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Page last updated at 09:08 GMT, Friday, 30 January 2009
Cannabis users 'won't cut down'

By Jim Reed
Newsbeat reporter

Person rolling a spliff

Cannabis users have been telling Newsbeat and 1Xtra News that moving the drug back to a Class B substance won't make any difference to their smoking habits.

Anyone caught carrying weed could now get five years in jail after the government increased the punishment for possession.

Ministers have pushed through the change because they say there is growing evidence of a risk to mental health.

But the decision was made against the advice of the government's own panel of independent drug experts.

Change 'pointless'

More than 3,000 people filled in a joint Newsbeat and 1Xtra News online questionnaire on cannabis use.

The smokers who replied overwhelmingly said the upgrade would not force them to cut down.

What damage am I doing sitting at home with a spliff watching TV or playing on my Xbox?

James, 18

Of the 2,494 people who claimed they used cannabis, 2,229 said it wouldn't change the amount they smoked.

Only 102 said they would give up or take less after the upgrade.

The results of the questionnaire were based on input from listeners who chose to get involved and are not representative of the UK as a whole.

Many people were angry at the decision to upgrade.

Katie from Manchester said: "It was against the advice of an independent body. It belittles the idea that some drugs are worse than others.

"It wastes police resources. It was clearly politically motivated rather than with health interests in mind."

James, 18, from Liverpool thought that moving the drug to Class B was "pointless".

Teenage cannabis users explain why they smoke the drug

"I smoke weed. I know it damages my health but it is my health. What damage am I doing sitting at home with a spliff watching TV or playing on my Xbox?" he asked.

But some listeners supported the move. Kim said her mum had been taking cannabis for as long as she could remember.

"She used to be a civilised person but I have watched her decline, becoming more reliant on cannabis to function and deeply depressed and suicidal without it," she said.

"I can't get her back, but other kids out there may be able to keep their parents from the same incoherent babbling mess if the police would take stronger action."

"It isn't a waste of their time and should be recognised as a drug with serious, if not immediate, consequences."

Cannabis strength

Around one in five 16 to 24-year-olds have taken cannabis in the last year, according to the latest stats from the government.

Of the 2,494 cannabis users who responded to the Newsbeat/1Xtra News questionnaire, 605 said they spent 10 a week on the drug; 858 spent between 10 and 30; 461 spent between 30 and 70; and 131 spent more than 70 a week.

433 of the users said they spent an average of nothing, so could be taking the drug with friends without paying for it.
Cannabis facts
Cannabis is back up from a Class C to a Class B drug
One in five 16 to 24-year-olds have used it in the last year
80% of the cannabis seized is high strength variety, skunk
Cannabis use has dropped by more than a third in 10 years

According to official figures, cannabis use has dropped by more than a third over the past decade, although the reasons for such a sharp fall are unclear.

David Nutt, who is in charge of the advisory council, said it could be a result of a drop in tobacco use or a negative reaction to the stronger varieties of cannabis on the market today.

According to the Home Office, 80% of the cannabis seized by police is now skunk, grown through selective breeding from flowers produced by the female cannabis plant.

Of the 2,494 cannabis users who responded to the Newsbeat/1Xtra News questionnaire, 1,172 said they smoked the stronger skunk varieties against 599 for traditional herbal or grass and just 186 for resin.

465 people said they either smoked a mixture or didn't know what they were smoking.

As for the source of the drug, 1,716 smokers said they normally bought off friends, 551 from dealers and 39 from a shop or cafe.

190 users said they grew cannabis themselves.

The increased potency of weed over the last decade has led to fresh concerns about its impact on mental health, not just from the government but from a number of charities and support groups.

David Nutt, who chairs the government's advisory council, told Newsbeat there was growing evidence the drug could be linked to problems like schizophrenia.

But he said the risk to mental health from smoking cannabis was no greater than getting drunk and the drug should remain a Class C substance.

Newsbeat/1Xtra News listener Locan from Belfast said: "I believe that cannabis is not a safe drug, but in my opinion a possible link to schizophrenia is much less serious than the proven link to cancer and cirrhosis of the liver caused by alcohol."

But other listeners got in touch to tell us about their experiences.

It seems most of the people who are against the reclassification... have yet to feel any ill effects
Gary, 29

"From the age of 18, I used cannabis as a substitute for cigarettes but became very depressed," said Gary, now 29.

"I firmly believe that cannabis played a huge part in my mental illness and ruined my life.

"It seems most of the people who are against the reclassification of cannabis are users who have yet to feel any ill effects.

"I can remember when I was exactly the same. How wrong I was."

Kirsty from Manchester, herself a former cannabis smoker, said: "I know of at least two people who have been affected in a negative way.

"My belief is that if someone has a propensity to mental health problems, then the use of cannabis can either bring this to the surface or make it a lot worse than it would have been had the person never taken the drug."

"Like all drugs it affects different people in different ways and education is key."

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