Tuesday, May 6, 2008

U.K. Marijuana Panic Continues

British Prime Minister plans to stiffen pot penalties.

The national hysteria over "skunk" marijuana shows no signs of abating in Great Britain, as Prime Minister Gordon Brown is poised to overrule his advisors and reclassify cannabis as a more dangerous drug. Lost in the debate is any semblance of reasonable discussion about scientific research on marijuana.

British health authorities continue to find the basics of cannabis to be an inscrutable mystery. Some months ago, they declared that "skunk" cannabis was linked to the onset of schizophrenia. Since no one knows what, exactly, causes schizophrenia, and recent findings continue to point toward genetic causes, this was a doubly astonishing claim.

Now, continuing in the same vein of misinformation, The University College of London reports that different strains of marijuana cause different types of psychological maladies. Recently, Prime Minister Brown "publically described new strains of cannabis as 'lethal,' as if they could trigger a fatal overdose," according to an editorial in the Guardian. The Guardian went on to note that "Whitehall's own panel of experts has concluded that increased marijuana use has not been matched by a corresponding rise in mental illness."

The move to shift marijuana to Class B status from its current Class C designation has been fueled by these dubious reports. As long as British politicians continue to believe that something called "skunk" is a new and lethal derivative of marijuana, and that it causes psychosis, schizophrenia and suicide, no substantive debate on cannabis regulation can possibly take place. Colin Blakemore, a prominent professor of neuroscience at the Universities of Oxford and Warwick, tackled the issue in an article for the Guardian:

And what of the alarming stories of horrifying powerful "skunk"? Some newspapers have told us that the level of THC, the active ingredient, in street cannabis today is 20 or 30 times higher than 10 years ago. That would be rather surprising, given that THC content was 7 per cent on average in 1995. In reality, two studies, due to be published later this year, concluded that the average THC content has doubled.

Professor David Clark, a British psychologist who maintains a substance abuse information service called Wired In, writes on his blog: " 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. "


Prof David Clark said...

Nicely written article on cannabis. Sorry haven't seen your Blog earlier, now enjoying working through articles. Keep up good work!

Anonymous said...

Are you actually joking? At least in Britain we're finally realising that something that was seen as so harmless ten years ago has strong links with numerous mental health problems and suicide. Cannibis can be linked to the onset of schizophrenia, if an individual already has a genetic predisposition to the illness, and who can tell if they have that, unless relatives have had the illness? Are you saying that you've never felt paranoid, on edge, or fragile after smoking a joint? Research into what drugs and alcohol can do to the human mind and body is really only just starting, and so far there have been shocking suggestions from research.
I'm not saying reclassification is the best option, as yes it does criminalise young people, but that plenty of education is needed around cannibis use, particularly in America it seems!

Anonymous said...

Research into what drugs and alcohol can do to the human mind and body is really only just starting, and so far there have been shocking suggestions from research.

You are absolutely right about that. Cannabis itself is almost irrelevant to all this, and so are the harms it has caused.

The problem is with all substances, and how we use and abuse them as a culture. Britain's classification system needs updating, and the ACMD have to be consulted (but not obeyed) before drugs are moved.

Cannabis is being used for political football, as it has been for decades, and it's getting in the way of sorting out the rest of the drugs. Which is why Ketamine GHB are in class C, and ecstacy and lsd are supposedly as bad as crack and heroin.

The population of Britain will never "get" the message about drugs until the message has scientific meaning.

Reclassifying to B simply shows that the government don't really care about "evidence-based decision making".

Or should that be decision-based evidence making?

Dirk Hanson said...

"Cannibis can be linked to the onset of schizophrenia, if an individual already has a genetic predisposition to the illness."



The first schizophrenic break in people with a predisposition for the disease can also be triggered by extreme social stress, high anxiety, alcohol abuse, LSD, and strongly emotional events in the person's life. Correlation is not causation.

Nonetheless, British press coverage was straightforward: Pot causes mental illness, and the implicit assumption is that it does so in completely healthy people with no genetic prediliction for mental disorders. This can only be seen as a giant leap backwards, from a scientific point of view.

As if these waters were not muddied enough already.

Anonymous said...

Ignore science, ignore your advisors. Listen to the crazy woman saying people are actually dying from toking up (where do they get this anyways? last I checked you can't even OD on marijuana).

Dirk Hanson said...

That is true. Despite what the prime minister might think about it, marijuana is not a life-threatening drug. No THC receptors in the back brain, where things like respiration and heart rate are controlled.

Dirk Hanson said...


It seems clear that marijuana should be included in any future research on the treatment of anxiety.

Anonymous said...

i am 17 ad i started the use of marijuana at the adge of 12 i no that seems very young but i do nnot get paranoid i do not see any side effects from the use of it infact i find i have more sideeffects from the use of alchohol i.e hangovers sickness marijuana has helped me write lyrics more in depth
writing lyrics for songs is one of my best hobbys I SAY LEGALISE MARIJUANA its my choice wot i do to my body it does not make me a criminal for smoking a plant and most of all i have never found a better stress releaver than cannabis and suicide hahaha dnt make me laugh put it this way if u took every single bottle of alcohol off of binge drinkers and replaced it with a joint you wouldnt need riot vans, police, to stop fighting and criminal damage because every1 would be to busy laughing and socialising in a happy manor not one of violents like alcohol can bring on i say long live cannabis

Anonymous said...

dont listen to any one about bud if you want to smoke it smoke if you dont you dont so what. if it grows out of the ground it cant be that bad. and dont even take the little 17 yos comment seriously its that kind of person that makes people not take the legalization of marijuana serious.

Annual Causes of Death in the United States

Tobacco 435,000

POOR DIET and Physical Inactivity 365,000

Alcohol 85,000

Motor Vehicle Crashes 26,347

Suicide 30,622

All Illicit Drug Use, Direct and

Indirect 17,0001

Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory

Drugs Such As Aspirin 7,6006

Marijuana 07

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