The rantings of people like Peter Hutchins, a columnist for the Daily Mail – don’t really merit much serious debate. Take his latest rant about the advice given by Talk to Frank (the subject of the last newsblog entry) where he claims:

Anyone who knows anything about the subject realises that cannabis is among the most dangerous drugs in existence

The phrase “Anyone who knows anything about the subject realises” is the sure sign of an opinionated comment based on nothing more than the writers own prejudices. There really isn’t anything in Peter Hutchins writing to merit serious discussion, so we can safely leave it at that and ignore him. It only got a mention because not everyone who misrepresents the debate around cannabis can be quite so easily dismissed. One such person is Peter O’Loughlin, the Principal of the “Eden Lodge Practice”, a private re-hab clinic based in Kent.

Peter O’Loughlin is well known in drug activist circles for his extreme prohibition orientated  views. He is a prolific writer, often publishing in respected journals and writing with a certain style favoured by academics.

Now anyone who runs a blog will be familiar with the statistics page which tells the owner how many people read the blog and much more besides. One set of information always worth a look is the one called “Search Engine terms” which tells you what words people have typed into search engines which caused them to find their way to the blog – these are called “search strings”. Early in the week I noticed something a little unusual had been entered, something about relative harms. Sadly I didn’t make a note of the exact string and these things aren’t archived by the blog software, but I did paste it into google to see if I could find where it came from.  In this case as always, there were several possibilities but high in the rankings was an item on Peter O’Loughlin’s Eden Lodge Practice site entitled “Cannabis: How harmful is relative harms“?

The first thing that caught my attention from the link in Google wasn’t the dubious use of English in the title, but the fact that UKCIA was being discussed, so I made some free time and sat down for a read. Now sadly this article isn’t dated, so I have no idea of how long it’s been online. It’s online as a PDF, which I can only assume is done so that it can be easily printed?

It starts off with an interesting claim; discussing the descision to downgrade cannabis to class C Peter O’Loughlin makes this observation:

Whilst I have no doubt that the evidence leading to this decision, had been meticulously researched, it did not seem to correspond with what I was seeing in my practice by way of anxiety disorders and depression, not mention a propensity for violence.

he goes on to suggest that cannabis users he had seen suffered:

anxiety and depression in almost every case, measured ‘moderate’ to ‘severe’, and in a few case extremely severe. A further cause of concern was the notable lethargic attitude displayed, although this was not evident in all cases.

Adding a further concern that

Without exception all clients used alcohol to the point of hazardous drinking, whilst a few met the DSM-1V criteria for ‘Alcohol Abuse’.

OK, so Peter O’Loughlin has seen lots of people suffering from anxiety and depression who have become heavy drinkers caused, no doubt in his view, by their use of cannabis. Hmmm. Of course, the idea that the heavy drinking could in any way be responsible for the anxiety and depression, let alone the propensity for violence perhaps hadn’t occurred to him?

Having thus been alerted in his own mind to the dangers of cannabis, Peter O’Loughlin decided to do some research on the information available to the general population regarding cannabis:

the outcome of which, left me with some grave concerns, because much of it, the UKCIA website in particular, gives out the message that cannabis is harmless, without bothering to offer any supporting evidence in support of their claims

Pardon?

UKCIA gives the message that cannabis is harmless? Nothing could be further from the truth actually, you are free to find that out for yourself whilst you’re here.  Peter O’Loughlin takes issue with the idea of relative harmfulness as laid out in the drug classifications of the misuse of drugs act. He quotes from the UKCIA site

‘Cannabis is remarkably safe for most people-if it’s treated with respect, it’s unlikely to cause problems to health or well-being, there’s no toxic overdose potential with cannabis so unlike almost every other substance you can’t die from its drug effect by taking too much of It’.

Within the context it was written, that is a claim UKCIA will happily stand by, however as always context is everything and Peter O’Loughlin is adept at cherry picking quotes to prove a point and this is a classic example of his style.

Peter O’Loughlin has, as stated above, a certain “academic” style of writing. This means he fills his prose with references to direct the reader to the source of his assertions, as if to justify them. Interestingly, although when he dips into UKCIA’s writing he doesn’t give a reference for the source of his quotes. If he had done, he would have sent people to have a look at the UKCIA risks section, the part of the website where we explain the hazards of using cannabis. The text he quoted, whilst correct, is taken very much out of context from the introduction to the risks section, a section which is designed to engage cannabis users. This is actually quite a large section of the website, covering as it does four pages of different aspects of risk; of the hazards of being stoned, of methods of getting stoned such as smoking, the mental health debate and the additional risks caused by prohibition.

Now, one thing which cannabis use is famous for is the fact that using it doesn’t lead to the sorts of violence we are used to with alcohol and some other drugs. Peter O’Loughlin is having none of this. He states:

However, assuming that violent crime is still a serious offence, we have to accept that based on the last set of figures from the Home Office, which showed that the latter had increased by 16%, the second part has not been delivered; that may in part be due to the link between frequent marijuana use and violence. (10) American research indicates that young people who use marijuana on a weekly basis are almost four times more likely to engage in violence. (11) In addition a sample taken from a number of cities in the states revealed that something in the region of 41% of male arrestees tested positive for marijuana. (12)

Peter O’Loughlin is actually trying to argue that increased cannabis use has lead to an increase in violence in society – not just in a few instances of problem users, but in a widespread way. Note the extensive use of references to prove his point there, so let’s have a look at them:

1: The link between frequent marijuana use and violence: Adolescent Self Reported Behaviours and Their Association with Marijuana Use: Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration 1999. Sadly his reference of http://www.samsha.gov/press980922fs.htm is offline, the study can be viewed here however.  Points of interest worth noting include the fact that the research is studying young people aged 12 – 17, an age group UKCIA is at pains to advise should not use cannabis, an aspect of our writing that Peter O’Loughlin totally ignores. These are troubled youngsters looked at in the study and cannabis use is only one factor in the equation, indeed the report states that:

Most of the youths reported that their behavioural problems predated and were not initially caused by their drug use.

2: American research indicates that young people who use marijuana on a weekly basis are almost four times more likely to engage in violence. – Cited by, Morgan, John P, and Zimmer Lynne, Marijuana myths, marijuana facts. A review of the scientific evidence: the Lindesmith Centre. New York. P.6: USODCP. This is a book and not available online as far as I can tell, but this “fact” is “cited” in the text apparently, which means it’s referred to, no more. Indeed, the book referred to here is quite damming about “reefer madness” claims in general:

The fact that so many of today’s voters smoked pot when they were in high school or college creates a serious credibility problem for the government. “When they failed to experience the instant insanity that the authorities had promised,” writes Gray, “it was for many an epiphany more powerful than the drug itself – the realization that the government makes stuff up…. To bring these skeptics on board the war on drugs, it was necessary to convince them that the basic facts about marijuana had changed dramatically.” Hence the ongoing propaganda campaign warning us that marijuana is 1) more dangerous than we used to think, or 2) more dangerous than it used to be.

3: A sample taken from a number of cities in the states revealed that something in the region of 41% of male arrestees tested positive for marijuana: Crowley, T.J. MacDonald, M. J. Whitmore, E.A. & Mikulich, S. K. Cannabis Dependence, Withdrawal and Reinforcing Effects Among Adolescents With Conduct and Substance Use Disorders. http://www.drugabuse.gov/ICAW/treatment/treatmentfindings298.html On this occasion the URL given works and takes you to a summary of the study, a summary which carries the comment  that:

However, the authors suggested that findings from this severely affected clinical population should not be generalized broadly to all other adolescents.

Which would seem to be exactly what  Peter O’Loughlin is doing with his claims. On the basis of this highly selective use of quotes from academic studies, Peter O’Loughlin again takes a short quote from UKCIA without referencing his source to rubbish our advice:

‘Unlike alcohol, the recreational use of cannabis isn’t associated with acts of mindless violence’.

by adding the comment

Well, that’s alright then, there’s no need to let the facts spoil ‘good news’.

Peter O’Loughlin should be aware that finding a few words in studies to support a position are not “facts”, neither do they prove anything.

There is however good reason to assume – without proof – that young kids, never mind those from difficult backgrounds – who use cannabis are at risk of experiencing problems. Cannabis after all is changing the way the brain works and brains of kids are still developing and growing. The need to protect vulnerable groups such as children from the uncontrolled illegal trade is one of the main issues driving the case made by UKCIA. This site does not claim that cannabis is safe, indeed it goes to some length to explain the risks.

Peter O’Loughlin has misrepresented the case made by UKCIA without the decency to properly reference the extracts he’s quoted, but nowhere more than when he states

Whatever the true reasons for seeking to downgrade or legalise, cannabis may be, it cannot in all consciousness be claimed that it’s relatively harmless, or ‘remarkably safe’

Which is something we don’t do and never have done, indeed UKCIA did not support the reclassifcation to class C, which was seen as no more than a fix to make the law more enforcable. The UKCIA case for law reform can be seen here, perhaps  Peter O’Loughlin would care to read that and debate the actual argument provided by this website?

You can visit the “Eden Lodge Practice” here if you like, and no doubt sign up to an expensive detox course based on Peter O’Loughlin’s extreme and selective view of drug use.