I think most of us have forgotten about Talk to Frank. Its seems a lifetime ago since the government’s anti-drug information site was launched with a blaze of publicity, it’s had a few make-overs over the years (some better than others) but has become almost forgotten in the public eye, but it’s still there and still used as a part of drug education in schools and by drug support agencies.
Frank claims to offer “Honest information about drugs” and it generally does do this, but is handicapped by the need to follow the government line. The way this comes across is that the many of the claimed dangers of drugs are actually caused by their prohibition, but this can never be acknowledged. Also the effects of drugs can never be described as being a positive experience, which of course is the reason people take them.
In fairness to Frank, it has also been constrained in the information it can give not by the government, but by vocal anti drug law reform campaigners, most notably Mary Brett who has worked tirelessly to undermine some of the more positive aspects of Frank’s program
Conservative Women, 2014: I thought the rationale and legality behind FRANK’s ‘tips’ to children ‘to reduce harm’ should be questioned. Surely, these constitute encouragement to use that is contrary to British law and to Article 33 of The Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Viewing tips on how to reduce harm as a bad thing is something typical of the prohibitionist mindset and Brett’s efforts have been very effective in restricting what Frank has been able to do over the years, although some sensible advice has crept in now, including advice not to mix cannabis with tobacco, something UKCIA has been requesting for many years. It’s a bit low profile, not quite Tokepure, but it is there.
So bearing this in mind, what of the present Talk to Frank site?
The first and most important thing to remember about Frank is it’s not really a drug advice service aimed at the general population, its main target audience is kids and that perhaps justifies some of the over-simplifications made. Something better is really needed for older teenagers and adults.
It had a big make-over in 2011 (Frank reborn, October 2011) which didn’t really change much in the way of hard information, but it did have a snappy look, some copy paste errors and a rather strange game called “Spliff pinball”, which is long dead and buried and all the better for it.
Now all the graphics have gone the look is much plainer with a cut-down front page and is better for it, basically a search box inviting you to “search for any drug” and some links to articles for information about Xanax, mandy and molly and harm reduction advice for using alcohol, which is interesting. There is also a link to an item about medicinal cannabis, we’ll look at that later in part 2. The search isn’t bad, although “Green” (a common street term for cannabis) turns up ketamin, mescalin, khat and (perhaps reasonably) methadone before cannabis, but at least it’s there.
So in summary, Frank now offers some good information about cannabis and some sensible harm reduction advice. The overall presentation is better, the attempt to look trendy and cool has been dropped and it seems the information has actually been proof read now.
So type in cannabis and Frank offers us info on cannabis, medicinal cannabis, synthetic cannabinoids, magic mushrooms and new psychoactive substances. Not sure why magic mushrooms have come up there but the other links are of interest and we’ll look at them in part 2. So for now, click “Cannabis”:
How it looks, tastes and smells:
Mostly fair enough descriptions of the various types of cannabis, apart from “furry green leaves” which, well, isn’t right, cannabis doesn’t have fur.
It then lists various types of cannabis such as weed, hash, shatter etc. The only bone of contention here is with “Skunk”. The problem is that the term ‘skunk’ has been adopted by politicians and the media as a slang for domestically cultivated cannabis and was indeed a very common street term 20 years ago. These days it’s not such a common street term. Other terms such as “hydro” or strain types, or just ‘green’ have largely replaced “skunk”. Domestically produced cannabis is now the norm of course, it isn’t something special to search out these days.
How do people take it?
Not a bad section with some good advice that probably makes Mary Brett fume.
The general advice is to only take cannabis when you’re feeling happy and relaxed, in a safe environment, and with people you’re comfortable with.
Then we hit a problem
Stronger forms and strains of cannabis are more likely to cause paranoia and mental health issues. Try to avoid these if you can and take cannabis that’s lower in THC, and which contains CBD instead.
Good advice, if it were possible to follow it. Problem is because cannabis is illegal following this important advice isn’t actually possible because no-one has a clue about the composition of what’s on offer. This is an example of the law creating a problem, not the plant itself.
Frank at last gives consumers the advice, which the government has always flatly refused to allow in the past.
Smoking cannabis with tobacco increases the risk of becoming dependent on nicotine. To avoid this, don’t use tobacco in bongs and spliffs
This advice could be better presented, but it’s very welcome and really essential harm reduction advice. It’s there, which is good, but it really needs to be much more detailed and prominent.
The section on vapes is somewhat compromised by the warning
Very little is known about the health impact of vaping cannabis
which may be true but enough is known to know that it avoids a lot of the problems associated with smoking. Frank seems uncomfortable with vapes and they doesn’t get a look in at all on the tobacco information page which is very strange.
How it feels
This is where Frank really fails.
People who take cannabis say they feel:
Seriously, does that begin to describe how cannabis makes the consumer feel? Anyone who has tried cannabis will look at that and feel it’s not being honest, anyone who reads it first then tries cannabis will be in for a surprise. This is a serious complaint, Frank is supposed to be giving honest info here and while it’s right not to down play the negative effects, most people find cannabis to be extremely enjoyable, contemplative, even ‘mind expanding’ and a million other descriptions.
There’s a good section on THC and CBD, but of course as has been mentioned, there can’t be any practical way to put this knowledge to good use because of prohibition.
Then we get “How does it make people behave?”
Cannabis can make some people giggly and chatty, and other people paranoid, confused and anxious – it really depends on the type of person taking it and the circumstances they take it under.
Well, yes, and the rest. But then it goes on with some dire warnings:
* Experience mild hallucinations if they take particularly strong cannabis.
* Become lethargic and unmotivated.
* Have problems concentrating and learning new information. This is because studies suggest that cannabis effects the part of the brain we use for learning and remembering things.
* Perform badly in exams. Because cannabis impacts the part of the brain we use for learning and remembering things, regular use by young people (whose brains are still developing) has been linked to poor exam results.
Frank is aimed at kids, so this information is ok, but really it comes down to quite simple advice: Cannabis isn’t for kids and the best advice is to leave it till 18 or so. Strange it doesn’t say that anywhere.
Reasonable advice here, but the last part is questionable
* If you’ve used cannabis as a one-off, it will show up in a urine test for around 2 to 3 days afterwards
* However, this can go up to a month for regular users..
* How long a drug can be detected for depends on how much is taken and which testing kit is used. This is only a general guide.
Of course,the effects don’t last that long, just the fact that it can be detected by drug-war style testing. This is good info, but perhaps it should be presented in a different way? There is something police state about it which won’t be lost on consumers, especially the more rebellious ones.
A big section which tries hard to make cannabis sound dangerous. Indeed it’s interesting to compare the number of risks for cannabis compared to the number of risks for heroin. While it is true that the risks presented by heroin is basically death, cannabis certainly looks far more dangerous from this comparison (cannabis risks on the left, heroin on the right).
It does seem that the risks of cannabis have been presented in a very dark way, whereas in fact the actual risk is quite small. It should be remembered that the vast majority of cannabis consumers suffer no ill effects at all from their cannabis use, you wouldn’t think so looking at this.
As regards cancer:
There’s been less research on it but smoking cannabis is likely to have many of the long term physical health risk as smoking tobacco (even if you don’t mix the cannabis with tobacco). So smoking cannabis can also;
* Give you lung cancer
* increase your heart rate and affect your blood pressure, which makes it particularly harmful for people with heart disease
Cannabis smoking (without tobacco) is not without risk, but it doesn’t compare with tobacco smoking. For many years the prohibition campaign has tried to claim cannabis is a severe carcinogen and it certainly does contain many of the carcinogens that tobacco contains. But as webMD says
Studies that have looked for a direct link between the two have conflicting results — some found evidence that ties marijuana to lung cancer, while other data show little to no connection.
No such doubt is there with tobacco. Interestingly, WebMD goes on to say
Most of the research on marijuana dates to when it was still widely illegal. It’s hard to gather information about behavior that’s against the law.
Which is a good point, but of course, Frank could never say that. Also how many of the negative effects of cannabis are created or made worse by the unregulated and uncontrolled nature of prohibition?
Frank then highlights the full blown reefer madness claims, including this gem
make you see or hear things that aren’t there (known as hallucinating or tripping)
No, just no. Cannabis is not LSD and does not make you ‘trip’. Sorry, but that is just plain wrong. It can have some unpleasant, even quite distressing effects on some people, there’s no need to overegg the pudding like this.
Generally good advice, including the tobacco connection again
OK advice although a bit overstated, but it is aimed at kids
Well, it is illegal. No criticism of this allowed of course.
Worried about cannabis use?
Some useful numbers to phone, info to read. How useful all this is in practice though I have no idea.