Professor Neil McKeganey who was the subject of last weeks blog has been having another prohibitionist rant, this time about a leaflet published by NHS Health Scotland called “Fags ‘n’ hash”, about cannabis and tobacco. – see it here (pdf)
Neil was quoted in the Scottish Sun “news” paper today in an item headed “Fury over guide to cannabis” – it is funny how prohibition supporters are always “furious” or “outraged” by such things, but that’s just the way they are.
Prof Neil McKeganey, of Glasgow’s University’s Centre for Drug Misuse, said: “The leaflet conveys a far too positive image of cannabis.”
“A lot of drug addicts who use heroin start off on cannabis.”
Cannabis and tobacco are both smoked, often together. This booklet tells you how using them can affect you, what the law says and how to reduce the risks.
How is tobacco used?Tobacco is usually smoked in:
• roll-ups using cigarette papers
• pipes or cigars.
There are over 4,000 chemicals and gases in tobacco (such as ammonia, carbon monoxide and hydrogen cyanide). Many of them are killers, causing cancer and heart disease. Nicotine is the drug in tobacco that makes it addictive. Cigarettes are designed to send a nicotine rush to your brain within a few seconds of inhaling.
How is cannabis used?Cannabis is usually found in two main forms:
• dried leaves and/or flowering tops of the plant (known as grass or weed)
• blocks of resin (hash, pot or blow).
Both forms are often mixed with tobacco and smoked together (known as joints) or in pipes (bongs). Cannabis can also be mixed with food, taken as a tea or eaten on its own.
Why are they used?People use cannabis and tobacco for their effects. With any drug, the effects depend partly on your mood, personality and surroundings. One of the most common reasons why people begin to use tobacco and cannabis is that their friends encourage them.
People who smoke describe it as relaxing, making them feel more at ease. They often smoke to be sociable.
Cannabis is a mild hallucinogen, which means it can alter the way you see colours and shapes. Most people who smoke say the most common
• relaxation and tiredness
• the ‘munchies’
• being talkative
• things sounding, looking and tasting different.
Other people feel it makes them tense and anxious.
What’s the harm?
The smoke from burning cannabis or tobacco or both contains poisonous gases that reduce your blood’s ability to carry oxygen, and tars that can cause cancer.
When you smoke, these poisons go straight to your lungs. Smoking cannabis can give you even higher levels of cancer-causing tars, gases and chemicals than cigarettes.
Smoking cannabis and tobacco multiplies the dangers.
Joints don’t usually have filters. What’s more, the smoke is often drawn in deeper and held in the lungs for longer. These two factors mean that smoking cannabis and tobacco together is probably the most damaging way to use them.
Tobacco and your body
There is no safe level of smoking. Half the people who smoke will die from it.
• Tobacco can quickly become very physically addictive because of the nicotine it contains.
• You are more likely to catch colds and chest infections as a smoker.
• Smoking gives you wrinkles.
• Smoking causes cancers, strokes, lung and heart diseases.
• Tobacco is the single biggest preventable killer in Scotland, killing over 13,000 people every year.
Smoking is hard to stop, hard on your health and hard on your pocket.
Cannabis and your body
• Using cannabis makes some people feel tense and anxious.
• A common bad effect is the ‘whitey’ – light headedness, fainting and sometimes feeling sick. This is particularly associated with taking cannabis and alcohol together.
• Cannabis may make you less alert and can affect your decision-making and judgement. It is dangerous and illegal for you to drive or operate machinery when you are under its influence.
• Cannabis can contribute to mental health problems.
Can I become addicted?if you smoke cannabis or tobacco or both regularly you may become dependent on using them and have withdrawal symptoms if you stop.
It can be hard to stop using tobacco. While your body gets rid of the chemicals in tobacco you might have:
• cravings for nicotine
• mood swings
• panic attacks
You may also feel cut off from friends who continue to smoke.
Regular cannabis users who stop may experience:
You may also feel cut off from friends who continue to use cannabis.
They don’t say that the withdrawal form tobacco is often severe, from cannabis rarely so. Indeed, the worst problem people who quit face is common to both – you’ll lose your old friends and ways of socialising. They also don’t make the point that quitting both is much harder than quitting one and that if you usually smoke both together, quitting either makes the other less satisfying.
There is then a page dedicated to drug testing as a part of cannabis law enforcement – again, nothing to do with the health advice this leaflet is supposed to be giving so again we’ll ignore it.
How can you reduce the harm?
• There is no safe level of smoking – stopping is the only way to reduce harm to zero.
• Be aware of fire risks if you drink and smoke.
• Keep smoking materials away from children. Every year, young children are admitted to hospital, having poisoned themselves by eating cigarette ends. If you decide that you want to stop smoking, you can talk to your GP, teacher or pharmacist. They can talk to you about the best ways to stop.
Yep – simple advice, there is no safe way to use tobacco – and it’s true.
Limiting when you smoke cannabis may reduce the risk of becoming a heavy user. Smoking cannabis with tobacco increases the damage to your mouth, throat and lungs –
reduce the harm by smoking less.
Surely the advice that should have come there is to toke pure – don’t mix cannabis with tobacco. Why didn’t they say so?
If you eat or drink cannabis, it can be difficult to judge how much you’ve taken. It also takes longer to kick in and the effects can hit you suddenly and harder than you expect. Hash is not produced in the most hygienic of conditions; it may come already mixed with other substances, which may be harmful, and with germs that are only destroyed by heating. Don’t mix drugs – that includes alcohol. You don’t know what will happen.
Not bad advice apart from the obvious missing safer smoking pure bit. The risks from cannabis do pale into insignificance when compared to the risks attached to tobacco use and this is a hard fact for prohibitionists to swallow. Cannabis is not without downsides and risks, but when compared to drugs like tobacco it’s a real pussycat. It makes the government’s decision not to include tobacco in the Misuse of Drugs Act on the basis of tobacco wide social acceptance, yet to take the opposite approach to cannabis so clearly illogical and the prohibition policy so hard to understand and rationalise. This is what makes the hypocrisy of cannabis prohibition so apparent and it’s what Neil McKeganey and people like him are so worried about.
As regards this leaflet, it’s worth 2/10 and half a cheer at best. It falls down because it mixes up the legal and the health messages, which compromises its integrity. The sections on the law and drug testing simply do not belong in a leaflet like this. Most of all it fails to give the most important message which would be an enormous benefit to cannabis users – don’t mix cannabis with the killer drug tobacco. All in all, a wasted opportunity and not worth getting all furious about.