[Press Release] Street Lottery: Cannabis Potency & Mental Health

by Alastair Moore


A new study published today by drug policy think tank Volteface reveals how a complete failure of government policy relating to cannabis is putting the mental health of young people at risk. This can be seen through the rise of high potency ‘street cannabis’, a dramatic increase in mental health conditions linked to cannabis use and near ubiquitous teenage access to the illicit black market. At the same time, arrests and prosecutions for possession and production of cannabis have plummeted. Leaving cannabis policy out of control and wholly in the hands of criminals is no longer an option.

A groundbreaking new report, Street Lottery, has uncovered the complete dominance of potent cannabis on Britain’s streets and a soaring rise in hospital admissions for cannabis-related mental health conditions, at a time when police prosecutions for cannabis offences are at a all time low.


The report finds that:

  • Almost all of the cannabis being sold on the UK’s streets today – ‘street cannabis’ – is high in THC and very low in CBD. THC is the chemical in cannabis that gets users ‘high’, but which also correlates with dependency and problematic side-effects such as paranoia and psychosis when consumed in high amounts. CBD is the protective chemical in cannabis that mitigates against THC’s negative effects.
  • Admissions to hospital have more than doubled for mental health conditions linked to cannabis use in the past decade.
  • Arrests for cannabis possession by police have halved in the past 10 years.
  • Young people report being able to access cannabis more easily than alcohol and cigarettes, with frontline services indicating that this group are experiencing a range of mental health problems linked to their use of street cannabis.
  • The UK must consider following Canada and legislating for a legal, regulated market for cannabis.

The current status quo around cannabis – strict illegality, but patchy enforcement – has allowed a completely unregulated illicit street market to flourish, with incentives for dealers to produce more potent, addictive versions of the drug that are likely to create new mental health conditions and exasperate existing ones. How can this be allowed to continue?

Volteface’s study reveals how teenagers find it much easier to access high potency cannabis than cigarettes or alcohol, with some even being approached by dealers on their way to school.

Less than 10% of people reporting problematic use of cannabis receive treatment. Students in the final years of compulsory education receive less than one hour per year of drugs education and almost no public health information relating to cannabis exists.

It is now overwhelmingly in the public interest for the Government to create a tightly regulated, legal cannabis market.

The UK should look to the lessons that can be learnt from Canada, where a legalised market is due to come in next July – to protect children, reduce criminality and deal with a growing mental health crisis.

The Government must act if the public is to be reassured that our young people are not needlessly being put at risk of developing mental health problems because of its failures to confront the shortcomings of our cannabis laws. It can no longer turn a blind eye to the frank and open-minded discussion that must be had about cannabis use in this country.


Steve Moore, Director of Volteface, said:

“We need an honest and open dialogue about the harms of street cannabis and how the Government’s approach to tackling this issue is making the situation worse. We cannot turn our back on this or fudge the issue any longer. We need to give a clear public health message and educate society that high potency cannabis use for many people is deeply problematic. Regulation provides answers across the board and is the only sensible way of addressing the issue.”


Professor Robin Murray, Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College London, said:

“I have no doubt that people presenting for cannabis-induced psychosis are the ‘tip of the iceberg’ of people adversely affected by heavy cannabis use. In our study in Dunedin (Arseneault et al 2002), cannabis use increased not only psychotic disorder but also minor subclinical psychotic symptoms such as paranoia among people in the community.”

— ENDS —

For more information about the report, contact Steve Moore, Volteface Director, on 07870515025

Volteface is a drug policy think tank exploring alternatives to current public policies relating to drugs. For more information visit: www.volteface.me

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