Are you on drugs – published by Northern Data

A booklet turned up at a health and well being centre last week called “Are you on drugs?”, it’s aimed at teenagers.

Are you on drugs leaflet cover

Are you on drugs leaflet cover

It calls itself “The (their emphasis) guide to drugs and substance abuse” – not just any guide; this one claims to be authoritative. It looks very professionally done, a nicely produced and well printed booklet apparently packed with useful information. It starts off by defining what it means by drugs:

Scientifically, a drug is anything other than food which changes the way the body and mind function

Which isn’t a bad definition and would seem to include TV, computers etc. However, according to, this “scientific” definition is actually a legal one, defined under US federal law as

any article, other than food, intended to affect the structure or any function of the body of humans or other animals.
This is the sort of sticky mess we always get into with this whole issue, probably because the whole “drugs” construct is both fairly recent and also mired prohibition history. But the one given in the pamphlet isn’t too bad. It goes on:
Some drugs are prescribed by a doctor, others are bought over the counter at a chemist or shop. Drugs can be grown from plants or can be made in laboratories. They can be legal or illegal. They can be helpful or not helpful.
“Drugs can be grown from plants” is a bit of a weird way to put it, but it hints at the big problem of trying to use a term which covers not only naturally occurring herbs which have thousands of years of use by humans and also man made chemicals. It is, of course, pedantically wrong to say “drugs can be illegal”, some drugs of course have been ruled to be prohibited by politicians and this is quite an important distinction to some – see here.  As regards whether they are “helpful” or not, well, that’s a bit difficult to nail down.


This section is well intended and it is a good idea to define just what it is you’re going to be giving advice about, but of course trying to give health advice and legal advice at the same time is bound to cause problems. It goes on to talk about psychoactive drugs which it defines as “mood altering” drugs
psychoactive (mood altering) drugs affect the way a person thinks, acts or feels. These drugs usually have a physical affect as well, but what makes them different from all the others is that these drugs have an effect on the mind and senses.
It says that sometimes these drugs are prescribed by a doctor, but not all psychoactive drugs are prescription drugs.
Some, like Alcohol and Nicotine, can be bought from shops. Some, like Cannabis or Cocaine, are illegal street drugs. Because of their mood altering properties, psychoactive drugs are the most abused of all drugs
There is something wrong with this section, not just that it lumps cannabis together with cocaine, but also that it seems to be of the opinion that all non-medical use is abuse.
Abusing drugs can result in the person suffering from health problems such as an increased risk of illness / or damage to the body, strained or unhappy relationships due to the use of drugs and even loss of motivation or addiction.
While that is true, it doesn’t seem to leave open the possibility that moderate, informed non-problematic use doesn’t cause these issues or that some drugs are much worse than others.  It says even the use of a drug prescribed by somebody in the medical profession can cause problems and lead to abuse and that
Drug abuse is not limited to illicit drugs such as heroin, cannabis or cocaine. Any drug has the potential to be abused, intentionally or unintentionally
This time cannabis is put together with heroin and cocaine.


So what is “abuse” according to this booklet?
Taking too much of a drug
Taking a drug for the wrong reason, or without following the correct instructions
which is not too bad, but it then adds
Using a drug that has no legitimate human use, because its dangers are so high
So using prohibited drugs is always “abuse”.


We then have pages of information dedicated to different  drugs and at least it includes alcohol and tobacco, and the first drug discussed is indeed booze:


Alcohol: The advice here perhaps isn’t too bad, but it doesn’t give the impression that alcohol is in any way enjoyable, which of course it is – people wouldn’t use it otherwise. It does mention cirrhosis of the liver and that alcohol is involved in 20-30 percent of accidents and that 76,000 people per year are injured by drunken violence, but it doesn’t say that alcohol is a poison which can and does kill, nor that deaths directly linked to alcohol use are fairly common, nor that it can be destructively addictive. It is odd that they ignore this sort of harm when describing alcohol when compared to the cannabis information.


The legal advice given for alcohol incidentally is that it’s illegal for anyone under 18 to drink alcohol, which is simply wrong


Then we get Alkyl Nitrates – poppers – Amphetamines and Anabolic Steroids, then we get
Are you on drugs? Cannabis

Are you on drugs? Cannabis

We get the usual list of names and then a description of what it is:

Cannabis is a natural substance, which comes from the “cannabis sativa” plant. It became a controlled substance in 1928

We can quibble about some of that, but never mind. It describes the effects as

Sometimes the user may feel relaxed or stimulated, however the users tolerance of the drug increases and so does the dose. Users can experience a feeling of nausea, mild hallucinations, anxiety or even paranoia

A big danger this leaflet is falling into is to make drug use sound unpleasant. Now, it is aimed at kids and the idea is to stop them experimenting, but the obvious danger is that if they do try cannabis – which they are quite likely to do if they’re interested enough to be reading this in the first place – they’re going to find out it’s a hell of a lot better and more enjoyable an experience than they are being told it is, their mates will be telling them the same thing of course.

There is some truth in the tolerance claim, but it’s nowhere near as bad as they’re saying – which to be honest implies cannabis is highly addictive.

Then we get the health risks of cannabis use:

Cannabis contains over 400 different chemicals that it pumps into the users body

Note the word “pumps”

When smoked, it contains more tars than an average cigarette, meaning the risk of lung cancer , emphysema and other related smoking diseases is higher

Except of course, we know from studies of (pure) cannabis using populations that it isn’t (Tashkin) . This isn’t to totally deny any possibility of some lung damage from smoking, but to make exaggerated claims like this  devalues the advice they need to be giving to young people.

Also cananbis smokers tend to hold it in for longer which irritates the lungs and causes further damage to the way they work

Except, again, we don’t see this in real life (pure) cannabis using populations. What this is trying to claim is that cannabis smoking is worse for the smoker than tobacco smoking, which is simply untrue. Of course, they could have given tokepure sort of advice here – not to mix cananbis with tobacco – which would have been really valuable advice, but they didn’t.

Using cannabis speeds up the heart by up to 50%

True-ish, but then so does physical exercise.

Users suffer bloodshot eyes and a dry mouth

Suffer? Does this hurt or something?

Studies into cannabis show that it can impair or reduce short term memory

When stoned, yes.

alter the sense of time

is that a risk, really?

and reduce the users ability to concentrate

Oh dear, where to start on that one? Yes cannabis can interfere with the ability to study, but the ability to concentrate? That is a highly dubious claim as anyone who has ever been engulfed in music when stoned will tell you. Many people use cannabis precisely because it can aid concentration and thinking.

Co-ordination is affected

Well, sort of.  Spacial judgement certainly is and it’s good advice not to drive or use chain saws when stoned, but again, is this really a health risk?

A common reaction to cannabis is “acute panic anxiety reaction”, people who experience this describe it as loosing control which causes panic

No they don’t. It is unpleasant when it happens but isn’t that common and it isn’t a sense of “losing control” at all. It’s called “the horrors” and is probably best described as a feeling of extreme guilt or worry about something. More often than not it’s a realisation that you’re very stoned in a place where it might not be a good idea to be stoned.

These symptoms usually disappear within a few hours but can leave the user feeling very distressed.

Such a severe reaction is very rare – it does happen and is the reason some people stay well away from cannabis – but the vast majority of the time it’s a short lived thing. Again, it doesn’t do anyone any favours to over state this sort of thing, especially as a cannabis user might never experience it – few do as a first time reaction especially.

Some studies believe that the use of cannabis when pregnant can cause premature babies with low birth weight

Some studies may “believe” that but quite  a lot have demonstrated there is no such link. This from

Dozens of studies have compared the newborn babies of women who used marijuana during pregnancy with the babies of women who did not. Mainly, they have looked for differences in birth weight, birth length, head circumference, chest circumference, gestational age, neurological development, and physical abnormalities. Most of these studies, including the largest study to date with a sample of over twelve thousand women, have found no differences between babies exposed to marijuana prenatally and babies not exposed. Given the large number of studies and the large number of measures, some differences are likely to occur by chance. Indeed, researchers have found differences in both directions. In some studies, the babies of marijuana users appear healthier and hardier. In others, researchers have found more adverse outcomes in the babies of marijuana users.

The article has reference links for those studies.That is not, of course, to say that its a good thing for pregnant mother to get toned or to do any other drugs

The booklet goes on:

Also that using cannabis can can have a temporary effect on fertility.

Is that a good thing to tell sexually active teenagers? Cannabis does not act as a contraceptive!

This meaning that using cannabis can be especially harmful during adolescence due to this being a period of rapid physical and sexual development.

Absolute rubbish. What make all this really bad is they fail to give the real reason that cannabis (and any other) drug use is bad for young teenagers, which is to do with the developing brain. It looks like they’ve tried very hard to find scary things to say about cannabis – almost clutching at straws, rather than giving cool, honest advice.

Finally they put the fear of god into the reader by describing the legal position of cannabis:

The recreational use of cannabis in Britain is still illegal and in 1998 a massive 76% of people arrested for drug offences were charged with possessing cannabis. As of 2009 the government has reclassified this drug to class B.

If all that isn’t bad enough, worse is to come, but first we then get told about Cocaine, Crack Cocaine, Crystal Meth, MDMA/ecstasy, GHB, Heroin, Inhalants, Ketamine, LSD, Magic Mushrooms, Meow meow, and Nicotine (interestingly they don’t call it tobacco).

In passing they mention the effects of MDMA as being

First time users often tend to feel confused or anxious and a feeling of nausia is common when the user is “coming up”.

Which is actually so wrong as to be dangerous, rumour has it that its a lot more fun than that. Any kid who is lucky enough to get a real MDMA pill is in for one hell of an eye opening experience if he’s read this garbage first.

The best is left to last though. The final drug we’re warned about is – go on, guess. You’ll never guess…

Skunk weed

Skunk weed

Skunk Weed – yes, they actually treat this as a separate drug

What is it?

Skunk is a potent form of cannabis which is grown in a different way.

Er… give me strength

Over the last few years there has been a great deal of research into cannabis. What is alarming is how the drug has developed. It is not the same as it once was and there is a very high content of active ingredient in skunk compared with cannabis from some years ago

Yes it really is telling kids this

That ingredient is called tetrahdrocannabinol or THC, this is the main psychoactive ingredient in cannabis (the bit that makes the user high).

No comment

Skunk, which tends to be grown indoors without soil or natural sunlight, can contain up to 300mg of THC

Yes, that is transcribed correctly

whereas 30 years ago the average joint would contain around 100mg.

To be polite about this it clearly hasn’t been proof read properly. What I think they’re trying to claim is that a joint rolled with “skunk” contains three times the amount of THC a joint rolled with “old style” cannabis. Quite how they know how much hash I used to put in my joints back in the 1970’s I’m not sure. No, sorry, this is utter rubbish.

Then we get the health risks

In one study carried out by Robin Murray, a consultant psychiatrist at the Maudsley Hospital in South London, a group of 750 adolescents over 15 years old were monitored. Of those who used cannabis three or four times by the time they were 15, 1 in 10 had later been diagnosed as schizophrenic compared with 3% for all other participants.

No reference is given for this

It concluded that overall, people were four and a half times more likely to be schizophrenic by the age of 26 if they smoked cannabis at the age of 15.

Odd then that there has been no recorded increase in the rates of psychosis in the UK, given all this cannabis smoking going on (here). We’ve been through the issue of cannabis and mental illness so often on this blog I won’t bore you again save to point out the difference between correlation and cause, the issue of THC/CBD ratios, the effect of prohibition on the supply side….

We then get this picture of someone in a padded cell to drive home the message that skunk weed makes you mad.

padded cell

Mad cannabis smoker in a padded cell (no, it doesn't say that!)

That a booklet like this was put out as being a factual guide to drugs is unbelievable. I did mail Data Northern Ltd with some comments, but didn’t hear anything from them. I have yet to hear from the wellbeing service as to why they had this booklet on offer.


By way of a footnote we have just passed the 40th anniversary of the birth of the War on drugs. 40 years of war with no end, a war against our own people started by this man

Richard Nixon

Richard Nixon

Ex-president Richard Nixon; a proven crook and a paranoid liar who was eventually thrown out of office in 1973. We are still living with his legacy today.