Although cannabis is primarily used by young men, a study from the University of York has shown that addiction to cannabis is rising among people above the age of 40, and women in particular. Over the past decade, the number of women seeking help at treatment centres for the drug has more than doubled from 471 to 1008. The researchers blame the rise in addiction on an increase in the potency of the drug and are calling for better and more available therapy.
“We are seeing a steady and significant rise in addiction problems amongst people over 40, particularly women”, said report author Ian Hamilton, a lecturer in addiction at York University. “Cannabis is cheap and widely available. And many women consider it to be benign. For many people it will be, but there are a significant number who go on to develop problems.”
The rationale for the increase in older users is that they may have been used to cannabis at a lower strength. Now, the market is flooded with more potent versions. In some cases, drug tests show cannabis resin to be nearly three times stronger than drugs on the street in 2005, said Mr Hamilton. Higher potency cannabis, which is often combined with tobacco, could increase the likelihood of people developing health problems.
The myth is that cannabis is not addictive, said Mr Hamilton. Not everyone will experience problems, but some will become hooked.
“It’s a bit like wine – some people can enjoy a glass, others become alcoholics. Yet as the strength of the product has increased, it’s as if people are moving immediately to the strength-equivalent of a vodka.”
According to Home Office statistics, cannabis is the UK’s most popular illegal recreational drug. In 2016–17, 6.6% of adults aged 16–59 used the drug (around 2.2 million people). However, the Crime Survey for England and Wales shows fewer people are now using it. The number of people who use it at least once a month has fallen from 2 million to 1.4 million over the last 10 years.
The UK government is currently reviewing its policy on medicinal cannabis, but Home Secretary Sajid Javid has said that the drug would remain banned for recreational use.