug rehab treatment and ensuring that the right facilities are there for them early on in order to help them kick the drug habit.
I said that I did not want to speak for long, but I have taken several interventions. My second and final point, and my main worry, concerns the connections between drugsnot least cannabisand mental illness. My hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan) touched on that. The report that came out before Christmas was alarming. We know about the physical effects of drugs, including smoking cannabis. We know that cannabis burns at a much higher temperature than tobacco and that the smoke is drawn much deeper into the lungs, making them much more susceptible to cancer. We know that smoking three joints is the equivalent of smoking more than 20 cigarettes in terms of damage to the lungs. We know that there is evidence that when pregnant women smoke cannabis it brings about changes in the brains of their children that can manifest themselves much later on.
We know about the physical impacts, but the report that came out before Christmas underlined the potential mental health impacts. There have been about 15,000 scientific papers on the effects of cannabis, but what is different about the paper that came out before Christmas is that it directly links the effects of cannabis to mental health outcomes, particularly among young people. It shows:
"Half of regular smokers of cannabis who are psychologically vulnerable to its effects may end up needing treatment for psychosis . . . Up to 10 per cent. of the adult population, almost four million people, has a tendency to paranoid thoughts or grandiose ideas and may be tipped into psychotic delusions by the effects of the drug".
The four-year study of 2,500 people aged 14 to 24 found that, of those who smoked cannabis regularly and had a pre-existing risk of psychosis, no less than 50 per cent. developed psychotic symptoms. That is twice the rate of those who did not use cannabis and more than three times the rate of those who were neither vulnerable nor took the drug. Those figures are pretty alarming.
Cannabis produces strong psychological as well as physical dependence. It occupies the same receptor sites in the brain as heroin and morphine. In 1997, 200,000 people in the United States were admitted to hospital treatment programmes with cannabis dependence, with 65,000 of them admitted as emergencies. We have already heard that the effect of cannabis in modern times is much more powerful than
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it was in the 1960s. The average THC content was 0.5 per cent. then, against 5 per cent. nowadays. That depends on the brand, but as we know, skunk is much more powerful than the cannabis of the flower-power period of the 1960s.
Dr. Paddy Power, a psychiatrist at Lambeth hospital in south London, who has appeared as a witness before the pre-legislative scrutiny Committee on the draft Mental Health Bill, on which I serve, said that cannabis is a factor in 70 per cent. to 80 per cent. of psychosis casespeople whom he sees day in, day out.
Dr. Iddon: The hon. Gentleman cites the myth about the THC content of the cannabis on the street today being much higher. Does he accept that much of the cannabis on the streets in Britain today comes from Morocco? When he talks about high THC content, he means the stuff that is grown by people in Britain to sell separately on the street. However, the vast majority of the stuff comes from countries such as Morocco and is not skunk.
Tim Loughton: Absolutely. There are also other varieties. I do not claim that the majority of people use skunk. Many other varieties, which are much more powerful than the average, are readily available. Perhaps it is more worrying that many people do not know what they are smoking. They do not know whether they are smoking something much stronger and whether they can handle itsome people cannot. However, I believe that the hon. Gentleman would agree that the average strength of most of the cannabis that is freely available is much more potent than anything that was available in the 1960s. I do not say that: the scientists do, especially those behind the reports on the links with mental health.
In 1987, a study of 500,000 conscripts in the Swedish armyone of the biggest studiesrevealed that those who admitted at the age of 18 to taking cannabis on more than 50 occasions were six times more likely to develop schizophrenia in the ensuing years. A Dutch study in the American Journal of Epidemiology in 2002 found that those taking large amounts were seven times more likely to develop psychotic illness, and the well-known New Zealand study from Dunedin found that those who used cannabis when aged 15 were four and a half times more likely to develop psychosis by the age of 26.
According to those studies, in some young people, cannabis may interact with a pre-existing genetically or environmentally determined vulnerability of the nervous system to develop psychosis. Whatever view one takes of the science, even if one does not believe that cannabis and other drugs directly cause mental illness, it is incontrovertible that it can act as a trigger for latent conditions. That is why there is such an increase in those conditions. That costs a lot of money. According to a Professor Henry, an estimated £1 billion a year is spent on schizophrenia. That is 3 per cent. of the NHS budget. Increasing the use of cannabis could cost the health service an extra £330 million annually.
Reclassifying cannabis was a mistake: it sent all the wrong messages and caused great confusion, especially
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among young people. Marjorie Wallace, the chief executive of the mental health charity SANE, reiterated her opposition to reclassification. She said:
"We have 1,000 calls a week on our helpline, of which 36 per cent. are from psychotics. Among all those young men I have interviewed on the helpline, with only one or two exceptions, cannabis was involved."
These are people's experiences; these are the facts. We know that obesity and a lack of exercise are the precursors of heart attacks. Now, we are learning to identify the precursors of psychosis. Mental health professionals are warning of these dangers much more than ever before. Dr. Robin Murray has said that cannabis is the No. 1 problem facing the mental health services in inner cities.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Caroline Flint): Professor Robin Murray has now been mentioned twice in this debate. Is the hon. Gentleman aware that, despite Professor Murray's concerns about those who have a propensity to mental illness using drugs of any kind, including cannabis, he was not against the reclassification of cannabis to class C
Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): Order. I should like to bring the debate to order, and to remind the hon. Gentleman that, although this is a Second Reading debate, it would be helpful if he could now make some reference to the contents of the Bill.
Tim Loughton: Of course, Madam Deputy Speaker. My main reference point is the fact that the Government have not seen the error of their ways and taken the opportunity to change the classification of cannabis in the Bill.
A particular problem exists in relation to dual diagnosis. People with mental health problems who also have problems with addiction, particularly to hard or soft drugs, are being let down. Theirs are the worst cases of all. All too often, they might be able to access treatment for their mental health problemor occasionally for their drug addictionbut then have to wait another six to nine months or more to get the other part of the equation dealt with, by which time they have slipped back down the slippery slope. We must ensure that all the appropriate treatment for people with a dual diagnosis is available as a package. It is ridiculous to get someone off a drug problem that has led to a mental health problem without treating the mental health problem. It could lead them to revert to drugs if they have to wait another nine months for the other part of the package. We need much better joined-up thinking when dealing with patients with a dual diagnosis involving drugs and mental health.
I support tougher measures against those who profit from the drugs trade. I also support measures to make it as easy as possible for the police to act against the real
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criminals. The Bill will fail, however, unless it forms part of a package that includes better rehabilitation and joined-up services, and better education to teach young people to stay away from drugs in the first place. We need to concentrate on the links between drugs and mental illness.
We also need to give to drugs, and their link with mental health problems, the same priority that we give to the message that drink-driving kills innocent people, to the message that excessive drinking can rot the liver and lead to violence and premature death, and to the message that smoking can cause heart disease and lung cancer, and can kill us prematurely. All these thingshard drugs, alcohol and tobaccoare poisons that are bad for us when used in excess. The Bill on its own will not achieve these aims, and the Government need to do much more about prevention, education and rehabilitation. If they can do that, the Bill will form an important partbut only a partof the jigsaw involved in dealing with the real drugs menace that is overtaking too many inner cities and other parts of the country.