WHATS NEW? - February 2016

New Psychoactive Substances Bill becomes law on 6th April

Cannabis dependency is affecting tens of thousands of people and nobody is really sure what to do about them, expert says

Middle-aged mothers are Britain's worst 'hidden drinkers', experts warn

Web sales 'fuel stress drug addiction'

New film exposed the risks of 'Chemsex' scene

700% rise in NPS ('legal highs') 999 calls to Welsh Ambulance Service

New alcohol advice issued

New spit test for 'date rape' drug developed in the UK

New psychoactive substances (NPS) in prisons: A toolkit for prison staff (PDF)

Steep fall in cannabis offences points to silent relaxation of drugs policy

E-cigarette may become available on NHS

'SMART'drugs: are Modafinil, Noopept and Nootropics giving student users an unfair advantage?

Around 40% of local authorities cutting budgets for smoking cessation services

Drunk or drugged drivers to face stiffer sentences

Alcohol and depression factsheet

Building trades dominate for drink- and drug-driving

Drug Use in Universities: study of Bristol University students reveals some key issues

Smoking high-strength cannabis may damage nerve fibres in brain



New Psychoactive Substances Bill becomes law on 6th April

The Governments Bill that will make it an offence to produce, supply or offer to supply any psychoactive substance with the exemption of nicotine, alcohol, caffeine and medicinal products looks due to be passed through the legislative process by April this year.

The main intention of the Bill is to shut down shops and websites that currently trade in 'legal highs'. Put simply any substance that can get you high regardless of its potential for harm will become illegal to produce or supply.

Michael Linnell from Drugwatch has produced a handy summary document which you can download by clicking:

www.michaellinnell.org.uk/resources/downloads/Psycho_sub_bill_1.0.pdf

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Cannabis dependency is affecting tens of thousands of people and nobody is really sure what to do about them, expert says

Tens of thousands may have problems with cannabis and are unable or unwilling to get help, according to one expert.

The number of people presenting themselves for treatment with cannabis problems is a huge proportion of the number of people with drug problems and is getting bigger, according to research by Ian Hamilton from the University of York. And those people may represent only a small fraction of the total number of people with problems.

As many as nine out of ten people with problems are not presenting themselves for treatment because they are afraid or otherwise unwilling to seek treatment, or that treatment does not exist. Of those people that do seek treatment, it is unlikely that they will be spotted and no real evidence-based treatment yet exists.

Spotting the presenting problems at all can be difficult, Ian said. Identifying the relatively well-known cannabis psychosis is more easy and those people can then be diverted into relevant services. "But people are reporting with dependency — an inability to control their cannabis use, and also anger management problems, such as irritability and an inability to manage their feelings. "Interestingly these people weren't your classic heroin users — these people were usually in employment, juggling their problems along with work. And they were basically just were looking for some support and some ideas."

Many drug treatment workers see cannabis problems as less significant than those caused by harder drugs. But they can cause huge problems for those experiencing them, with huge legal and financial consequences.

"You've got a culture within drug services of seeing harder drugs like heroin and crack cocaine as very problematic, and cannabis being seen as a lesser problem.The cannabis users themselves may not think that it's something that warrants treatment, or that treatment has something to offer. Because drug treatment workers have little training in cannabis dependency and related problems, they might miss the opportunity to diagnose people undergoing them.

Ian Hamiliton added "You have this paradoxical situation where you've got cannabis clients who are the experts and treatment workers who are the novices. We coined the term 'cannabis connoisseur': someone who's very aware of the different types of cannabis and the effects it can have, versus treatment staff who are pretty naïve about cannabis and tend to think in terms of resin or 'skunk".

Note: drugstraining.com runs a very highly evaluated training course around cannabis and helping those with cannabis addiction called "Stoned Again?". For course details please click HERE.

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Middle-aged mothers are Britain's worst 'hidden drinkers', experts warn

Middle-aged mothers whose children have left home are becoming the "fastest-growing group of hazardous drinkers", experts have warned. Two-fifths admit drinking as much or more than their grown-up children, according to a poll, while a quarter say they have increased their alcohol intake since their children flew the nest.

While young people are drinking less, preferring to binge on weekends than drink every day, their mothers are more likely to consume alcohol on a daily basis at home. They do not tend to get drunk but, because they drink every day, their weekly intake can far surpass the recommended amount.

Dr Sarah Jarvis, a GP and medical adviser to charity Drinkaware, said that is has become more socially acceptable to drink at home, meaning people drink more than they would if they were out at a bar or pub.

"Whilst many believe it is the 20-somethings who are drinking too much, we are actually seeing an epidemic amongst British women aged 45 to 64. Women in this age group seem to be drinking more alcohol, more regularly - whether at home alone or out socialising. Many are unaware that a couple of glasses of wine each day can cause as much, if not more, damage than the binge drinking associated with many university students."

A YouGov survey of 500 mothers over 45 whose children had left home found that 28 per cent admitted they drank more than their children, while 14 per cent said they drank about as much.

A quarter said they had been drinking more since their children left home. The research was funded by drugs firm Lundbeck, which makes medication that reduces the desire for alcohol.

The findings suggest that the vast majority of middle-aged women do not realise the health implications of their alcohol consumption. Some 95 per cent of those surveyed said they were not concerned about their level of drinking and did not believe it was impairing their health

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Web sales 'fuel stress drug addiction'

Deaths linked to a commonly prescribed class of drug, used to treat anxiety and insomnia, reached record levels in England and Wales last year. There were 372 fatalities involving benzodiazepines, up 8% on the previous year, and the highest level since records began in 1993, according to the Office for National Statistics.

There were more than 10 million prescriptions for benzodiazepines dispensed in England in 2014, but there are growing concerns about the illegal supply of the drugs. Research for the BBC's 5 live Investigates programme found websites openly offering a range of branded pills without a prescription or oversight from a qualified doctor.

The Home Office said the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs has been commissioned to look into the issues surrounding the illicit supply of the medicines. And in a statement, the Home Office added that there had been a "long-term downward trend in drug use over the last decade".

Keith Houghton's son Jason, 24, died in 2014 after he started taking benzodiazepines to help him sleep while working irregular shift patterns as a paramedic. "He told us that he'd started working nights, which involved four night shifts in a row and then four days," says Keith.

"He was having difficulty getting back to sleep, he was that wired up."Jason was able to source the drug himself online and quickly became addicted. "It was clear from the get-go that he was buying them from online retailers which were based abroad," says Keith.

"There were some in Romania. There was one in Germany, another in Pakistan and he was basically ordering them from his home bedroom and getting them delivered by Royal Mail.

Manchester West coroner Alan Walsh recorded a verdict of death by misadventure because of the combined effects of diazepam and other medicines in Jason's system.

He called on Home Secretary Theresa May to take "urgent action" into the supply of benzodiazepines and other drugs online to prevent further deaths.

The coroner also highlighted concerns over one particular online retailer which had supplied several drugs to Jason in padded envelopes through the post.

Research by The British Journal of Psychiatry in 2015 questioned 1,500 members of the general public about their use of benzodiazepines and so called "Z drugs" used to treat insomnia. A total of 30% had misused one or more of these medications and 27% of these reported obtaining the drugs via the internet, while a further 11% bought them from abroad.

According to figures from the Health and Social Care Information Centre, in 2014/15 nearly 18,000 people received hospital treatment for drug poisoning linked to benzodiazepines in England, while 584 children under the age of 18 were also treated.

Lady Rhona Bradley, chief executive of the substance addiction charity Addiction Dependency Solutions, said: "Addiction to prescription drugs is a hugely underestimated issue in the UK - estimates believe there could be more than one million people addicted to such prescribed medication as benzodiazepines. We need targeted treatment services, separate from mainstream alcohol and drug services. "

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New film exposed the risks of 'Chemsex' scene

William Fairman and Max Gogarty's documentary Chemsex (available on the website Vice) is about the culture of drug-fuelled sex parties on London's gay scene.

Group hookups, or chillouts, have been made very easy through smartphone apps such as Grindr and Scruff. They are a form of social relaxation and provide access to the safety of tribe membership in a homophobic world. The drugs used at these parties are chiefly γ-hydroxybutyrate (GHB) and γ-butyrolactone (GBL), or G, crystallised methamphetamine, and mephedrone. But some participants find themselves drawn increasingly into compulsive sexual and self-medicating behaviours, exposing themselves to health risks that are both physical and mental.

For more information about the film including clips from the film please visit: www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(15)01111-3/abstract

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700% rise in NPS ('legal highs') 999 calls to Welsh Ambulance Service

The number of 999 calls made relating to New Psychoactive Substances has increased by more than 700%, figures from the Welsh Ambulance Service show. It received 222 calls in the 12 months to September, up from 31 two years ago. Under current drugs laws, new psycho-active substances are not illegal.

"It is a worrying concern," said Chris Moore clinical support lead for the Welsh Ambulance Service. "NPS are certainly more widely available than they've ever been before and that's probably why there's a reflection in the numbers that we're recording on our systems.

He added: "The number of calls is on the increase but in terms of the proportion of calls it's a tiny amount - we're talking about less than a quarter of a percent of our total call volume.But you could argue that those calls would come in generally during the night time economy when we do tend to be busy so it may have more of an impact on us that other overdose type calls. These calls can be more challenging because we don't know what the patient is going to be like they could be aggressive they could be passive they might not be on scene when we get there or be completely erratic and unmanageable."

Note: our 'Drugs Now: new substances, new trends, new issues' course provides an overview of the changing drugs marketplace, the range of NPS available and practical advice on helping clients who are using NPS' For further information on this course please click HERE.

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New alcohol advice issued

Tough new guidelines issued on alcohol have cut recommended drinking limits and say there is no such thing as a safe level of drinking. The UK's chief medical officers say new research shows any amount of alcohol can increase the risk of cancer.

The new advice says men and women who drink regularly should consume no more than 14 units a week - equivalent to six pints of beer or seven glasses of wine. Pregnant women should not drink at all.

It also says if people drink, it should be moderately over three or more days and that some days should be alcohol-free. Nor should people "save up" their units and drink them all in one or two goes. Heavy drinking sessions increase the risk of accidents and injury, it says.

The guidance marks the first full review of alcohol guidelines since 1995, although updated advice on drinking in pregnancy and for young people was published in 2007 and 2009 respectively. In relation to pregnant women, the new guidelines bring the rest of the UK in line with Scotland and recommend that pregnant women should not drink at all.

It marks a subtle shift from previous guidance for people in England, Wales and Northern Ireland which, while suggesting they should not drink, said that if they did, it should be no more than one or two units of alcohol once or twice a week, and they should not get drunk.

Previous government guidance set out daily drinking limits of three to four units for men and two to three for women. The new guidance moves to weekly limits to get away from the idea that drinking every day is fine.

The new 14 units limit therefore represents a cut in drinking levels for both men and women, although since 1995 doctors' groups have been advising that over the course of a week men should limit themselves to 21 units and women 14 units - the lower end of the daily range the government has been advising. So in effect the government guidance has caught up with the medical advice - and gone a bit further.

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New spit test for 'date rape' drug developed in the UK

Scientists have developed a new test that can detect fake alcohol and the so-called "date rape" drug GHB in saliva. It's seen as a big breakthrough because it delivers results within minutes.

Researchers at Loughborough University have told Newsbeat the spit test can be carried out as soon as a person arrives at hospital. One of the professors involved in the technology says it's a "significant advance". "This new test looks for alcohols and poisons in human saliva," explained Professor Paul Thomas. "It's different from previous tests in that it screens for all the poisonous alcohols, not just the stuff we drink on a Saturday night, but things like methanol and ethylene glycol. These are industrial chemicals that are sometimes found in counterfeit drinks and are very poisonous and dangerous." It can also detect hydroxybutyric acid, the so-called "date rape" and "party" drug GHB.

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New psychoactive substances (NPS) in prisons: A toolkit for prison staff (PDF)

Public Health England (PHE) have released a free resource to assist prison staff about new psychoactive substances (NPS) in prisons.

The toolkit has been recently released after the HM Inspectorate of Prisons report 'Changing patterns of substance misuse in adult prisons and service responses', published in December 2015, which identified NPS as having "created significant additional harm and are now identified as the most serious threat to the safety and security of the prison system."

The resource is intended to support custodial, healthcare and substance misuse staff by providing information about the extent of NPS use as PHE currently understand it and about the properties of the various categories of NPS, and by providing advice on how to manage the problem from a clinical, psychosocial and regime perspective.

The toolkit also discusses the various challenges that are associated for healthcare staff, such as the covert nature of use, unpredictable effects the various drugs have, the delay in seeking medical help, as well as multiple challenges for the wider prison regime.

To download the free resource visit :
idpc.net/publications/2016/01/new-psychoactive-substances-nps-in-prisons-a-toolkit-for-prison-staff

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Steep fall in cannabis offences points to silent relaxation of drugs policy

The number of cannabis possession offences in England and Wales has plummeted since 2011 as forces divert shrinking budgets into tackling more serious crime and officers rein in stop and search.

Figures released to the Guardian under the Freedom of Information Act reveal offences recorded by English and Welsh police forces – including penalty notices, cautions, charges and summons – fell by almost a third from a peak of 145,400 in 2011-12 to 101,905 in 2014-15.

Crucially, the figures include all cannabis possession offences, not just those that led to arrests or prosecutions. The fall in offences cannot therefore be explained by police opting for quick cautions over lengthy prosecutions.

The fall in offences cannot be explained by declining cannabis use. While illicit drug use has fallen markedly since the turn of the century, the most recent Crime Survey for England and Wales showed that the level of cannabis use since 2010 had barely changed. In 2015 6.7% of adults aged 16 to 59 used the drug. In 2010 the figure was 6.5%.

What the figures reveal is a silent relaxation of drugs policy in the last five years – and will spark fresh debate about whether there is a case to decriminalise cannabis possession.

Only last week a cross-party group of MPs called for the liberalisation of cannabis laws during a Westminster Hall debate in parliament. The debate was called after a petition to legalise the production, sale and use of cannabis attracted more than 221,000 signatures.

Instead senior police officials pinpointed shrinking budgets, shifting priorities and reduced use of stop and search as the main reasons for the decline. Of the 43 police forces in England and Wales, 42 provided full-year figures from 2009-10 to 2014-15, and 30 provided part-year data from 2009-10 to the latest quarter of 2015-16.

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E-cigarette may become available on NHS

The UK medicines regulator has approved a brand of e-cigarette to be marketed as an aid to help people stop smoking.

The decision means e-Voke, produced by British American Tobacco, could be prescribed on the NHS.

Public Health England says e-cigarettes are far less harmful than tobacco and help smokers quit. But some experts, including the British Medical Association, say the benefits and harms are not yet known since e-cigarettes are still relatively new. The Royal College of GPs said doctors would be reluctant to hand them out to patients without clear merits. Many of these would like to or are actively trying to kick the habit and an increasing number are turning to e-cigarettes, the NHS says.

In the year up to April 2015, two out of three people who used e-cigarettes in combination with the NHS stop smoking service managed to successfully quit. Prof Kevin Fenton, National Director of Health and Wellbeing, Public Health England, says e-cigarettes have become the most popular quitting aid in England.

And he thinks more people should benefit. "Public Health England wants to see a choice of safe and effective replacements for smoking that smokers themselves want to use," he said.

But Dr Tim Ballard of the Royal College of GPs said it would be unreasonable for the NHS to be asked to fund lifestyle choices for people. "Potentially, there may be a place for the prescription of e-Voke as part of a smoking cessation programme, but GPs would be very wary of prescribing them until there was clear evidence of their safety and of their efficacy in helping people to quit," he said.

"At the moment there isn't the evidence and the guidance hasn't been written to help GPs make those decisions."

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'SMART'drugs: are Modafinil, Noopept and Nootropics giving student users an unfair advantage?

Modafinil. Noopept. Adderall. Unless you've been prescribed these drugs for a medical treatment - such as narcolepsy - it's possible you might not have heard of them before. But, if you're a student, it's quite likely you're familiar with these terms. All of the aforementioned are study or 'smart' drugs (also called Nootropics) and are substances a user will purchase for the specific use of cognitive enhancement.

But what do these drugs actually do? Let's use Modafinil as an example: usually used for the treatment of disorders such as narcolepsy, it has been likened to the drug seen in the Bradley Cooper film, Limitless. It can increase your focus, motivation, and decision-making - but it can carry undesirable side effects, such as strong headaches.

Dr Martha J Farah is the director of the Centre for Neuroscience and Society at the University of Pennsylvania in the US. In a recent article Dr Farah called into question the lack of research regarding cognitive enhancement, including study drugs. She wrote: "The majority of studies on enhancement effectiveness have been carried out on small samples, rarely more than 50 subjects, which limits their power. The only large-scale trial we may see is the enormous but uncontrolled and poorly monitored trial of people using these drugs on their own."

Dr Farah also noted study drugs could have widely varied effects on individuals: "Enhancements may differ in effectiveness depending on the biological and psychological traits of the user, which complicates the effort to understand the true enhancement potential of these technologies."

The health risks study drugs could pose are still unclear but, if Modafinil, when taken in the short-term, can improve your decision making and problem solving you can imagine why a drug that improves focus and motivation would interest a student preparing for their exams. The dilemma for many universities is deciding whether taking Modafinil is cheating or common sense in an increasing competitive jobs marketplace.

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Around 40% of local authorities cutting budgets for smoking cessation services

Around 40% of local authorities in England are cutting their budgets to their services to help people give up smoking, according to research by the anti-smoking charity Action on Smoking and Health.

The report, published by Cancer Research UK, asked tobacco control experts from 126 local authorities across England about their smoking services, their budgets and how well their services were integrating since moving to local government from primary care trusts in 2013. It found that in two out of five areas funding was being cut back and that, in addition, half of all services were being reconfigured or recommissioned.

The government announced cuts to local council public health budgets of 3.9% a year over the next five years in the spending review 2015. This is in addition to the £200m extra in – year cuts proposed in the budget last year. It is feared that smoking cessation services will be hit hard because they are not services that councils are obliged to provide.

The report did find that the benefits of joining local government were widely acknowledged, with 86% of tobacco control experts saying they valued the constructive relationships with their colleagues in other departments and 60% saying they valued the integration of tobacco control into the wider strategy and business of the council.

Another 75% said the biggest difficulty in moving to local government was the pressure on tobacco control and smoking cessation budgets. A quarter (24%) felt negative about the future of tobacco control, but more than half (59%) were positive.

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Drunk or drugged drivers to face stiffer sentences

Alzheimer's sufferers who kill people when driving after being warned not to get into their cars will be subjected to stiffer sentencing under proposals being considered by the Ministry of Justice.

The main target of the MoJ review, though, is drivers who have caused deaths when under the influence of alcohol or drugs, and they will receive much more severe penalties. For example, as things stand they are rarely charged with manslaughter, meaning they typically face a prison sentence of no more than 14 years.

Michael Gove, the Justice Secretary, was told at a meeting of about 35 MPs from all parties that there must be much stronger prison sentences for death by intoxicated driving. He is known to be sympathetic to increasing the sentences and will consider making it easier to secure a manslaughter charge.

The move is part of a broader review of criminal sentencing. Many ideas will need the support of other branches of government, such as the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA), and the Judicial College.

Alec Shelbrooke, an aide to the Employment minister, Priti Patel, has led the call for manslaughter charges against drivers who kill while under the influence following the death of his constituent Callum Wark. He said: "Somebody who intoxicates themselves and then drives a vehicle that results in the death of someone else is clearly a manslaughter charge."

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Alcohol and depression factsheet

Depression is one of the most common mental health problems in the UK- experienced by as many as one in ten people in any year - and it shares a complex, mutually reinforcing relationship with excessive alcohol consumption.

Alcohol Concern has produced a useful, concise guide to the complex relationship between alcohol and depressive illnesses.

To download please click HERE.

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Building trades dominate for drink- and drug-driving

Manual workers in the building industry appear to have the worst records for drink- and drug-driving convictions. The figures have been compiled by a large price comparison website from its own records.

The website looked at the details given by 11 million people who sought car insurance quotes in the past year. Scaffolders had the highest rate of convictions at 5.7 per 1,000 drivers, while typists had the lowest rate at just 0.021 per 1,000.

Other types of employees in the top 10 for drink- and drug-driving convictions were ground workers, building labourers, roofers, labourers, road workers, plasterers, soldiers, bricklayers and fitters.

Kevin Pratt from the insurance company that examined the data, said: "Although it's no excuse, perhaps it's not surprising that manual labour jobs are most likely to have a drink or drug conviction as the desire to relax with a pint, after a long strenuous day, could be high.The only job in the top 10 which bucks the trend is a soldier - but that's still a very physical job."

The jobs with the lowest rates of admitted convictions - after typists - were police officers, clerks, health visitors, driving instructors, taxi drivers, nursery workers, occupational therapists, vets and building society clerks.

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Drug Use in Universities: study of Bristol University students reveals some key issues

An anonymous survey by Epigram found that 77 per cent of Bristol students have taken illegal drugs for recreational purposes and that 89 per cent of those who took drugs did so whilst at the university.

The results also reveal that 26 per cent of students have felt pressured into taking drugs and of those students, 30 per cent subsequently took them.

These findings come shortly after members of the university management – including the Vice Chancellor, Professor Hugh Brady – were quizzed on Bristol's 'rampant drug problem' at the University of Bristol Question Time. At the event, it was suggested that some students feel 'pressured into taking drugs.'

The university management, however, appeared to be unaware of such issues, saying they would have to 'look into it. Most unsettling is the number of people who, upon coming to Bristol, had either never taken any recreational drugs, or had only used cannabis, who have now moved on to class A drugs,' they said.

This suggestion is consistent with the Epigram survey results, which found 39 per cent of drug users have tried cocaine. The survey also revealed that only 7 per cent of students claimed that they did not know about the side effects of drugs before they took them. However, this figure appears to be at odds with the 27 per cent of students who said that had they known more about the side effects, they would not have taken certain drugs.

Students' comments about the safety of drug use was mixed. One student claimed that if you 'take part in horse riding you are more than 28 times more likely to be harmed' than if you take ecstasy. Not all respondent comments reflected this sort of statement however.I wish I'd known about the depression that come downs could trigger. I'm not sure I would have been so quick to try,' said one student.

A spokesman from Anyone's Child, a charity campaigning for legal changes in the status of drugs in order to promote safer drug control, suggested that there is 'a need for accurate and honest information' about the potential consequences of drug use.

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Smoking high-strength cannabis may damage nerve fibres in brain

High-strength cannabis may damage nerve fibres that handle the flow of messages across the two halves of the brain, scientists claim.

Brain scans of people who regularly smoked strong skunk strains of cannabis revealed subtle differences in the white matter that connects the left and right hemispheres and carries signals from one side of the brain to the other.

The changes were not seen in those who never used cannabis or smoked only the less potent forms of the drug, the researchers found.The study is thought to be the first to look at the effects of cannabis potency on brain structure, and suggests that greater use of skunk may cause more damage to the corpus callosum, making communications across the brain's hemispheres less efficient.

Paola Dazzan, a neurobiologist at the Institute of Psychiatry at King's College London, said the effects appeared to be linked to the level of active ingredient, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), in cannabis. While traditional forms of cannabis contain 2 to 4 % THC, the more potent varieties (of which there are about 100), can contain 10 to 14% THC, according to the DrugScope charity.

"If you look at the corpus callosum, what we're seeing is a significant difference in the white matter between those who use high potency cannabis and those who never use the drug, or use the low-potency drug," said Dazzan. The corpus callosum is rich in cannabinoid receptors, on which the THC chemical acts.

"The difference is there whether you have psychosis or not, and we think this is strictly related to the potency of the cannabis," she added. Details of the study are reported in the journal Psychological Medicine.

The researchers used two scanning techniques, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and diffusion tensor imaging (DTI), to examine the corpus callosum, the largest region of white matter, in the brains of 56 patients who had reported a first episode of psychosis, and 43 healthy volunteers from the local community.

The scans found that daily users of high-potency cannabis had a slightly greater – by about 2% – "mean diffusivity" in the corpus callosum. "That reflects a problem in the white matter that ultimately makes it less efficient," Dazzan told the Guardian. "We don't know exactly what it means for the person, but it suggests there is less efficient transfer of information."

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