Sunday, March 18, 2007

How the Independent on Sunday got it horribly wrong on Cannabis

The Independent on Sunday jumped on the skunk-panic bandwagon this weekend with a brash tabloid headline: 'Cannabis - An apology', above a figure of 10,000 in big red letters - which we are informed is the number of teenagers treated for 'cannabis addiction' last year, apparently ten-fold higher than back in 1997. Inside, along with almost five pages of news coverage, there are opinion pieces by Rosie Boycott (the IOS editor who launched their cannabis legalisation campaign 10 years ago) psychiatrist Robin Murray, and a leader in which the they retract their support for Boycott's legalisation campaign - hence the front page headline.



They've totally missed the point.

1. The facts are all over the place. On the front cover Jonathan Owen informs us that skunk today 'is 25 times stronger than the resin sold a decade ago'. In the main feature this has become 'can be 25 times stronger'. A few paragraphs later we later that a cannabis joint 'may contain 10 to 20 times more THC than the equivalent joint in the 1970's'. Rosie Boycott tells us a few pages later that it is 30 times stronger and Robin Murray that the traditional 2-3 % THC of herbal cannabis in the 70's compares to 15-20% (occasionally as high as 30) in today's skunk. Who should we believe?

Actually they are all wrong. In the 70's, as with today, there was a range of cannabis products - herbal and resin - available on the market and they varied in strength from very weak to highly potent. Drugscope reported just last week that most of what was being sold as 'skunk' today is around 10% and that the stronger varieties were comparatively rare because they took longer to grow (increasing production costs) but commanded the same street price. So compare the 'worst' weed from the 70s to the 'best' today and you'll get your scary '25 time stronger' headline. In reality however the average 'weed' from the 70's was probably more like a third to a half the strength of most of today's skunk.

But the true picture is more complicated than this. Skunk is by no means the entire UK market, a large proportion of which is still 'old school' imported weed of the 3-4% variety and a larger proportion being low grade resin (soap bar etc.) also of low single figure % strength. The strongest stuff from 'back in the day' was way stronger than the low grade resin still widely available today. It depends how you spin it.

So lets be clear - the idea that cannabis was weak and harmless in the old days, and has now morphed into super-potent deadly psychotabis today, is just not true. That is oversimplification and hype for sake of a juicy media or political soundbite. An almost identical misleading potency panic took place in the US in the late 1980's : 'Now perceived as a hard drug, marijuana has increased 1,400 percent in potency since 1970' proclaimed the 1986 flyer for a US national marijuana conference.

More potent hydroponically/indoor cultivated herbal cannabis was also already widely available in 1997 , and whilst it is now unarguably more prevalent, the fact that it is mostly UK grown today rather than imported makes no difference to the consumer (if anything the home grown skunk is actually weaker than the equivalent product formerly imported from Holland).

The change in the market over the last ten years is nowhere near as dramatic as the IOS report seems to suggest, and can certainly not account for the 10 fold increase in 'cannabis addiction' that they attribute to it. Indeed this is another extremely dubious statistic (not to mention the reckless and ill defined use of the term 'cannabis addiction'). Not only does the change from 1000 teenagers being treated for 'cannabis addiction' in 1997, to 10,000 last year all seem to deploy conveniently, almost suspiciously, rounded numbers - but as is acknowledged in the papers leader - this rise is significantly due to changes in service provision. It is also due to the way cannabis related problems are diagnosed and counted: of this supposed 10,000 'cannabis addicts' how many are being treated primarily for mental health problems or misuse of other drugs but have also noted cannabis use (practically universal to both groups), or are in treatment as a result of the new and massively expanded arrest referral schemes? We are not told.

2. They fail to understand how drugs are used. The implication of the repeated 'fact' that cannabis today is 10/15/20/25/30 (take your pick) times stronger than it used to be is that people are consuming an equivalent increase in the main active ingredient THC. This is also not the case. Robin Murray describes the comparison between the weed of old and modern skunk as similar to comparing lager and whisky (Owen makes a similar comparison with shandy and brandy). But people don't drink whisky or brandy in pints. If a drug is stronger they consume less, weaker they will consume more - to achieve the desired level of intoxication. In the case of stronger cannabis users will put less in the joint, take less drags, inhale less deeply, smoke less joints and so on. This is called auto-titration and is exactly the same effect seen with low nicotine cigarettes which it was found users smoked more of, inhaled more deeply and so on. The effect was discussed regarding cannabis during the last potency panic in a 1988 paper in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs which concluded that:
"Observations of the real world of marijuana use, where autotitration is the norm, renders the scare tactics of the new marijuana proponents not only inaccurate but irrelevant. There is much published evidence about the availability of highly potent varieties of cannabis from the nineteenth century through the present day"

The idea that cannabis users, even teenagers, are incapable of making rational decisions about the dosage they consume is ridiculous, and the idea that they are getting 25 times more stoned than in the good old days is laughable. This is not to say that increased potency does not equate to any increase in risk, it does, but behaviours adapt surprisingly rapidly and hyping the potency panic or hyping the dangers associated with actual potency changes don't help us come up with rational public health responses that might actually help reduce overall harm. It needs pointing out for example that in Holland where cannabis is effectively (albeit not technically) legal, the licensed premises that sell it offer a wide range of cannabis varieties of differing potencies, and the strongest ones are far from the most popular. And they have a far lower level of youth cannabis use than here in the UK.



3. We haven't suddenly 'discovered' that cannabis is related to mental health problems. The IOS report doesn't 'Reveal' anything new at all. You can look at text books and commission reports from the as far back as the 1920s that document symptoms from cannabis use that are actually remarkably similar to those we have today. They say that for most people the risks of occasional use are low (certainly relative to most other commonly used recreational drugs) but that heavy use, particularly for a small sub-set of users with pre-existing mental health problems or certain other vulnerabilities, presents real dangers of exacerbating existing problems or potentially precipitating new ones. These problems include psychotic episodes (occasionally recurring), schizophrenia and so on. These are the same conclusions that have been reached by innumerable studies and reviews over the last hundred years, most recently two undertaken by the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs which came before and after the drug's UK reclassification from B to C: For most people the risks are minimal, but for a few they are very real, particularly for certain vulnerable groups, and particularly when associated with high levels of use. Guess what? Drugs can be bad for you.

The research into cannabis has continued unabated and our understanding is getting increasingly sophisticated, even though establishing the causal links between certain patterns of use and certain conditions remains problematic. The impression that there has been a sudden emergence of new knowledge is more a reflection of the unprecedented attention focused on the cannabis issue since the cannabis reclassification debate kicked off in 2001. Many opponents of the Government or the reclassification have sought to highlight emerging research in the media, often misrepresenting ambiguous conclusions as direct causal links.

Even if it's all true - what exactly is the IOS recommending? Ignore all other tedious witterings above for a moment and let's assume that cannabis really is 25 time stronger than 10 years ago and this really has led to a ten fold increase in teen cannabis addiction (whatever that might be). What does the IOS then recommend in its leader as a response to the policy disaster under which this skunk apocalypse has emerged?

Nothing: They say the the current policy is 'about right'.


Do we get an exploration of policy alternatives or a consideration of progressive policy in other European countries where the problems are markedly smaller? No. Instead we are told that the 'the fact possession of cannabis - and other drugs - is illegal acts as a important social deterrent'. You have to wonder what they have based this on. Could it be the massive rise in use of all illegal drugs since 1971? Could it be the the Police Foundation report of 2000 that concluded:

"such evidence as we have assembled about the current situation and the changes that have taken place in the last 30 years all point to the conclusion that the deterrent effect of the law has been very limited"
maybe it was the 2006 Science and Technology Select Committee that concluded:

"We have found no solid evidence to support the existence of a deterrent effect, despite the fact that it appears to underpin the Government’s policy on classification"
Perhaps it was Professor David Nutt, Chairman of the ACMD Technical Committee when he said: "I think the evidence base for classification producing a deterrent is not strong"

Maybe it was the fact that when challenged by the Sci-Tech select committee the Government were unable to produce a single shred of evidence for such a deterrent effect, and have undertaken no research to find any. I could go on, but needless to say The IOS has similarly failed to produce anything to back this claim up.

This all points towards to the biggest mistake the IOS makes in this whole sorry piece, which is to confuse their legitimate concern with the health impacts of cannabis misuse amongst a small group vulnerable young people with support for a failed ideological prohibitionist policy - rather than support for an evidence-led regulatory response based on public health and harm reduction principles. They advocate a policy that has not only created many of the problems they describe (lets face it, hype), but also one that offers no prospect of sorting them out.

The IOS seem blind to the fact that the emergence of potent indoor cultivated cannabis is itself a manifestation of the illegal market they are now supporting. In a similar fashion to the prohibition-fuelled emergence of crack cocaine, stronger varieties of cannabis (whilst they have always been available) are more expensive and consequently more profitable for the increasing number of small to medium scale indoor growers.

The IOS, despite noting that: 'the rhetoric of the 'war on drugs' tended to distort priorities', then deems it appropriate to maintain the blanket criminalisation of millions of non-problematic occasional users, because of a relatively tiny population of vulnerable teenage heavy users who have problems with the drug. This is akin to banning cars because of a small population of teenage joyriders. It has no legal precedent or ethical basis, it's inconsistent and makes no sense. They don't call for the mass criminalisation of alcohol because of growing teen drinking issues, so what are they doing? If they are so convinced by the deterrent effect of enforcement and if the skunk problem is so awful, why not call for doubling of sentences or show these young'ns the error of their ways by throwing them all in jail?

The IOS also perpetuate the misunderstanding that the cause of cannabis legalisation/regulation is based on the fact that cannabis is harmless - a misunderstanding arguably due in part to the mistaken approach of Rosie Boycott's initial campaign and its rather romanticised view of cannabis use. No serious advocates for drug policy and law reform do so on the basis that any drug is safe (to her credit Boycott's opinion piece reflects the increasing sophistication of her argument ten years on). On the contrary - reformers argue on the basis that all drug use involve risks and that is precisely why they need to be appropriately regulated and controlled by the State, so as to minimise the harms they cause. The IOS apparently wants the multi-billion pound drug markets to remain in the hands of criminal gangs and street dealers. Because that should help protect the kids.

Nowhere in the IOS coverage do they mention the fact that the authors of the key recent studies linking cannabis and mental health problems are advocates of legal regulation for precisely the reason described above (see Transform's 'cannabis reclassification revisited' briefing for more detailed discussion and references on this point). Perhaps there wasn't room for this discussion because all the space had been taken up with noddy-science cross-sections of brains, and lists of unreferenced cherry-picked statistics.

Cannabis use is a real public health issue, and the growing culture of young people misusing it a real concern, even if total numbers seem to have levelled off or even fallen marginally since reclassification. Hyping the problem for the sake of good story, however, is totally unhelpful, and calling for more of the same when the current policy has been such a manifest failure is even less so.

This was a lazy piece of sensationalist journalism and a pathetically weak and ill thought out leader. Dissapointing and mystifying for a supposedly progressive thinking paper.

Read the follow up here: The Independent's born-again drug war: Round Two

26 comments:

Anonymous said...

At last.. someone talking sense..

thank you

Anonymous said...

Well done - a nicely written antidote piece to all the shrill yellow jornalism that has been appearing of late in lots of the mainstream media.

I can't help but wonder why all this has been coming out like it has of late - what was the trigger that led to this happening?

I must have been something for all these different papers/TV programmes to jump on this same bandwagon simultaneously.

Anonymous said...

excellent piece Steve R..thankyou

comprehensively trashes the Indy's shabby piece

Anonymous said...

There is a lot of truth in Steve's article, yes there is strong cannabis about but there has ALWAYS been strong cannabis available, especially in the 70s. It is also true that the harmful link between cannabis & mental health has been known about for years. It is disingenous for scientists who have apparently changed their minds on the health harms of cannabis to state otherwise. When Blunkett downgraded cannabis he refused to see six top scientists who oppossed that move even back then. Just why is cannabis causing more mental problems now than it was in the 70s? (though it caused some then!). Strength has something to do with it but what has really changed is the culture around drugs use. Cannabis use has both broadened and deepened, youngsters use earlier (age of first use) and many people use longer (social change). Youngsters now do not just use cannabis on a saturday night, they use it on the way TO school, AT school, on the way home and at home. Many of them become unteachable & ill, they are Blair's "feral youth" This behaviour is the direct product of Steve & others, proselytisying about the stuff. Cannabis is therefore & unsurprisingly, causing more harm. What does Transform want to do about that? Why, legalise on the tobacco/alcohol model or similar. That would make cannabis a desirable "adult behaviour" for youngsters, precisely the most vulnerable group. Well we have seen what those models do for public health!! Steve believes (or tells us) legalisation would take cannabis out of the "black market", nothing could be further from the truth. Illegal traders can always undercut legal traders, example around 25% of the UK tobacco market is smuggled, counterfeit or both (it is more in some other countries with lower excise taxes). So the main "advantage" of Steve's legalisation campaign would be even more use, by more people, for more of their lives. THat inevitably means, more total harm, just like tobacco & alcohol. Legalisation of every possible drug that can be used for what are called "recreational purposes" is just foolishness. It has no basis in common sense. Steve should start to worry about his surgeon or pilot being on fentanyl. Transform has promoted the cultural change around drugs , scientists andthe community are starting to kick back.
David Raynes Member: International Task force on Strategic Drug Policy.
http://www.itfsdp.org/

daksya said...

If a drug is stronger they consume less, weaker they will consume more - to achieve the desired level of intoxication. In the case of stronger cannabis users will put less in the joint, take less drags, inhale less deeply, smoke less joints and so on.

This is gospel among reformers but it's not quite that simple. There was a field study of marijuana users in three cities [Bremen(GER), San Fran(US) and Amsterdam(NL)], published in the Journal of Drug Issues. The hundreds of users in that study fell into a few clusters (heavy users, occasional users, social users..etc). The social users tended to auto-titrate, but the heavy users didn't. And they are the ones most at risk of detrimental outcomes.

Anonymous said...

I am no longer going to buy the Indepnedent as a result of this shody reporting. I am sick to death of the press being allowed to continue to lie about drugs and cause moral panic. I would urge people to complain to the press complaints about it. The IOS should feel ashamed for this blatent misleading article.

Steve R said...

Thanks for the comments.

David - good to hear from you. I agree that the culture of cannabis use has changed, and that that is at the root of the problem. But this is part of my problem with the current drug policy: the rather arrogant and mistaken assumption that changes in enforcement (such as reclassification or even legalisation/regulation decriminalisation etc) will make any difference to that culture. These strike me as symptomatic responses that are largely doomed to have nothing more than superficial or marginal impacts on the real problems you highlight. To that extent I support your call for better prevention - educating kids about the dangers (where that can be shown to work) but perhaps more importantly giving the most vulnerable (mostly from socially deprived communities) more leisure time options, better education etc. Only by addressing these underlying
issues can we hope to deal with problematic drug use in the longer term. This is how I see honest evidence-based prevention work having a key role in drug policy for young people.

Youll be unsuprised to learn I take issue with you on several other issues though. I never proslytise about cannabis. In fact we have actively distanced ourselves from the cannabis evangelists and my blog here is a good example of that. I make a number of clear acknowledgements of the risks of cannabis and sdrugs gebnerally and further more state that that is the basis of the reform arguement. I dont think anything is to be achieved by denying the risks of drugs, any more than by hyping them.

Yo make a range of other points that we have thrashed out numerous times but, for the record (some copied from our upcoming debating guide)...

re alcohol and tobacco:

For all the health and social problems associated with alcohol and tobacco use, the key difference with illegal drugs is on the production and supply side. Alcohol and Tobacco are produced under licence, are liable to taxation, are not profiting criminals, are sold in licensed shops and premises, provide information on strength and - with tobacco at least - health warnings on the packaging. We have none of the criminal market problems that we have for currently illegal drugs (see tobacco notes below re: illicit smuggling).

It is entirely consistent to call for more regulation of alcohol and tobacco as well as the legalisation and regulation of currently illegal drugs. This is about applying the same evidence led public health and harm reduction principles to all drugs to find the optimum level of regulation for each.

The high prevalence of tobacco use is due to a number of factors including its long history of use, its aggressive promotion as an aspirational lifestyle product over the last century, and the nature of nicotine intoxication that enables people to function normally at the same time as being addicted, lending itself to long term frequent use.

Increasingly effective regulation of tobacco (including recent bans on advertising and smoking in public spaces) and, more importantly, growing public understanding of the negative health consequences of smoking backed up with comparatively well funded health education campaigns on the risks of smoking have led to a steady reduction in smoking over the past 3 decades. Admittedly this was from a very high point in the post war era (before which advertising was aggressive and unfettered, and the medical consequences of smoking poorly understood), but it does illustrate how prevalence of a legal drug can change positively in response to sensible regulation and public health education. There is clearly some distance to go – tobacco sales remain effectively unlicensed and key concepts in tobacco harm reduction (such as smokeless tobacco products) have yet to trouble UK policy makers.

The illegal market in smuggled tobacco is the direct result of taxation policy – a direct result of the large international differentials in tobacco tax that create the profit opportunity for smugglers. For example, tax rates on tobacco vary from 0% in Andorra, to several 100% in the UK – a far greater range than almost any other mass consumer product. If tobacco taxes were reduced domestically, the international differential and profit opportunity in smuggling and illicit sales would fall accordingly; where there is no tobacco tax there is no smuggled imports or illicit sales. Higher taxes, however, mean higher prices which can effectively dissuade potential new users and encourage existing users to quit, just as falling prices can have the opposite effect (ref cochrane study). The Government has to use taxation policy to balance these two conflicting needs (dissuading use / undermining illegal activity). Crucially, though, because tobacco is legal and regulated, governments are in a position of power to intervene on price, an impossibility with illegal drugs that are entirely at the whim of supply and demand in an unregulated criminal market. It is also worth noting that most smuggled tobacco is at least legally produced in the first instance.

re: pilots/surgeons on fentanyl

proffessionals in safety critical posts should obvioiusly not be intoxicated with any drug that compromises their competence - to do so is, and should remain criminal, as well as dismissable breach of contract. No one suggesting regulating currently illegal drug markets is suggesting decriminalising such reckless endangerment. The legal status of the drug is irrelevant in this context.

regards prevalence:

The impact of policy and law on levels of use is marginal (in some cases even contributing to increases) – with cultural and socio-economic variables being far more important. Prohibition has demonstrably failed to prevent the dramatic rise in drug use and drug harms over the past four decades.
Drug use may rise and may fall post prohibition – there will be a range of factors at play, and we will certainly see different impacts with different drugs, different populations of users and different locations. I have blogged on the deterrent effect elsewhere here.

What is absolutely certain is that overall harm associated with drugs will fall – the risks associated with drug use will decrease sharply and we will be far better placed to address problematic drug use, and its underlying causes.
Reducing drug related harm is more important than the dogged and futile pursuit of a drug free society.

The UK national drugs strategy states that “...we will prevent young people from using drugs by maintaining prohibition which deters use...”. Similarly The Home Office states that “Drugs are controlled because of their harm potential and the law and its sanctions help to limit experimentation”. This understanding is reflected in much of the popular political and media opposition to reforms with frequent references, most recently witnessed during the cannabis reclassification debate, to ‘giving the green light to drug use’ or ‘sending out the wrong message’. As so often in the drugs debate, these simple arguments conceal more complex and important ones and the apparent fault line here is not nearly as clear cut as it may initially seem:

The idea that drug use will rise post-prohibition is built around the very flimsy premise that prohibition is an effective deterrent to use. Research into drug taking motivations, specifically why people choose not to take drugs, and the extent of any deterrent effect from law enforcement is extremely scant. The Home Office has never undertaken or presented any substantial evidence in support of the deterrent effect that is at the heart of UK drug policy – even when it has been specifically and repeatedly challenged on this issue by parliamentary select committees1. From the little we do have, it appears the extent and impact of enforcement related deterrence is at best marginal, and will vary greatly between different drugs and drug using groups. (for further discussion see: - Myths about prohibition: the criminal justice system is an effective deterrent).
In particular little or no research has been undertaken to demonstrate a deterrent effect amongst problematic or dependent users of heroin and cocaine, the Government’s stated primary focus of its drug policy efforts.
There are a large number of variables that affect drug-taking decisions other than enforcement related deterrence. These include socioeconomic variables, fashion, culture and music, advertising, availability, price and perception of risk. Post-prohibition there will be effects that may increase use (removal of enforcement deterrence, lower price, easier availability, better quality), as well as effects that may lower use (removal of ‘underground glamour’, more medicalisation of addicts, removal of dealers targeting new users, increased investment in treatment, education and social regeneration). The net effect of these conflicting pressures is unclear and will vary significantly between different drugs and different drug using populations.
Headline figures of reported use give no indication of the intensity or frequency of use, and specifically do not measure problematic use or levels of harm associated with use. A rise in prevalence does not necessarily equate to a rise in overall harm, and could in theory coincide with a fall in the prevalence of problematic use and overall harm.
A report commissioned by Tony Blair from the Number 10 Strategy Unit concluded that:
“There is no causal relationship between drug availability and incidence [of use] ”
and
“Supply-side interventions have a limited role to play in reducing harm - initiation into problematic drug use is not driven by changes in availability or price”

It is also important to acknowledge how the nature of drug use would change under a legally regulated system that would mean that, even if there were an increase in use, there would be a decrease in overall harm:

Drugs would be safer, being of known and guaranteed strength and purity and having health and safety information, warnings and guidance on packaging or available at point of sale.

Prohibition has pushed users towards ever more concentrated and profitable forms of certain drugs (from opium to heroin, and from coca leaf, to coca drinks, to cocaine, to crack). A post prohibition era is likely to witness a shift back towards safer, less concentrated options. By way of example, following the end of alcohol prohibition in the US consumption patterns moved away from spirits back to beers and wines.

Prevalence of use is only one of a number of health indicators (and not an especially useful one) and health is only one of a number of policy areas that need to be evaluated.

Policy should seek to manage drug use so as to minimise the harm drugs cause, both to drug users and the wider community. This requires that we redefine ‘the drug problem’ as more than just ‘people use drugs’. Measuring the effectiveness of drug policy requires a far broader range of indicators that include public health, crime, civil rights, community safety and international development and conflict.

Anonymous said...

Daksya,

I think I'm familiar with the article you're citing. If I'm not mistaken, the article never looks at what effect THC concentration has on heavy users' consumption nor does it explicitly state that heavy users consume non-stop regardless of the level of intoxication.

Correct?

J

Steve R said...

Daksya - I dont claim the auto titration thing as 'gospel' - it seems to be fairly well evidenced and also chimes with reality as ive witnessed it. Obviously I accept that heavy users will consume more THC and less regulation - they are obviously the main conbcern from a public health perspective.

Anonymous said...

Seems just like everything else these days, lets just fall in line behind the USA and keep hangin on to their apron strings and kissin their ass, makes me sick. All this scaremongery has been done already over there and had little or no effect. People have always taken drugs and will continue to take drugs no matter what the authorities tell them to do, weather it be for recreational use or escapism. What this government needs to look at is how come it's doing such a great job of running the country that so many people want to escape by taking various substances. 99.9% of drugs originated as medicines taken when you got sick to cure a problem, when taken or abused when you are not sick the opposite invariably happens. I think that most people who use cannibis sensibly and medicinally already understand this . Cannabis is not physically addictive like heroin or cocaine because your body does not manufacture extra receptor sites to cope with increased input of the drug. It may be mentally addictive to people living in the UK because they want to escape from the crappy lives they are forced to lead under this government. Same cost of living as Japan without the standard of living, highest working hours in the whole of Europe. People need to relax from all this pressure and cannabis is a safe recreational medicine in the hands of responsible adults. How many stoners do you know who get smoked up go down town causing fights, glassing people and causing trouble and getting arrested. How many drunks do you know who do the same thing, plenty I bet, and alcohol is legal? Sorry for the rant but this country has got it's arse where it's head should be.

daksya said...

the article never looks at what effect THC concentration has on heavy users' consumption

I read the article 7-8 months ago, but I do recollect smoking behavior being discussed.

nor does it explicitly state that heavy users consume non-stop regardless of the level of intoxication.

I didn't claim that either. Just that heavy users didn't auto-titrate i.e. consume 1 joint of 10% rather than 2 joints of 5% THC. They are reportedly more likely to consume 2 joints of 10%. "Non-stop" smoking isn't claimed.

daksya said...

Actually, let me retract my cite but not my assertion (that not all users titrate). I just looked up the fulltext of the JDI study and potency/titration isn't mentioned. However, one of the other studies that I have catalogued at DWR should have it, because I very clearly remember reading it and being surprised.

Steve R said...

I dont think all users titrate, nor do all drinkers - but it is a significnat factor in much consumption that needs to be considered in the potency debate. maybe I should have been clearer.

Anonymous said...

Daksya,

The article you cited says, "The moderate consumers suggest they only use until they have reached a desired state of intoxication, and then terminate use." The implication is that heavy users don't autotitrate, but it never explicitly states that to my knowledge.

I have known some "heavy binge" cannabis smokers. Much like implied above, they would often remain intoxicated until their stash was gone. However, since higher THC cannabis tends to be more expensive and packaged in smaller quantities, the level of intoxication was comparable (in my completely unscientific observation). And even the heaviest of users I've ever known stopped when they reached a certain level of intoxication, kind of a "couch-lock" state, although it seems to take a lot more to get them in that state than it did novice smokers. Once they recovered somewhat they would re-dose.

Anyway, if you find that it was another article, can you PM it to me at the DWRant MB?

Thanks

J

Bob said...

Its my usual Sunday paper and I have been deeply disapointed with its drug coverage in the past.

There really wasnt any theme to their rant, it was just lots about how its now as dangerous as cocaine and heroin (the UN said this!).

But they shot themselves in the foot by giving the last quote to Release - "Its not because drugs are safe that they should be legally controlled, its because they are dangerous".

Steve R said...

Bob - danny gave them a quote saying the exact same thing - which they didnt use.

Ali B said...

Yes what a disappointing bit of silliness from the normally sensible Indy on Sunday. Here's the text of a letter I've sent to the editor. I hope many others flood them with similar ones.

"Your ‘cannabis apology’ is completely unwarranted. The apparent dangers of super-strong skunk actually reinforce the arguments in favour of cannabis being properly labelled and sold through legitimate outlets with due health warnings rather than being left to the black market. Your case would appear to be the logical equivalent of someone in 1920s America defending alcohol prohibition on the grounds that distilled liquor was far more damaging to livers than beer. But worse than this, your revised stance and that dramatic headline convey just the kind of ‘moral panic’ that the Royal Society of Art’s recent and widely-praised drugs study cautioned against. When certain sections of the right-wing press use your retraction to back up their support for the Bush/Blair war on drugs, I hope you will feel suitably contrite."

Jim Sparks said...

I didn't buy the paper but I heard the 'recant' on a breakfast TV news show. I shook my head and thought 'how wrong can you be?'. Talk about mixed messages - this sends out a far more damaging one and fundamentally absolves us as a society from dealing with the issues at hand.

The problem is now that it will be more of a struggle to ever get the remaining substances dealt with rationally.

Anonymous said...

David Raynes , what is your idea of a solution then ? Do we carry on as we always have done and get the same results ? Do you want harsher punishment for drug users ? You don't want legalisation but have offered no alternative course of action . Should I assume you just want more of the same ?

Tim@tFS said...

Your piece made it to our Debris.

Anonymous said...

It didn't work on me - I usually pick up the IOS (mainly because the Observer is so offensive these days) but I didn't buy it yesterday.

If I wanted to make myself miserable and buy a paper that was resorting was scaremongering in order to sell a copy, I'd have picked up the Mail - they have years of practise and do it far better - IOS 'target readers' are not uaully exposed to such manipulating bumpf. What on earth were they thinking?

I think we can all see where the 25x superskunk is being smoked.

Anonymous said...

Hi Steve,

I've noticed that you said that the main danger of skunk is that it is quick and its potency can take users by surprise.

Hash is the active material in the resin glands removed from the flowers, right? So hash is a more concentrated form, if it isn’t adulterated.

So there’s no special risk from “skunk”. Sometimes hash is also very strong, and you would want to be equally careful with that.

onlyhuman

Anonymous said...

I cancelled the Independent today because of this and I will be getting the Guardian instead.

The last straw was the column by the Sunday Independent’s so-called Readers’ Editor Michael Williams. Instead of putting forward any of the obvious criticisms of their disgraceful journalism he shamefully used his column for a purely rhetorical defence of the paper’s decision.

I have been reading the Independent and the IOS for years, and I can’t remember another case anything like this. I mean I know they are not perfect, but I was startled that they would publish such transparent rubbish. And then to announce they are going to base a policy reversal on it! I can only conclude that the people responsible simply don’t understand the issue.

They are in elevated company. When he was Home Secretary Charles Clarke asked his own Advisory Committe on the Misuse of Drugs to advise him about new “superskunk”: he had fallen for the same mythology as the Independent on Sunday.

He then let it be known (through the Independent) that he was “minded” to reverse Blunkett’s reclassification whatever the ACMD recommended. He may have thought, like the Independent, that nobody can prove anything either way.

But in fact there are lots of ways to prove there is no new superskunk, and the ACMD explored some of these ways, and showed the Home Secretary that cannabis has not changed and doesn’t present a new problem that wasn’t there before. Clarke was forced to accept that the reclassification was justified.

It is puzzling that the Independent on Sunday seem unaware that this issue has only recently been decided.

Anonymous said...

I'm currently writing a book on the modern cannabis debate and have been watching this situation closely for several years.

I've been in contact with the UNODC and looked at the research they used in establishing their findings in the UNODC 2006 Report. Chapter 2 was written by a Theodore Leggett and I must admit that for an expert he has nailed things nicely - that is, much of what he has written is entirely correct. One problem I do have with the UNODC findings is that to establish that cannabis THC levels have doubled in a decade,they chose to discard some research that suggested THC levels had remained stable (exactly the same) while using research from the Trimbos Institute in Holland. What I found through looking at this research was the methodology is highly flawed for the purposes of establishing THC percentages across the board. What the Trimbos Institute did was ask Coffee Shop owners/staff what were the most popular forms of cannabis. They then purchased samples and had these tested for THC, CBN, CBD. My problem with this is that this method is a consumer survey of tastes (evolving trends) between 2000 - 2006. While the results might indicate an average higher percentage of THC in cannabis over six years, it more simply tells us that consumer tastes towards higher THC % strains is demonstrated in the Trimbos research - scientifically (when put to the test), little more. My problem with this - as I myself do believe THC % has increased since the 1980's - is that global policy should not be influenced based on rhetoric that as yet needs to be fully substantiated through sound scientific methodology (sound scientific research). It is one thing to have a fairly well formed opinion but another to publish this as fact (with wild claims of the "new" cannabis when in fact there is nothing "new" about the "new" cannabis.... eg. Skunk was bred in the 1960's and found its way to European breeders in the 1970's. What makes Skunk potent is the Afghani component. Super Skunk was bred by crossing Afghani back into Skunk. Afghani is more potent than both Skunk and Super Skunk and has existed for many, many thousands of years etc) - long before the facts are conclusive.

Let's not kid ourselves, we are currently witnessing a concerted push by Global policing/policy bodies (the WHO, INCB and UNODC) against cannabis - the most widely consumed illicit drug - and the cannabis legalisation movement. Information is bound to become tainted with political agendas along the way. For anyone who hasn't read the 2006 UNODC Report, that's a good place to begin to see global drug politics at work.

Anonymous said...

I should add this also: For anyone who thinks the INCB, WHO and UNODC are not currently engaged in coercing public opinion. BTW: The preface of the 2006 UNODC Report makes very interesting reading.

UN warns of cannabis dangers as it backs 'IoS' drugs 'apology'
By Jonathan Owen
Published: 25 March 2007
The United Nations has issued an unprecedented warning to Britain about the growing threat to public health from potent new forms of cannabis, saying there is mounting evidence of "just how dangerous" the drug has become.
Writing in today's Independent on Sunday, Antonio Costa, the executive director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, says each country has the " drug problem it deserves", and warns that the British government must " avoid being swayed by misguided notions of tolerance".
Mr Costa's comments follow disclosures in last week's IoS that a record 22,000 people needed National Health Service treatment last year for drug rehabilitation, together with doctors' warnings that skunk cannabis is creating a generation with mental health problems.
He says: "Many [people] subscribe to the vague, laissez-faire tolerance of cannabis which is increasingly prevalent among educated people in Western countries. That consensus needs to be challenged. Evidence of the damage to mental health caused by cannabis use is mounting and cannot be ignored."
The intervention, which will be seen as an attack on the Government's liberal stance on cannabis use, follows the decision by the IoS to reverse its support for the drug to be decriminalised, 10 years after launching a high-profile campaign for legalisation.
Mr Costa proposes that young people found in possession of the drug should be penalised in the same way as people caught drink driving, adding that the cannabis "now in circulation is many times more powerful than the weed that today's baby-boomers smoked in college. Cannabis is a dangerous drug."
After a week of debate in newspapers, television and radio ¬ as well as outrage on pro-cannabis websites and blogs ¬ the UN's unprecedented foray into the debate about drugs policy coincided with a new study proving links between mental health problems and smoking skunk. Research published yesterday predicts that cannabis may account for a quarter of all new cases of schizophrenia in three years' time.
The study, published in the journal Addiction, also says that rates of schizophrenia will increase substantially by the end of the decade, particularly among young men. The use of cannabis among under-18s rose 18-fold in the 30 years to 2002, according to the researchers from Bristol University.
Dr John MacLeod, co-author of the study, said: "If you assume such a link [with cannabis] then the number of cases of schizophrenia will increase significantly in line with increased use of the drug."
Sir Richard Branson, a prominent supporter of the IoS campaign for decriminalisation, yesterday added his voice to those calling for the new facts about skunk to prompt a policy rethink.
"The arrival of genetically engineered skunk has merited a new look at the situation," Sir Richard said. "If people have serious problems with drink, drugs or cigarettes, there should be NHS centres to help them where they can walk in free from blame

James said...

Coming from the point of the much argued over youth, I would have to say that legalizing and regulating drugs is the only good way to keep them out of my hands. Through the later years of my jr. high school and well on into my high school career, pot has been readily available. Other drugs in high school weren't much of a stretch for me, either. Alcohol, on the other hand, is another story. I recently turned 18, and only now is drinking becoming more accessible to me through sources outside of my parents.

I can get my hands on any drug that is not government regulated. That is the end of the story for me and the rest of your youth that you are trying to protect.