Monday, April 30, 2007

Cannabis potency update: IOS digs in, ONDCP ‘fess up

This Sunday saw yet another less-than-completely-balanced cannabis story from Jonathan Owen in the Independent. Head-lined Cannabis harms mental health, scientists warn it features one line interviews with experts at an upcoming conference about how cannabis affects the brain (see guidelines for drug-panic media coverage here). Dr Zerin Atakan is quoted saying "There is a disturbance of the area governing thoughts and emotions and this seems to be related to temporary psychotic symptoms suffered by some of the people that took part." This is interesting in that one of the criticisms of some ‘cannabis causes psychosis’ coverage is that psychosis is never defined (Stedman's Medical Dictionary defines psychosis as "a severe mental disorder, with or without organic damage, characterized by derangement of personality and loss of contact with reality and causing deterioration of normal social functioning.") and also that it is rarely identified as a fairly common temporary symptom of (over) intoxication, rather than a long term mental health issue for most users.

Interestingly the Independent also omits to mention that Dr Zerin Atakan supports legalisation and regulation of cannabis:

"I personally believe it should be legalised so it is tightly regulated and it says on the packet how much THC is in it. At the moment it is worse because people think it is legalised and there is confusion and it is in the hands of the dealers. That is not a good situation."

This notion – that dangerous drugs need to be properly regulated (rather than be left in the hands of criminal profiteers) to minimise the harm they cause still seems to be an alien one to the IOS. That said, following a rather curt email about journalistic integrity, I did manage to have a similar small Transform quote belatedly tapped onto the end of last weeks Cannabis-is-really-bad-for-you item:

But drug reform organisation Transform says that legalisation of cannabis is the way forward. A spokesman said: "It is precisely because drugs are dangerous that they need to be appropriately regulated rather than be left in the hands of criminal profiteers."

Before moving onto far more interesting developments Stateside I'd just like to quote one laughable sentence from the latest self-congratulatory Owen piece.

“All this comes as a ferocious debate continues over the mental health risks of skunk - a potent new form of the drug - first reported in this newspaper last month.”

Now correct me if I’m wrong but I’m fairly sure the mental-health skunk story had been reported before last month.

(The BBC online also cover this conference event in a piece which could almost have been titled psychoactive drug in 'affects brain' shock. )


Still on the cannabis potency news, if you can bear it, there was an interesting development this week in the States, itself home to a series of marijuana potency panics over the past few decades. It all has some rather eerie echos of the UK experience as chronicled here in recent weeks. As reported on the stop the drug war blog:

"After years of claiming that marijuana is 25-30 times stronger than it used to be, ONDCP [that's the Office of National Drug Control Policy] admitted that marijuana potency has merely doubled’

"Today, the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) and the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) released the latest analysis from the University of Mississippi's Potency Monitoring Project which revealed that levels of THC—the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana—have reached the highest-ever levels since scientific analysis of the drug began in the late 1970's. According to the latest data on marijuana samples analyzed to date, the average amount of THC in seized samples has reached 8.5 percent. This compares to an average of just under 4 percent reported in 1983 and represents more than a doubling in the potency of the drug since that time".

Seizure Specimen Potency Trend

Source: Univ of Mississippi Marijuana Potency Monitoring Project, Report 95, Jan 9 2007

Potency of All Tested Cannabis Specimens

Source: Univ of Mississippi Marijuana Potency Monitoring Project, Report 95, Jan 9 2007

They compare this new data to 2002 comments from US Drug Tsar John Walters' statement

"The THC of today's sinsemilla averages 14 percent and ranges as high as 30 percent.

Even stronger stuff is on the way. The point is that the potency of available marijuana has not merely "doubled," but increased as much as 30 times."

The blog notes that;

“It's curious that ONDCP and NIDA are so proud to announce that they've been wildly exaggerating marijuana potency for many years. Apparently, they see value in finally legitimizing their claims that pot is getting stronger, even if doing so raises the question of what the hell they've been talking about all this time.”

“Yet a doubling of marijuana potency hardly compliments the ONDCP's ongoing effort to eradicate the stuff from the planet. Nor does it bear any relationship to the intoxication levels experienced by users, who titrate their doses to achieve the desired effect regardless of potency.”

As has been argued in the various recent blogs on the IOS cannabis potency panic –the almost exact same story is true in the UK; average cannabis potency has risen over the past three decades, but nowhere near as dramatically as the Drugs-Tsar-esq '25 times stronger' scare headlines that have appeared in the IOS recently.

previous blog coverage:

How the Independent on Sunday got it horribly wrong on Cannabis

The Independent's born-again war on drugs: Round Two

Independent on Sunday and cannabis - on it goes

1 comment:

cliffchuff said...

What should also be noted is that American weed although doubling in strength is still fairly poor quality (when compared to global) the reason American weed has increased is that growers have caught up with European techniques of propogation. Its no real scare they have simply improved their product in line with international standards.