CANNABIS abuse has been blamed for fuelling an attack that left a man needing 28 stitches in his face.

Matthew Buswell, 23, was jailed for five years at Swindon Crown Court after a Christmas Eve attack in Trowbridge that left his victim with a vicious cut from his left ear to his chin.

The reclassification of cannabis from a class B to a class C drug has led to confusion about its legality and to many thinking it is a 'safe' drug to use.

Experts are warning taking the drug can cause mental illness and a Government rethink on the drug's declassification could be on the cards.

Inspector Glynn Hookings, of Trowbridge police, said: "There is a perception that cannabis is less harmful than alcohol. I am not in a position to say whether that is right or wrong but use of drugs such as cannabis is a criminal offence."

Cannabis was reclassified last February and police in Trowbridge have since seen an eight per cent increase in the number of people caught with the drug. Insp Hookings said: "It is not a major increase but the legislation only came in part way through the year. It seems to be becoming more socially acceptable to openly use cannabis than it was in the past."

Recently published research suggests the chances of developing mental problems such as schizophrenia virtually double among cannabis users.

Most medical experts agree the drug in itself does not cause mental health problems but people who are already predisposed to develop an illness are more likely to do so if they use the drug regularly.

The Government has now ordered an inquiry into the effects of cannabis in the light of new medical research and calls from mental health groups such as SANE.

Majorie Wallace, chief executive of SANE, said: "This is a major victory for organisations like SANE who have campaigned against the lowering of the classification of cannabis, and we are delighted that the Home Secretary has listened and acted

"We are well aware that while 80-90 per cent of people can take cannabis with no ill effect, for the rest who are vulnerable the taking of cannabis, especially in strengthened forms like Skunk, can turn a mild trip into a journey of mental disintegration from which they may never fully return."

As well as the dangers of the drug itself, for many people it is a starting point from which they go on to take harder drugs, which has a huge impact on crime.

Insp Hookings said: "A significant amount of burglaries are by people taking property to sell to fund a drug habit. Whether that is cannabis or harder drugs there is a direct correlation between property crime and drugs."