Mental health toll of cannabis soars after Scots went soft on the drug six years ago, data suggests 

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Mental health toll of cannabis soared after Scots went soft on the drug six years ago, data suggests

  • Last year, a record 1,263 new patients in Scotland sought psychiatric treatment
  • Figure relates to those patients treated for disorders medics linked to cannabis
  • Research has previously shown strong link between cannabis and mental illness


Admissions to psychiatric hospitals among cannabis users have soared 74 per cent since the drug was effectively decriminalised in Scotland six years ago, figures show.

They rocketed from 1,191 in 2015/16 to 2,067 last year.

It comes after Scottish police changed guidance in January 2016 so those found possessing cannabis could be issued with a warning rather than face prosecution. 

The number of prosecutions halved over the period.

Last year, a record 1,263 new patients in Scotland sought hospital treatment for psychiatric disorders blamed on cannabis, including schizophrenia.

The NHS figures will add pressure on the UK Government to resist calls to decriminalise cannabis.

According to NHS figures, admissions to psychiatric hospitals among cannabis users have soared 74 per cent since the drug was effectively decriminalised in Scotland six years ago

According to NHS figures, admissions to psychiatric hospitals among cannabis users have soared 74 per cent since the drug was effectively decriminalised in Scotland six years ago

A previous Public Health Scotland report stated psychiatric admissions for cannabis users doubled between 2014 and 2020.

It said: ‘There has been a notable increase in the percentage of… stays attributed to [cannabis]… increasing from 9 per cent in 2014/15 to 18 per cent in 2019/20.’

Research has previously shown a strong link between cannabis and mental illness.

One US study found that cannabis-linked psychosis admissions are 2.5 times higher in areas where the drug has been legalised.

Harvard Medical School studied 246 new psychosis patients aged 16 to 35 and found 78 per cent had used cannabis.

Professor Jonathan Chick, of Castle Craig Hospital, a private rehabilitation centre in Peeblesshire, said: ‘The eye has been taken off the ball with cannabis.

Last year, a record 1,263 new patients in Scotland sought hospital treatment for psychiatric disorders blamed on cannabis, including schizophrenia which has been linked to cannabis use

Last year, a record 1,263 new patients in Scotland sought hospital treatment for psychiatric disorders blamed on cannabis, including schizophrenia which has been linked to cannabis use

‘We do need to worry about the numbers of young people presenting with psychosis and schizophrenia because of it.

‘We’re dealing with both dependence and psychosis. Often, where there has been a second or third psychotic breakdown, there has been hospital or police involvement because of incidents of self-harm or harm to others.

‘These patients have terrifying thoughts. It is a paranoid psychosis where they can’t even go into the street without misinterpreting thoroughly innocuous cues as malevolent. It is a horrible experience.’

He added: ‘In some cases, people have used cannabis for 20 years and got by up till that point – but typically psychosis will occur within the first three to four years. 

‘Sometimes the damage is permanent, in which case the treatment for schizophrenia involves living and working in safer environments and medication.’

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