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.