Saturday, July 21, 2007

Independent debunks itself on cannabis potency

In a strange turn of events Saturday's Independent ran a news piece by health correspondent Jeremy Lawrence, titled 'Debunked: politicians' excuse that cannabis has become stronger'

The piece is aimed at the politicians who have recently confessed to cannabis use but have been claiming, as some sort of excuse, that what they smoked 'back in the day' (you know, the harmless hippie stuff) is a world away from the super potent insane-abis which the feral street kids of Britain are being driven mad with today. The article is a fairly comprehensive debunk:

"The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, which examined the issue 18 months ago, will be asked to do so again. It concluded in its report in December 2005 that the strength of cannabis resin (hash) had changed little over 30 years and was about 5 per cent tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Skunk, it found was 10 to 15 per cent THC - two to three times as strong, not 25 times.

Professor Leslie Iversen, a pharmacologist at Oxford University, said the widespread belief that skunk was 20 to 30 times as powerful was "simply not true".

The biggest change over recent decades has been in the strength of indoor-cultivated herbal cannabis, but even this has only doubled to 12 to 14 per cent THC. Although exceptionally strong skunk can be found on the market in Britain, it always has been available, according to reports from the UN Drug Control Programme."

The weird thing about this is that if anyone has been stoking the fire under the potency-panic furnace lately, it is the Independent on Sunday. Back in March the Independent on Sunday ran its now famous cannabis apology front page, claiming that skunk 'is 25 times stronger than the resin sold a decade ago'. Much more of the same followed over the next 5 weeks with no less than 15 cannabis health-panic news items or comment pieces used to justify their new 'cannabis is bad for you therefore we advocate mass criminalisation' editorial line/ratings booster.

Much of this was diligently and patiently critiqued here on the Transform blog:

There was also a good deal of intelligent critique from elsewhere in the media and blogosphere:

So, whilst we might expect a critical view from an opinion writer (Deborah Orr has a piece in the paper aswell for example calling for legalisation and regulation, and Indeed Johann Hari has been writing about all this at length in the daily Independent for ages) , it does seem odd that they would now run a news item that utterly and completely undermines their own position, which they so prominently paraded on the front pages and in leader columns just a few months back.

What exactly is the relationship between the Independent and the Independent on Sunday? Do they share more than a name, logo and website? Has Jeremy Lawrence ever met Jonathan Owen (chief cheerleader of the IOS's canna-panic)? Was Lawrence secretly fuming at all the shoddy reporting being trotted out by his sister paper and lying in wait for his moment to strike back?

Who knows, or to be honest, cares. Its just good to see that poor reporting and populist silliness based on bad science can, apparently, be challenged in house. And fortunately we have seen more of this elsewhere in the past two weeks as the Guardian's withering critique of a populist MMR shock-piece in the Observer demonstrates. Perhaps there is some glimmer of hope yet for improved critical coverage of science stories in the media.

note: non-cannabis blog coverage will hopefully be resuming shortly

thanks to Science punk


Anonymous said...

Complete bollocks mate! The nominal potency of cannabis is a moot point. Whatever the potency of cannabis, it is being used far more extensively now than it ever was in the sixties or seventies, or even the eighties. I’ve got mates who served three-year stretches for cannabis possession back in the seventies. People regarded as serious stoners back then are comparable to weekend users today. Hash, or pot as it was then known, was far less available because of severe legal restrictions, as a consequence far less pot was smoked by far fewer people. The fact that the cannabis being smoked now is significantly (and 15% stronger is significant) stronger than that smoked in previous decades is just the icing on the cake.


Steve Rolles said...

which bit is complete bollocks? saying that the potency issue has been overhyped? or that a esponse based on increased criminalisation is not going to be effective?

No one is disputing that cannabis use has gone up (althouhgh it is now going down)or that it has got stronger (marginally on average). However I would argue that this has nothing to do with enforcement policy and everything to to with cultural and social variables. the market is predominanetly demand led.