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Surge in 'pothead' over-60s trying to kick cannabis habit

Surge in ‘pothead’ over-60s trying to kick the habit as number receiving NHS treatment for cannabis addiction more than doubles in eight years

  • 1,007 in over 60 age group had NHS treatment for cannabis addiction in 2020
  • The number has more than doubled in eight years when the number was 450
  • Experts fear many may have dabbled in 1960s but now hooked on stronger drug

The number of over-60s ‘potheads’ receiving NHS treatment for cannabis addiction has more than doubled in eight years, figures show.

A record 1,007 people in this age group sought help to kick their habit in 2020 – up from 450 in 2013.

Experts warn that many dabbled with weed in the ‘Swinging Sixties’ but became hooked on stronger skunk sold by dealers today.

This contains higher levels of the active ingredient tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). It gives users a better high but is more likely to lead to schizophrenia, anxiety, insomnia and depression when used regularly.

Of those receiving help in 2020, 318 started treatment that year, the Public Health England data shows. 

A record 1,007 people in this age group sought help to kick their habit in 2020 – up from 450 in 2013.

This compares with 80 patients in the same age group seeking help for addiction to cocaine and 33 for amphetamines. 

Separate NHS figures reveal the number of over-60s admitted to hospital because of mental health problems linked to cannabis has almost trebled in five years – soaring from 652 in 2016 to 1,748 in 2020. Six people aged over 90 were among the latest to suffer.

Mary Brett, from drug prevention charity Cannabis Skunk Sense, said: ‘Unfortunately the true harms of cannabis have never been made fully public. 

‘The strength of cannabis, in the levels of THC, has increased gradually over the years from around 2 to 3 per cent in the Sixties and Seventies to about 16 per cent today and more and more damage has been and is being caused.’ 

Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards spoke in 2015 about being unable to kick his cannabis habit. The 77-year-old admitted: ‘I smoke regularly, an early morning joint. Strictly Californian.’

Richards had previously quit heroin in 1978 after his fifth arrest and stopped taking cocaine in 2006 after falling from a tree in Fiji leaving him needing brain surgery. 

Nuno Albuquerque, from leading cannabis treatment provider UKAT, said: ‘What this data shows is that there are more people over the age of 60 coming forward and asking for help, but what it doesn’t show is just how many more “senior” cannabis users we’re still concerned for out there.

Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards (pictured) spoke in 2015 about being unable to kick his cannabis habit

‘The majority of people we treat in their 60s tend to also suffer with significant mental health problems because psychoactive compounds in the drug can heighten dopamine levels in the brain. 

‘Those who are susceptible to anxiety, paranoia and even psychosis could experience worsened symptoms as a result of using cannabis.’

It follows London mayor Sadiq Khan’s announcement he plans to carry out a review looking into the decriminalisation of the class-B drug if he is re-elected on May 6. 

But Boris Johnson’s spokesman said: ‘Illicit drugs destroy lives and he has absolutely no intention of legalising cannabis.’

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