How weak can an argument be, yet still be taken seriously?

Addiction today claims to be a publication to be taken seriously. It’s “about us” page states

This is the most widely-read, influential journal in the UK alcohol- and drug-treatment field.

That’s quite a claim and a very worrying one worrying if they are willing to donate space to the sort of article recently written by David Raynes of the National Drug Prevention Alliance (NDPA).  The article in question is called “Tobacco, Alcohol and Pharmaceutical industries must love this campaign” (read it here) in which David Raynes attacks the recent call by the Global commission; the one where former Presidents of Brazil, Colombia, Mexico and Switzerland, Prime Minister of Greece, Kofi Annan, George Shultz, Paul Volcker and Other Leaders Called for a “Major Paradigm Shift” in Global Drug Policy. The headline sums these people up as

Celebrities and millionaires with no history of addiction research or helping addicts to reclaim destroyed lives campaigned globally in June to make drugs even more available – citing reasons based on theory not fact.

Adding the memorable line

David Raynes tells the truth.

Which implies this is no opinion piece, it is a statement of undeniable fact. The fact that a supposedly authoritative publication would even carry such a tag line speaks volumes, even the Sun would think twice about doing something like that it it were capable of thinking twice.

David Raynes starts off with absolutely no sense of irony by referring to the comments made by Nadine Dorries on “Any Questions” the other day – for the record if you haven’t heard it her contribution to the cannabis debate can be heard here (mp3) – it really is a classic. Instead of distancing himself from Ms Dorries’s mind-numbing stupidity, he wrote

Nadine Dorries was correct that much modern cannabis is stronger than years ago but we do not agree with her figures. Typically, modern cannabis is three to four times stronger in THC, the psychoactive ingredient, than even the strongest cannabis of the 1960s and 1970s.

This is just plain wrong and that David Raynes is allowed to make such a claim in a supposedly authoritative publication is quite shocking.  Some cannabis on sale today may be stronger than most of the cananbis sold in the 1970’s but it isn’t “typically” stronger than the strongest available then.  Such a claim is laughable, indeed almost as laughable as Ms Dorris’s comment.

How did this situation come about? The truth, according to David Raynes is

This has been achieved by selective breeding and in response to consumer demand.

A myth the NDPA try to promote is that the move to “home grown” cannabis which occurred in the 1990’s was caused by consumers demanding stronger cannabis from their dealers. Strange, I don’t remember it that way at all. Back in the mid 1990’s the “traditional” supply of cannabis to this country had been imported hash – mostly from Morocco or Lebanon with the occasional treat from Pakistan or Afghanistan, Nepal and so on.   As the 90’s progressed and the import restrictions and global war on drugs developed the supply of hash became highly polluted. Soap bar became a byword for nasty, low quality fake hash. There was indeed consumer demand of sorts in that people started to complain to their dealers and it was clear something had to be done to improve the supply.  Into this huge and lucrative market came the cannabis grow industry, only too happy to provide a vastly better quality product to a consumer base very eager to buy it.

The market shift from imported hash to UK grown herbal cannabis was created by prohibition. The fact that the type of cannabis changed (from hash to herbal) and with it the nature of the cannabis (in terms of THC/CBD) was entirely the result of the policy promoted by David Raynes and the NDPA. There was in fact some sadness, if not actual consumer resistance, about the move from hash to herbal; hash was often the preferred option. David Raynes again:

But the picture is more complex than ‘just’ THC strength. The presence – or rather absence in modern forms – of another chemical, CBD, appears to have aggravated the brain-damaging potential of cannabis.

Note the phrase “brain damaging potential”, cannabis of course does not cause brain damage. He may have a point that CBD levels are lower in today’s herbal cananbis than in old skool hash as we’ve commented on many times before on this blog (especially here) and is perhaps why hash was so much more the preferred choice before the market change was forced onto consumers.

Comparing the changes in the strength over the decades is difficult though, again as this blog has documented many times. The only study which comes anywhere near giving an indication of the situation is the almost laughably inadequate  Home office  potency study of 2008 (here) and that really is all we have to go on, so quite how David Raynes feels able to make firm conclusions based on such flimsy evidence is unclear.

It’s always worth pointing out yet again that despite cannabis being a so-called “controlled drug”, this huge change went unnoticed by the powers that be (who claim to be “in control” ) for 10 years, only finally being acknowledged in 2008 with the Home Office study. Obviously a new use of the word “control”…

Use has also changed. Age of first use and regular use is earlier than in the 1960s and that is another damaging factor.

Indeed it has. The overriding fact however is all this has happened under prohibition and as a direct result of the uncontrolled nature of the unregulated supply side industry. It is, if the “truth” were really to be told, all a very good argument against the present policy and in support of the “Major Paradigm Shift” the drugs commission called for.

David Raynes then claims:

Cannabis contributes substantially to academic under-achievement and very poor mental health, regardless of other effects.

This is a huge, sweeping claim and deserves a closer look. Now it’s important to accept that kids getting stoned instead of going to school are going to underachieve, so we do have to differentiate between cannabis use and wider problems which may not be easy because kids with the biggest problems are going to be the most likely to use drugs and skip school. A study which looked at the relationship – “Perceived Academic Performance and Alcohol, Tobacco and Marijuana Use: Longitudinal Relationships in Young Community Adolescents” (read it here) found that

After adjustment for antisocial behaviour at both ages, risk is reduced but remains significant for alcohol (P <.05) and tobacco use (P <.01). The independent association of perceived academic performance with frequent marijuana use is weaker, and appears to be fully mediated after adjustment for antisocial behaviour; not unexpected given the strong correlation of antisocial behaviour with use of illicit substances

Which just serves to illustrate these things are seldom a  simple cause and effect. Of course, children shouldn’t be using cannabis and few would suggest getting stoned and missing classes is going to make any student a better student, but to claim that cannabis use in and of itself causes a drop in achievement levels is just another of those claims put about by the prohibition lobby, it isn’t a fact.

As for the claim that cannabis contributes to substantially worse mental health, that’s another issue we’ve covered many times on this blog but just again to mention the Keele Study of 2009 which showed no increase in mental illness despite the huge rise in cannabis use (Read it here)

David Raynes goes on to argue that the harm from legal drugs is due to their high levels of use caused by them being legal, whilst conveniently forgetting that alcohol and tobacco are not only legal, but (for alcohol anyway) are still widely advertised and promoted as desirable lifestyle choices. The massive reduction in smoking which has occurred over the past  few years surely illustrates how drug use can be reduced without prohibition. Indeed in some states in the US cannabis use is now higher than tobacco use amongst kids as this tobacco-head blog (Tobacco use) announces:

Some 21% of high school students admitted they had smoked the drug in the last month, compared to just 19% who lit up a regular cigarette.

In fact the trend of dropping tobacco use has been going on for some time and clearly the simple ‘ban it to reduce use’ argument is proving at best simplitstic.

Finally David Raynes has a go at the success of Portugal’s drug policy, making all sorts of claims to the effect that it is, in fact, a total and utter failure.

The important thing to notice about this article is that it contains no references at all to back up his argument about the dangers of cannabis or the failure or otherwise (and it does seem to be otherwise) of Portugal’s decriminalised regime. The whole article is purely and simply David Rayne’s personal unsupported views, it would have been bad if it had been carried by the Daily Mail, but to be in a supposedly respected and authoritative publication is inexcusable. If Addiction Today really does have this good reputation it clearly doesn’t deserve it.

5 thoughts on “How weak can an argument be, yet still be taken seriously?

  1. Good article, interesting that the NDPA website doesn’t have a facility to reply to their nonsense.

  2. I have to agree. I personaly cant beleave Addiction Today as a publication could be taken seriouly if they allow’s a man of this kind too preach, which is all he’s doing. Banning anything from hamburgers to Cannabis doesnt deal with why people are so unhappy in the first place, that they’ll turn to anything. That aside i Smoke Cannabis because i enjoy it because it takes away the aches and pains and releaves stress of modern living. Its not a party Drug it hasnt made me crazy in nearly twenty years of use but sure who am i?. The majority thats who. The sickening part of life in relation to Cannabis is simply that these fools and their back slappers in the media and government just dont care about peoples genuine health and state of mind but sure we all know that, they rather sell bombs and bullets than seeds and herbs. Fight the good fight Derek. Good piece as always.

  3. David Raynes probably thinks he is talking to people who think the way he appears to but he is grossly overstating his case – this is a classic sign that he may know what he is saying is not easy to support based on the real facts and figures . Possibly many ‘experts’ who read his article will think it is a load of rubbish because they know their jobs (toxicology, psychiatry, social work, policing etc) but they are never going to say publicly what experience has taught them. Some even feel the need to rationalise about the way they feel compelled to behave – so they may select one two points he makes that they feel they can agree on without saying anything they know not to be true. We are talking about real people who do have a conscience and professional integrity but also have a strong desire to keep their jobs and prospects of advancement in their chosen careers.
    Ignore the likes of David Raynes and they don’t go away but they do become so ridiculous in their rantings that even less people publicly support them. He really can’t get much more extreme without sounding indefensibly ludicrous – if he is not teetering on that threshold at the moment.
    A bad editorial decision by ‘Addiction Today’ but see my comments above about people wishing to keep their careers alive.

  4. Excellent article! Thank you!

    Please note that this sentence perpetuates another myth:

    “the harm from legal drugs is due to their high levels of use caused by them being legal, whilst conveniently forgetting that alcohol and tobacco are not only legal, but (for alcohol anyway) are still widely advertised and promoted as desirable lifestyle choices”.

    The law regulates people not drugs. Hence, a simple rewrite would make that clear whilst pointing to what actually contributes to harm:

    “the harm from legally available drugs (like alcohol, tobacco and some other so-called ‘legal highs’) is due to their high levels of use caused by them being desired by users, legally available, (and for alcohol at least) aggressively marketed, widely advertised and promoted as desirable lifestyle choices.”

    But this points to another “truth”, more use can lead to more harm. Consider, even if the percentage of misusers does not increase with increased use, within that larger population of users, there will be more misusers as 1% of 1000000 is larger than 1% of 500000.

    And at root of all of this is the brute fact that people want to alter their consciousness. It does no one any good to deny this and say, you can alter your mental functioning with these select drugs ‘we the authority’ approve of (alcohol and tobacco) but not these drugs (say Cannabis, Psilocybe, MDMA, LSD, etc). All for some fear that someone somewhere my spill something unpleasant from their non-ordinary state of consciousness or may become habituated to an experience they find pleasurable or somehow beneficial. If the stigma was removed from my/their pursuit of pleasure or benefit, and the drugs were available in pure unadulterated form with adequate safety information, and they/I willingly ingested it in full knowledge that they/I are/am responsible for my actions, I would put money on it that less harm would result overall.

    Who knows, once the majority realises that there are better, safer drugs than alcohol and tobacco, we may even use less alcohol and tobacco and that’s bound to reduce social harm.

  5. It’s interesting that David Raynes now makes the claim that cannabis is 3-4 times stronger than an unspecified number of years ago – that certainly wasn’t his stance a few years ago. He used to post as ‘Claude’ in newsgroup uk.politics.drugs. When this ‘x times stronger’ myth kicked off, I distinctly remember him disagreeing with those claims (which for a prohibitionist I thought wasn’t bad). For example in this post from 2005 he says:-

    “The UK on the other hand has a history of using (in and since the 70s)
    strong resin from SW Asia, Lebanon etc. Strong cannabis has ALWAYS been a
    feature of the drug using scene here. In the 70s, it was sometimes quite
    difficult to sell herbal cannabis here.”

    http://groups.google.com/group/uk.politics.drugs/browse_thread/thread/745886855a4cfd7f/77e6bd60e1843d5d?hl=enMe6bd60e1843d5d

    So is he claiming that the 3-4 times increase has has happened in the years since 2005?

    More likely he’s a late arrival on the bandwagon.

Comments are closed.