Re-classify cannabis upwards

From the Homepage of
Daily Mail, 8 January 2004

Three weeks from now, the government’s reclassification of cannabis from a class B to a class C drug comes into effect. At that point, it will be officially considered no more dangerous than painkillers, steroids or tranquillisers.Indeed, simply as a result of announcing this change – which also means the police will no longer arrest people for possessing small quantities of marijuana -many young people now believe cannabis really isn’t very dangerous at all.
Yet now comes the starkest warning yet that it is so dangerous it is causing unprecedented numbers of people to go mad. Professor Robin Murray, one of this country’s foremost experts on psychosis, has told The Times that cannabis is now the ‘number one problem’ reducing mental health services in the inner cities to crisis point. Up to 80 per cent of all new patients suffering from psychosis are reporting a history of cannabis use which, the professor says, has brought on their illness.
Four recent studies show that cannabis use – particularly by young people – can increase the likelihood of psychosis by up to 700 per cent. Furthermore, the drug drastically reduces the chances of recovery, since when patients leave hospital they return to their old haunts, resume taking cannabis and relapse.
Maybe in an attempt to be diplomatic, Professor Murray declines to criticise the fact that no psychosis experts were members of either the Home Affairs Select Committee or the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, both of which played a crucial role in advising the government on re-classifying cannabis. This is because at the time, he says, no-one thought any such experts were needed.
The professor is being far too kind. The omission of such expertise was a disgrace. There has been a welter of evidence, some of it going back more than two decades, suggesting alarming links between cannabis and mental illness. While this did not conclusively prove cannabis was the cause, it certainly indicated strongly that this was so.
In particular, a study of Swedish army conscripts in 1987 reported that those who had used cannabis on more than 50 occasions were six times more likely to develop schizophrenia than those who hadn’t used the drug at all. Another Dutch study of heavy cannabis users revealed a sevenfold likelihood of psychotic symptoms within three years.
In 1998, the National Institute of Public Health in Sweden warned that cannabis was one of the most toxic of all narcotics. ‘Compared with heroin abuse’, it said, ‘cannabis smoking – in addition to the strong grip with which dependence develops – is associated with far more serious risks regarding the development of mental disorders of various kinds.’ It listed these as ‘delirium, cannabis psychosis, schizophrenia, anxiety disorders, depersonalisation syndrome, depression and suicide tendency, antimotivational behaviour and impulsive violence’.
In other words, there was enough evidence even then to ring the loudest of alarm bells over cannabis and mental health. But the government simply ignored it.
Since then, further studies to which Professor Murray referred have reinforced this research and produced yet further alarming evidence of the link with mental illness. In New Zealand, young people who had used cannabis three times or more at age 15 or 18 were more likely to exhibit schizophrenic symptoms by age 26. Still other studies in America and Australia show cannabis users have a fourfold risk of depression.
Last November, these new studies were revealed in the British Medical Journal. The government ignored these, too.
Instead, it ploughed on with its reclassification in the apparent belief not only that cannabis doesn’t do much harm to users, but that it doesn’t harm other people. But this is not true either. The changes it causes in the brain can have profound effects on others, ranging from relationship difficulties to violence.
Jamie Lee Osbourne, jailed for life last month for murdering a stranger at random, changed under the influence of cannabis from a church-going teenager to a savage killer. His barrister told the court that cannabis had diminished his inhibitions and given him ‘delusional fantasies’.
Anne-Marie Pyle bludgeoned her father to death before setting fire to his house, after cannabis gave her psychotic delusions. Phillip Caswell, who strangled his sleeping girlfriend and then stabbed her repeatedly with a kitchen knife, blamed the attack on his prolonged cannabis use. And so on, and appallingly on.
The Government has ignored all this, too. Instead, it has issued dangerously mixed messages about cannabis which can only encourage its use. On ‘Frank’, the Home Office drug information website, it has actually downplayed its dangers. ‘Cannabis psychosis’, it says, ‘is rare but happens when someone’s smoked themselves into oblivion. It can continue for some time but is treatable… Once stoned, users can find hidden depths in daytime television/ the most unlikely song lyrics’.
Despite his own evidence, Professor Murray refuses to condemn the government for downgrading cannabis from class B to class C because it does not cause psychosis in most people who use it. This is surely extraordinarily naïve. This reclassification sends out a totally misleading signal that cannabis is not dangerous. As a result, more young people are going to use it. As a result of that, the toll of mental illness he so chillingly describes is going to get worse.
And while most users may not go mad, its effects are not confined to psychosis but also include dependency, demotivation and loss of memory and the ability to think, not to mention physical effects such as an increased cancer risk or infertility.
Given all this, there is surely a case for reclassifying cannabis upwards to a class A drug. The dangers it poses to both individuals and to society are insupportable. To put it on the same level as painkillers is quite grotesque.
The Government’s reckless drug policy has already caused enormous damage, and this is set to accelerate. Ministers have simply shut their ears to those experts who have tried to warn them about the true dangers of cannabis. Instead, it has listened only to two kinds of people.
The first is the great and the good who wish to ensure they or their children will not end up with criminal records for taking drugs. The second is the legalisation lobby which has taken over the American, British and European drug information industry to such a degree that ministers cannot grasp the extent to which its distorted propaganda has successfully bamboozled the police, MPs, the civil service and much of the rest of the establishment.

The result is a criminal and public health menace which is now spiralling out of control, pulling the government behind it.

The above article was also commented on by the editor of the Daily Mail as below:

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