Haze of Confusion Hangs Over Dangers To Health 

Haze of Confusion Hangs Over Dangers To Health 
Posted by CN Staff on January 17, 2004 at 17:27:27 PT
Source: Observer UK
Steve, 25, Jamie, 23, and Amit, 30, all liked, or like, a smoke. Steve tried cannabis at school and was smoking 10 to 15 joints every evening by the time he was at college. He lost his job and started behaving erratically. One night, drunk and stoned in a club, he ate a lump of hashish resin and woke up hearing voices. He is still being treated for schizophrenia. For several years Jamie had smoked 20 joints, often of powerful skunk, a week. He holds down a well-paying office job and says that he has no problems with motivation or concentration.
He says he has never suffered any adverse effects, let alone mental health issues, and describes his consumption as a 'positive lifestyle choice'. Amit smoked 15 joints a day for six years. 'My life was like something from The Office,' he said last week. 'I had an undercurrent of depression throughout that time. Without cannabis, it would have been much worse.' Amit has a new job and stopped using cannabis six months ago. But he admits it was hard to break his habit. 'There is no doubt I was addicted,' he said. All three men were heavy users. According to the Independent Drugs Monitoring Group, a typical user consumes more than seven grammes (a quarter of an ounce) of average-strength cannabis a week. This year an estimated one in 10 Britons aged between 16 and 59 - about 3.3 million people - will use the drug. Few of them will smoke as much as Steve, Jamie and Amit ever did. Instead it will be a quiet spliff on a park bench outside school, or with coffee after a dinner party, or while watching a video on a Sunday evening when the children have gone to bed. The amount of cannabis smoked in the UK is unprecedented. But for an activity that has such mass appeal - one in four 15- to 24-year-olds smoked it in 2002, according to the British Crime Survey - very little is known about the effects of such broad consumption on people, on health, on society. At the end of this month, cannabis will be reclassified from a class B to a class C drug - putting it on the same level as steroids and tranquillisers. The effect of the change, and the police guidelines issued along with it, will make it extremely unlikely that anyone consuming cannabis in private will be arrested. Smoking pot in your own home will, in practical terms at least, be legal. Offend repeatedly or smoke in a public place or outside a school and the consequences could be severe, however. Under-18s, say the guidelines, should be arrested, although in reality it is unlikely that the police will always follow the law to the letter. Possession can still result in a two-year prison sentence. There are also increased penalties for dealing. The changes, recommended first in a report by the Police Foundation, a council of scientific experts and the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee, regularise the reality of the enforcement of soft drugs law. In much of the country, police rarely arrest and prosecute 'personal users'. None the less, in 2000 there were 70,000 convictions for possession of cannabis. The changes are controversial. Some criticise any move to liberalise drug laws, others criticise the confusion surrounding the new policy and many say the changes don't go far enough. The debate grew more heated again last week when new research by leading psychiatrists pointed to a strong link between mental illness and cannabis use. Professor Robin Murray, a psychiatrist at the Maudsley hospital in south London, published findings stating that cannabis both increases the risk of serious mental illness and exacerbates existing psychotic conditions. Murray's conclusions were controversial. His research was not published in time to be presented to the council of experts consulted by the Home Office when it decided to go ahead with the declassification. Critics of Home Secretary David Blunkett's decision seized on it as evidence that the Government's drugs policy is, in the words of the Daily Mail's Melanie Phillips, 'reckless'. The Conservative Party accused the Government of 'mixed messages' and vowed to reverse the move. In fact, the situation is more nuanced. Murray cited research in Sweden and Holland that confirmed the link between cannabis and psychosis. Research at Yale Medical School showed that tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) - the active ingredient in cannabis - can produce a psychotic reaction. The studies confirmed that no one could sensibly say that cannabis was 'harmless'. However, they did not prove that cannabis was necessarily dangerous for everyone. According to Paddy Power, a consultant psychiatrist with the Lambeth Early Onset Service in south London, 70 per cent of the 170 people referred to the clinic each year take cannabis. 'A proportion of the population is certainly at risk of psychosis from heavy use of cannabis, but they are a minority and it is possible that they are already at risk of psychosis for a variety of other factors,' he told The Observer last week. And, to many, this is key. Power likens the connection between cannabis and psychosis to the link between cigarette smoking and lung cancer and heart disease. 'It does not mean one leads inevitably to the other. The more you do, the more you are at risk,' he said. Steve, quoted above, is certain that cannabis triggered his psychosis. Trying cannabis since developing his condition set off an immediate reaction. 'It made me feel instantly crazy,' he said. 'It was like turning on a switch.' But Steve may have been vulnerable already, backing up the general consensus that cannabis can make mental illness worse or increase the risk, but does not cause it. Steve's father, Terry Hammond, now works for the mental health charity Rethink. He agrees that, though cannabis had 'hurled [his son] over the edge, Steve had previously showed signs of vulnerability'. But no one knows how many might be vulnerable. Some talk of as many as one in seven or in 10. Yet Les Iversen, professor of pharmacology at Oxford and a House of Lords adviser on drugs misuse, said the fraction was 'tiny'. Harry Shapiro, of the independent research centre Drugscope, referred to a 'handful out of millions' being affected. The issue of psychosis touches on many key debates within the broader argument over the legalisation of cannabis and, more generally, society's approach to other drugs. Is the risk of exposing a vulnerable minority to possible psychosis outweighed by the harm done to society by criminalising millions of people who safely enjoy cannabis? Is it even correct to lump cannabis with other controlled drugs such as heroin or crack that are far more dangerous to individuals and to society? What about the differing strengths of cannabis? What would happen if cannabis supply was controlled by the government? Is it not irrational to focus on cannabis when alcohol, almost all health professionals agree, is a far more harmful drug and is misused far more widely? Despite decades of debate, there is little clear consensus over the way forward. Peter Coker, who has worked with drug users for nearly 20 years and currently runs the National Drug Prevention Alliance, opposes the reclassification, let alone any further liberalisation. 'Blunkett thought that, if he gave this concession to the liberalising lobby, it would be satisfied. Instead it has just been encouraged,' Coker said. 'The reclassification is being read [by potential users] as a signal that there is a more relaxed attitude to all drugs, and that is very dangerous.' Bob Carstairs, of the Secondary Heads Association, is also concerned about the message sent to children by the reclassification. His organisation, which represents headteachers at more than 4,000 schools, has recommended that they maintain a policy of suspending first offenders and of expelling those who sell cannabis to their school mates, or who otherwise encourage consumption of the drug. 'The majority of heads are disappointed at the confused message that is being sent,' Carstairs said last week. 'There is a huge amount of confusion. There are eight-year-olds trying cannabis. They are simply too young to make a mature judgment.' But predictably others criticise the policy for not going far enough. Francis Wilkinson, a former chief constable of Gwent, says the cannabis laws discredit all drug laws. 'Children experiment [with cannabis] and find it is not harmful. They then think that all the laws are wrong, even those dealing with drugs that are very damaging.' He says cannabis and heroin have a completely different impact on the individual and on society. 'For example, people who smoke cannabis do not commit crime to get more,' Wilkinson, who claims widespread support within the police force, said. 'If there is one thing that would substantially reduce crime, it is government regulation and control of the supply of both cannabis and heroin.' Another supporter of the reform is Mike Trace, the Government's former deputy drug tsar from 1997 to 2002. He said that, in 1999 and 2000, he and his staff calculated that 'in the realms of 100 million' would be saved by the criminal justice system if cannabis was legalised. He blames fear of a 'Middle England' backlash for politicians' failure to push through radical measures. 'There is a fear of being portrayed . . . as soft on drugs,' he said. Some, such as Professor Iversen, advocate a 'coffee shop system' like Holland's. 'We need to separate the supply of cannabis from those drugs that are more harmful.' However, major change in drugs legislation is unlikely in the short term, not least because Britain is bound by a series of United Nations conventions to keep cannabis use illegal. Policy is likely to come from the broad moderate consensus represented by drugs professionals such as Power and others working on the front line of drugs and mental illness in Lambeth. Despite his concerns on health issues, Power backs reform. 'The main risk is the extremely detrimental effects on youngsters of being caught up in the criminal justice system simply because of the recreational use of a drug that has relatively limited adverse health effects compared to other drugs and alcohol,' he said. Most health professionals see education as the critical issue. The Home Office officials say they are sensitive to the need for teaching people about health risks and are investing 1 million in a campaign to educate the nation about the new legal situation regarding cannabis use and about the impact smoking the drug can have on bodies and minds. Campaigners such as Hammond say that much more effort is needed. What no one denies is that millions in Britain will continue to use cannabis - whatever the legal situation and whatever the health advice. Alex makes 50,000 a year selling cannabis and cocaine to mainly middle-class clients. 'Even if they legalise cannabis, it would be taxed and we could undercut it,' he said. 'The really low-quality goods would be taken off the market and some street dealers would go out of business. But I'd carry on. There is a huge demand for cannabis. That's capitalism. Where there is demand, there will always be a market.' Note: From the end of this month cannabis will be reclassified as a class C drug, alongside tranquillisers and steroids. But does anyone really know what the dangers of smoking dope are? Jason Burke and Anushka Asthana report. Special Report: Drugs in Britain:,2759,178206,00.htmlSource: Observer, The (UK)Published: Sunday, January 18, 2004Copyright: 2004 The ObserverContact: letters Articles:Cracking The Problem - Guardian Unlimited UK Chief Acknowledges Muddle Over Drug Law
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Comment #4 posted by Virgil on January 19, 2004 at 09:48:49 PT
Getting the lies out
Where is the National Institute of Health with their $28 billion budget on this? The War on Miracle Plant has shown that it is most like a war because truth has always been a casualty.I absolutely do not believe cannabis causes mental problems of any kind in adults. I do think that since the media confuses the issue so much, that simple truths should be advanced in force to show that Truth has been reborn. The Canadian Senate Report believed that cannabis should be legal for anyone over 16. They said this because of concern to a developing nervous system. Even they did not say outright that it caused any severe permanent problems like going schizo.Then again, this is your country on prohibition. How will things be different when Miracle Plant is regulated and the lies, bullshit, and obfuscation stop? There will not be anyone going around like Chicken Little shouting senselessly about mixed messages, mixed messages.
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Comment #3 posted by RavingDave on January 19, 2004 at 00:43:33 PT
Schizoid Delusions
"Steve tried cannabis at school and was smoking 10 to 15 joints every evening by the time he was at college. He lost his job and started behaving erratically. One night, drunk and stoned in a club, he ate a lump of hashish resin and woke up hearing voices. He is still being treated for schizophrenia."So now we're supposed to believe that hash can cause schizophrenia? I'd like to see the pharmacological explanation for this tall tale. It would read like something out of a creative fiction class.
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Comment #2 posted by escapegoat on January 18, 2004 at 16:07:50 PT
Reefer Madness II
Ah, I see Robin Murray is back.The only thing is that this thesis that cannabis may cause psychosis (sounds like a scare tactic to me) is biased. It doesn't take into account that a certain percentage of the population would be psychotic at any given time (for whatever reason) and that some are self-medicating with cannabis, which, they won't tell you, has been shown to work well with some forms of mental illness.I think this is the new prohibitionist tactic - play up the "unknown effects" and whenever research comes out (several studies a month now) that proves cannabis is a wonderful, harmless plant, they keep moving the research bar higher. I'm already hearing groaning about too small a sample size or whatever. 
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Comment #1 posted by billos on January 18, 2004 at 03:01:51 PT:
Is Pee Walters....................................
staying out of this one? I mean, why isn't Walters over there yelling at Tony Blair to stop such nonsense as declassifying cannabis? Could it be because Blair is a bush puppet???
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