Mental health crisis among over-55s for cannabis addiction

The number of older people seeking treatment for mental health problems as a result of using cannabis has soared.

Examining NHS data, consultant psychiatrist Dr Tony Rao found an astonishing 777 per cent increase in people over the age 55 accessing mental services due to addiction to the Class B drug over the past 15 years.

According to the figures, which were published by the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities, the number of over-55s attending treatment for cannabis addiction rose from 374 in 2005-06, to 3,279 in 2020-21.


Speaking to The Times, Dr Rao said there had been: “a sharp rise in the number of people in older people’s mental services”, due to cannabis.

“It is still regarded as a recreational drug with little awareness of the harm associated with its use.”

He continued: “There is a cohort of people over the age of 55 who grew up in quite a permissive culture with a lack of harm awareness of substances.”

Consequently, he concluded, we are now seeing “the seeping through of people with cannabis addictions coming into mental health service with problems like depression and anxiety”.

It is still regarded as a recreational drug with little awareness of the harm associated with its use.


The support group Marijuana Anonymous (MA) also told The Times that it had witnessed a growth in the “older age bracket” attending its meetings.

An MA spokesman said prolonged use “has created more mental health issues and I think we can correlate that with the influx of older people seeking help”.

He added: “Marijuana addiction is insidious, it will creep up on you over a long period of time.”

Health risks

Last week, in a letter to The Times, Professor Stuart Reece, of the University of Western Australia, warned that the health risks of cannabis use go well beyond mental health issues.

He explained that cannabis can result in “damage to both the genes and the complex system that regulates and controls genes”, as well as “elevated rates of many cancers”, “dozens of birth defects”, and the “accelerated ageing of human cells”.

Research conducted by the University of Bath recently has shown the potency of cannabis has increased over the past 50 years and its effects have become progressively worse as a result.

Also see:

New NHS clinic for treating cannabis psychosis overwhelmed by demand

Psychosis and ‘scromiting’ on the rise among young US cannabis users

UN downplays cannabis danger