THE STEREOTYPICAL image of the cannabis being the drug of choice for young men has been debunked by researchers at the University of York, who found the numbers of those over the 40 and women seeking help for drug-related health issues has doubled.
They found a sharp increase in cannabis users over the age of 40 and a 95 per cent increase in women, across all age groups, presenting to specialist drug treatment centres, compared to a 72 per cent increase in men over the past ten years.
Researchers said a combination of tobacco use with high potency cannabis could have contributed to the rise in the number of users overs 40 developing health issues, such as respiratory and cardiovascular disease, but it is currently unknown what factors are contributing to the increase in women presenting with cannabis-related health problems.
Ian Hamilton, from the University of York’s Department of Health Sciences, said research showed that the UK street market for cannabis is increasingly dominated by very high potency varieties of drug - sometimes nearly three times stronger than drugs on the street in 2005. Long-term cannabis users, who are aged 40 or older, and used to lower potency cannabis, are being forced to turn to higher potency cannabis which could increase the likelihood of them developing health problems.
He said: “Add to this the fact that drug-users over the age of 40 may have dependent family members and other significant financial responsibilities, we can see that there might be more urgency for this age-group to seek medical help compared to some younger cannabis users.”
Mr Hamilton told the Yorkshire Post that in the past, drug treatment staff may have held the view that cannabis was relatively “harmless” when compared to opiate or alcohol addiction, and that now it is being taken more seriously, and that combined with women realising that cannabis may be the cause of their health concerns, could have contributed to the increase.
He added: “What we don’t know from this research, however, is why the women are turning to cannabis. If they have responsibilities for looking after children, for example, or caring, there may be more pressure on them.”
Manager of the early intervention and prevention manager at treatment service Forward Leeds, Bill Owens said: “In recent years there has been a lot more evidence of the problems cannabis can cause. There is no such thing as a stereotypical cannabis user any more. People can function very well with cannabis dependency. They can hold up jobs, have families and have normal social lives. It’s only when it has reached a point where it is having a negative effect on their lives that they seek support.”
The data, which was collected between 2005/6 and 2015/16, suggests that there needs to be a new approach to treating older people and women.
Researchers also argue that treatment services need to adapt new ways of supporting women in seeking help for treatment, such as recognising and offering means of overcoming the challenges of childcare.
Mr Hamilton said: “There is currently no substitute drug for cannabis, and so treatment relies on talking therapies - that have been tested on men. We need to develop new treatments, that take into account the distinct roles of women as mothers with childcare responsibilty.”