THE TIMES JANUARY 13 2004
The MPs responsible for drugs legislation will be asked today to consider fresh research into the dangers of cannabis, before the drug is downgraded later this month. Recent studies, which were unavailable to the Commons Home Affairs. Select Committee when they last considered drugs policy 18 months ago, have highlighted a greater link between cannabis use and psychosis. Janet Dean, the Labour MP for Burton and a committee member, promised to raise reports in The Times on the growing concern among psychiatrists about the use of cannabis by young people.
The committee endorsed David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, decision to reclassify cannabis from a class B to a class C drug, which comes into force on January 29. But since then Robin Murray, head of psychiatry at the Institute of Psychiatry, told The Times that inner-city psychiatric services were nearing a crisis point, with up to 80 per cent of all new psychotic cases reporting a history of cannabis use. Professor Murray said that recent studies showed that those who used cannabis in their teens were up to seven times more likely to develop psychosis, delusions or manic depression.
He said: ‘Unfortunately. then were no experts in psychosis on the committees that advised the Government” Ms Dean said she would draw the Times article to the attention of the committee at its meeting today.
HIGHS AND LOWS
If cannabis can cause psychosis should the Government rethink its reclassification?
MY SON sat with me on a hospital bench outside the hospital canteen. Suddenly, he looked up and said “Oh, mother, you don’t know how terrible it is to be Hitler”. “You’re not Hitler,” I said. “Your voices are only your own thoughts”. I took his hand. I knew I was doing what the psychiatrists had told me not to do. You are meant neither to contradict their convictions nor to agree with them. But I knew what I did was right. He looked up. “You really believe that?” “I do,” I said. Then he wept. I put my arms around him, the man who had written to my mother saying I should have a gun put to my forehead and the trigger pulled.
He was in better form than he had been. At this moment he was not complaining that the nurses were plotting to kill him For now, he had stopped showing me the loose floor tiles beneath the hand basin in his washing closet where he believed they buried the bodies of past patients they had gassed. The nursing staff were endlessly kind and long-suffering for, strange to say, most people loved my son. He was charismatic, intelligent, a gifted artist. But without medication he was lost. He had told me that cannabis was the most dangerous of the many drugs he had taken, because it was cannabis which had triggered the paranoia, and it was the drug he feared most. He died in a dealers flat in 2000 of heroin and dihydrocodeine poisoning within three days of being taken off section and a full year clean of all illegal drugs.
What mystifies me is that Professor Robin Murray head or psychiatry at the Institute or Psychiatry, who gives a convincing picture of the dangers of cannabis says: “We’re not saying-the Government shouldn’t reclassify cannabis.” Equally. David Winnick one of the MPs on the Select committee which recommended reclassification, says: “We would not change our view”They talk about informed choice. Come off it! Children as young as ten start rolling joints. Can you give kids with no experience of life an informed choice? Harm reduction is chickening out of taking adult responsibility for our young. Drug prevention is the only valid course. It has worked in Sweden. Here, we don’t even try.
WHAT your article failed to mention is the crucial distinction between the original strains of the plant found in the and the cultured strains, which I believe are described as skunk. The past 20 years have seen the emergence of super-potent varieties, often grown hydroponically by enthusiasts interested in one thing only stronger cannabis.
How they have succeeded. Varieties now available can contain hundreds of times stronger doses of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the active ingredient And God knows what else. The quantity of all manner of other chemical compounds present in the wild strains in doses, may also have been increased dramatically. It is my contention that heavy use of super-potent skunk is responsible for the increase in cannabis psychosis, which is why we need to make a crucial distinction between the wild herb and the artificially cultivated skunk varieties. I realise that legislating for this is probably unworkable in practice, so. reluctantly. I have to oppose any reclassification of cannabis.
CANNABIS is not safe on, many counts. It is well proven that it affects learning, remembering, thinking and making decisions. Now, mental health problems are in the spotlight. We, and others. said as much to the select committee which recommended reclassification, but they didn’t want it to know. Mr Blunkett had told them what he wanted, and they and the advisory council were moved to concur. That they dismiss the new evidence of Professor Murray and his other eminent colleagues speaks volumes about their zeal, but not their expertise. Meanwhile all other parameters – family and social damage, impact in the workplace, foetal and early childhood damage are all researched, but barely mentioned.
Everyone but the rigid cannabis zealot must surely conclude that cannabis use must be discouraged by all means.
The freedom of abstinence
WHY is the same question left hanging in the air following the 80 percent increase in the psychoses related to the use of cannabis? When will any government have the courage and willpower to invest in those positive prevention messages (and resources) that communicate to the next generation the truth that health and excellence, through abstinence, are worth making tough choices for?
My 25 years of working with addicts, who all began their tragic descent into addiction through cannabis, confirms to me that abstinence was the beginning of a new life free of those supposedly harmless, but physically demanding substances which had not only robbed them of their full potential but of their families and society.
Live it and see
SO. THE Government feels that there is no particular threat from the use of cannabis, despite the ever increasing evidence to the contrary and as a result of reducing its classification are ensuring that this drug becomes even more readily available. I would ask those responsible for this blinked decision to live with the family of a 15-year-old boy who is dependent on cannabis, and then make a judgment based on the facts.
Perhaps David Blunkett would like to experience the abuse and harassment for money, the aggression resulting in broken windows and smashed furniture, the regular trips to the police station following fights. criminal damage, theft and threatening behaviour all due to the craving for cannabis or the money to buy it. Perhaps he would like his son to have no employable skills because of perpetual truanting and exclusions from school. perhaps he would like his family ripped apart by the constant daily battle to protect a child from ruining his life or killing himself or someone else in the process. Perhaps he would like to fight in the tree-lined street. as I did during Christmas week to disarm a son who was intent on stabbing another boy with a carving knife while neighbours watched from behind the nets of their large detached houses.
Cannabis wrecks lives. It is the time the Government woke up to that message.
Too much, too soon
SANE was among the first organisation to identify the links between cannabis and mental illness. There is now a large body of evidence showing just how dangerous it can be for those who are vulnerable to psychotic illness.
What is being sold now is far more toxic than before, with ten times the strength if THC which causes hallucinations and paranoia. This is a far cry from the purer varieties of the drug we grew up with the 1960s. While it may be a harmless chill out for those whose brains have already matured, for young teenagers the drug can not only trigger lifelong mental illness but can arrest development leaving them with lost hopes and damage lives. There are good arguments for downgrading the classification of cannabis but we fear it is happening before the public has made aware of the dangers. it is a political decision which ignores recent evidence.