Increased demand for treatment of cannabis-related problems in the Nordics

After alcohol, cannabis is the second most common intoxicant in the Nordics. During the last two decades, demand for cannabis use related treatment has increased in all Nordic countries. The cannabis figures among the very young in treatment are especially high.

Nordic Welfare Centre’s report Treatment of cannabis-related problems in the Nordic countries (2019) identifies challenges for treatment but also good practices in the Nordics.

In Denmark cannabis is by far the primary problem among newcomers to drug treatment. In Iceland, more than one third of all addiction patients have cannabis as primary problem. In Finland 33 percent of newcomers to drug treatment have cannabis as their main drug problem. In Norway and Sweden, the figures indicate that about 10 percent of clients in treatment are primarily cannabis problem users.

Different age and social groups

– Cannabis users are not a homogenous group, and users can be found in many different age and social groups. But those in treatment for cannabis problems share many of the common complications of others in substance abuse treatment: multidrug use, prevalence of psychiatric problems, and a lack of social resources. In addition, cannabis problem users in treatment are often very young and predominantly male, says researcher Kerstin Stenius.

Denmark has probably the most developed and comprehensive treatment system for cannabis problems in the Nordic region. In Iceland access to treatment is relatively good, but there is a growing demand for interventions among the very young with multiple problems.

– In spite of good initiatives and increased professional focus, there are identifiable gaps in all Nordic countries in the support and treatment offered to persons with cannabis-related problems. Treatment seems to be least available in Finland, maybe partly due to the uncertainty about how treatment for substance use problems will be organized in the near future, Stenius says.

Similar challenges

There are many circumstances that pose a special challenge to treating cannabis-related problems. Cannabis is an illegal drug, and criminal control as well as stigma are considerable and problematic aspects of how the treatment is framed. Outreach and low threshold services, and offers of anonymous treatment can be especially useful interventions.

The support and treatment systems in the Nordic countries also struggle with some other similar problems.

– Prevention, for example, is crucial but difficult. Neither the young users themselves nor their parents or school staff have enough knowledge about the effects of cannabis on body and mind. Information about the risks with cannabis should be presented in a way that communicates with the young and this could be an area for Nordic collaboration and development, Stenius says.

For many young persons with cannabis use related problems the drug is not the only or the primary problem. The report points out the importance of local cooperation between schools, vocational training, youth work, social services, psychiatry, specialised addiction treatment and the police.

– In the case of very young persons, it is also particularly important that the families and the close social networks are included and involved. Local models of good practices should be spread across the Nordic countries, Stenius states.

Source: Nordic Welfare Centre

The report can be downloaded here:
Treatment of cannabis-related problems in the Nordic countries (Nordic Welfare Centre, 2019)