Sunday, 4 May 2008

Hysteria and hypocrisy over cannabis

Excellent article by Professor Colin Blakemore in the Observer today,  'Hysteria over cannabis is getting in the way of the truth', which is well worth reading. He points out that it is a pity that Gordon Brown has allowed his heart to rule his head in his desire to reclassify cannabis, particularly when he has been such a great supporter of science.

I have to confess that I really cannot see what reclassifying the drug will do, other than criminalise and alienate more of our young people. It won't reduce harms that the drug can cause to some people. In saying this, I am not arguing that cannabis is safe - but nor are alcohol, tobacco and a wide range of prescription drugs which are all legal. 
So what is Gordon Brown trying to do? Look strong, as stated in one of the article's comments? Or is he trying to protect the health of our young people?
If so, then why isn't he trying to reduce the harm caused by alcohol - many would say government policy has increased harm - and certain addictive prescription drugs. And why isn't he tackling major supermarkets and suppliers who many people argue are using unethical practices in relation to our food, which is creating a massive problem for the country - obesity. 

6 comments:

Derek WIlliams said...

All this has nothing to do with protecting people from harm and everything to do with trying to appeal to Daily Mail readers.

When it happens (as it seems it will now) nothing will change in practice as far as enforcement goes, but it will cost a fortune - as Paul Corry of RETHINK has said, this is money that won't be available for education campaigns.

Cannabis users couldn't care less what class it's in - once you're considered a criminal it doesn't matter how much of a criminal people you don't respect consider you.

It'll also do nothing to help stop the contamination problems we're seeing of late.

Reclassification is an utterly pointless, meaningless waste of money which only serves to demonstrate that the drugs laws are based on ignorance and not science.

So why is it the drugs agencies have been so silent? We've heard nothing from Lifeline or Hit, almost nothing even from Release. I guess it's a case of he who pays the piper calls the tune.

Thanks for the one lone voice though.

Peter O'Loughlin said...

I think there is enough evidence both pre and post 2004 to indicate that cannabis should never have been downgraded, I remain convinced that decision was made purely on the grounds of political expediency in a futile bid to massage 'crime figures'.

Nor do I think that first or second time drug users who come to the attention of the Criminal Justice System, be criminalised for either possession or use, they should however be obliged to enter into treatment with a primary objective to 'educating them on the total harms caused by the drug(s) of their choice.

I would also suggest that as part of the entry into treatment, an assessment in accordance with the criteria in ICD-10, or DSM-1V, carried out by a suitably qualifed person. The outcome of the assessment, ie addiction, or misuse, should dictate the objective of the treatment.

I disagree with Blakemore and his allegation of those who oppossed downgrading, as 'hysteria'. The evidence linking cannabis use with psychiatric and behaviour disorders which has been published in the British Medical Journal, Psychiatric Times, the Cochrane Review, not to mention research from countries such as Australia, Greece, and the Addiction Journal, could hardly be described as 'hysteria', and why someone of Blakemore's standing should use such a demeaning word in relation to a growing problem is to say the least puzzeling.

It is also a matter of fact that many smokers of cannabis do not use it in isolation.

The police crime figures for metroplotian areas clearly show that those come to their attention, are not because of their cannabis use, but of crimes arising out of the use of it and other drugs including alcohol.

What I also find baffling is that since the smoking of cannabis is as at least as injurious to health as smoking ordinary cigarettes, why on earth has there not been high profile campaigns, similar to thosse used for tobacco to discourage use. A further cause of concern is that Cochrane indicate that educational programmes carried out in schools are also highly effective in prevention, but here again we seem to be lagging behind.

Dirk Hanson said...

As long as British politicians continue to believe that something called "skunk" is a lethal derivative of marijuana, and that it causes psychosis, schizophrenia and suicide, no substantive debate on cannabis regulation can possibly take place.

The U.K. is becoming something of a worldwide joke over this issue. When is somebody going to explain to your P.M. that "skunk" simply means "strong marijuana." Same stuff, only more trichomes. 10-year olds know that much.

Steve R said...

Peter - i dont think blakemore is accusing the academic community of hysteria - rather the medias headline grabbing cherry picked reporting of the literature, and the political exploitation of the fear this has created. the word hysteria appears only in the title and was probably written by a copy editor rather than blakemore if my experience is anything to go by.

He fully acknowledges the harms of cannabis but makes the argument that:

"there is no evidence that classification influences the attitude of young people to drugs."

I think that this is the key point. the change only has political significance. It wont change anything re cannabis use - remeber the massive rise in use between 1971 and 2001 - it was B all that time. classification is irrelevant and a distraction.

Prof David Clark said...

Dirk,
Yes, I can well believe we are becoming a world joke. However, for the PM, I don't think it is about the issue - it's about politics and deflecting attention away from other issues. One really wonders whether he can be so naive, or is just hopelessly poorly informed. Or playing naive politics. And he's not the only one.

David Raynes said...

It would be very difficult for anyone who was at the ACMD hearing to conclude that there is no case at all for putting Cannabis back to class B and that it should never have been downgraded. Even Steve Rolls of Transform (who wants it legalised) said at that hearing, "Cannabis is more harmful than we thought". Those are his exact words, so there IS a case for re classification, not because anyone thinks it will have much effect on existing users but because potential users and their parents and teachers are entitled to be told the truth about the potential, for personal & social harm, of modern cannabis. The suggestion, (Dirk Hanson) that modern herbal cannabis is much the same as traditional cannabis resin, is also wrong. Modern herbal, as we heard at the ACMD, has little or no CBD. The CBD is belived to moderate the effect of THC, so modern cannabis, heavily used by young brains, is, for many people a very dangerous drug indeed. A damaged mind can be permanently damaged. Now if all this is true why did most members of the ACMD not vote for reclassification? Well it is often quite difficult for many people to admit to a mistake, some of the ACMD DID make a mistake in supporting the original downgrading. Then most importnatly there is the influence of the legalisation/liberaliisation lobby. Simon Lenton, someone who wants the UN conventions on drugs changed, in his words "to let countries do their own thing", (expressly against our Government policy incidentally), gave not one but two presentations to the ACMD. Did members of the ACMD know the presentations they were hearing were being rigged like this? Did the Chairman? Who was responsible for Lenton being there? Who organised it and paid his fare from Australia? Not everything is what it seems!