Cannabis addictions going up in smoke

MORE people on the Northern Rivers are seeking help for cannabis addiction.

The North Coast Area Health Service said it treated 831 people in 2008 - up 21 per cent from the previous year.

Area health service drug and alcohol director John Leary attributed the rise to the introduction of new 'cannabis clinics' across the region.

Mostly provided in community health centres, the clinics remove the stigma associated with attending a dedicated drug and alcohol centre.

Users seeking help call a 1300 number and are then provided with an appointment at their nearest centre.

The clinics were set up last year to deal with increasing numbers of local people experiencing health and lifestyle problems as a result of using cannabis.

Mr Leary said the Area Health Service had always provided cannabis treatment, but the establishment of the clinics had encouraged more people to seek help.

He said people had also started to acknowledge that cannabis use could be habit-forming and dangerous, with physical and mental effects.

“People are increasingly discovering that long-term cannabis use is not good for you. It is not a benign drug,” he said.

Mr Leary said most people attending the clinics wanted to stop completely, while others say they would like to cut down their use.

Counsellors tailor treatment to each individual and provide a form of treatment called cognitive behaviour therapy, which is based around helping people understand, manage and change their thoughts and actions.

Studies from trial clinics in Sydney and central western NSW have shown that 50 per cent of people either stopped using or reduced their use of cannabis after treatment.

Mr Leary said drugs used for treating addictions - like methadone for heroine - were not currently available to marijuana users, but this might change soon.

“There are no drugs available that can satisfactorily treat cannabis users, but there is hope the pharmaceutical industry will come up with something,” he said.

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