Daily Mail does it again – Just say “NO”

The biggest argument against protecting the freedom of the press in the UK can be summed up in two words: “Daily Mail”. Now, it must be said from the start that the Daily Mail is capable of fair and objective reporting regarding many things even including cannabis. Indeed there have been a number of instances over the years where the paper has run objective and factual reports about various aspect of the subject, but these are greatly overshadowed by the paper’s apparent desire to pursue an agenda of deliberate misinformation designed to paint cannabis  as a dangerous and destructive drug that must remain criminalised.

This was illustrated with an amazing report this week – amazing even by the standards of the Daily Mail – which claimed to be a news report and yet was so far from being factually correct as to be truly jaw dropping. The story in question was published on 26th October, headlined “Just ONE cannabis joint ‘can bring on schizophrenia’ as well as damaging memory” – (read it here). The report concerned a study by Matt Jones and others at Bristol University entitled “Dysfunctional Prefrontal Cortical Network Activity and Interactions following Cannabinoid Receptor Activation” and can be seen in full here on the CLEAR website.

Now, the first thing to notice is the phrase

‘can bring on schizophrenia’

is in quote marks, this means it is a reported comment from someone.  Strangely this quote is not attributed to anyone in the study, indeed it is not, in fact, a quote from anyone.

Beneath the headline were two bullet points:

  • Strongest evidence yet, claim scientists
  • Rats used in experiments
So the thrust of the story is quite clear; according to the Daily Mail scientists have found the strongest evidence to date that cannabis “brings on” schizophrenia and what’s more, this time the scientists are actually saying so with some degree of certainty. The warnings about the mental health risks of cannabis would seem to be true. The story goes on to state
Smoking just one cannabis joint can bring on symptoms of schizophrenia, a study has found.
So according to the Daily Mail not only is this new and very strong evidence that cannabis has a causal role in the creation of mental illness, but also that it’s something that can happen after just one joint. Then we are told:
Researchers at the University of Bristol have, for the first time, looked in detail at the changes in the brains of cannabis users.

Time for the first reality check because this one is a bit obvious. It may be true that this is the first time anyone at Bristol University has looked into the effects of cannabis on the brain (although that’s unlikely), but it is certainly not the first ever study. For example UKCIA attended the two “Cannabis and Mental Health” conferences held in London in 2004 and 2007, you can see the reviews of them in the library section. One of the more interesting presentations (for me) came from Dr Zerrin Atakan who was involved in a research project which finally reported in 2009, a short review of it can be seen here. The study undertaken by Zerrin Atakan and Professor Philip McGuire consisted of giving subjects a dose of THC or CBD or a placebo and examining the effects on the subject by both a series of standard tests and also by magnetic resonance imaging of the brain.

Professor Philip McGuire concludes, “These studies show that THC and CBD have distinct effects on brain function in humans, and these may underlie their correspondingly different effects on cognition and psychiatric symptoms. Determining how the constituents of cannabis act on the brain is fundamental to understanding the role of cannabis use in the aetiology of psychiatric disorders.”

This was a study carried out on humans note – not rats. So it is simply not correct to claim that this study from Bristol was the first to look at the effects of cannabis on the brain. It’s also worth noting at this point that cannabis is not a single drug, but a combination of several; most noticeably THC and CBD and that these affect very different parts of the brain in very specific and different ways.

We are told of the Bristol study

They found the drug disrupts the same parts of the brain as the psychotic illness, those associated with memory and decision-making.

Now of course, they “found” no such thing. It is no secret that some of the effects of cannabis appear similar to forms of psychosis, hence the term “psychedelic” to describe the family of drugs cannabis belongs to. It is, of course, these effects people seek out when they decide to use cannabis; it changes perception of space and time for example, making decisions can become difficult and so on. Indeed, some of the less pleasant effects cannabis can induce, such as bouts of paranoia (albeit short-lived) resemble forms of psychosis.
Actually, the total reverse is true; the scientists did the study because the effects of cannabis seem to mimic some aspects of psychosis.
The report then claims
Cannabis abuse has previously been linked with increased rates of schizophrenia but this is the strongest evidence yet that the drug mimics its effects.
Note the use of the word “abuse”. The claim that cannabis is “linked” to “increased rates” of schizophrenia is actually not true, the rates of mental illness have remained pretty constant over the decades (the famous and oft quoted Keele study is just one which shows this). If there has been no increase in rates of schizophrenia, cannabis cannot be linked with increased rates of the illness. However, as we’ve noted, the fact that cannabis mimics the effects of the illness are well understood.
Now we get the most important falsification in the report:
The scientists studied rats who had been given the active ingredient of cannabis – in a similar dose to a person smoking a joint.
CP55940 molecule
CP55940 molecule

The scientists did study rats, but they did not use “the active ingredient of cannabis” and it wasn’t given in “a similar dose to a person smoking a joint”. The chemical used was CP55940, a chemical manufactured by Pfizer. According to several websites it is far more potent than THC, SantaCruz Biottechnolgy describe it:

The pharmacological and toxicological properties of this product have not been fully investigated. Exercise caution in use and handling. This product must not be used in humans.

So the study did not use cannabis, or even any of the constituents of cannabis and for this reason alone it seems difficult to justify the claim that the dose used was equivalent to one joint. Indeed it is impossible to compare doses in such a direct way, but if we wanted to try Wikipedia has this to say about CP55940:

CP 55,940 is 45 times more potent than Δ9-THC

And a comment from Ed in Belfast to the Daily Mail article made this calculation:

The compound used is known as CP99540 (45 times stronger than THC, see wikipedia) – starting with a dosage of 0.30 mg per kg. If I weigh 10 stone, roughly 63 kg, I would be given a dosage of 18.9 mgs of CP99540. Given the compound is 45x stronger than THC, this means I would mean I would have to take, relatively speaking, ~850mg of THC. That essentially means 85 joints at once [at 10mg per joint], and that’s just to begin with.

Maybe. Anyway, we are then told

Using electrodes embedded into their brains – which cannot be done in humans – they found those who had the drug were ‘significantly impaired’ in carrying out tasks for up to two hours afterwards.

If this dose of cannabis has the same effect on humans, just one joint could significantly change their behaviour.

This sort of animal experimentation is quite objectionable to many and is certainly very cruel. Quite how much the results of the study can be extrapolated to humans is also questionable. But there again, if a human did ingest 85 joints all at once he probably would be ‘significantly impaired’, or at least he would expect to be.
The rest of the article quotes the authors of the study and makes some claims about the increased risk of mental illness cannabis use is claimed to pose which can easily be challenged, but as far as inaccuracy goes they pale into insignificance with the fact-less basis of the first part of the report.
According to Peter Reynolds of CLEAR who has spoken to Dr Matt Jones
He told me that he was “disappointed but not surprised” at the Daily Mail coverage of the study. He also authorised me to quote his exact words in saying “The study does NOT show that one spliff will bring on schizophrenia”.

Peter Reynolds has made a formal complaint to the Press Complaints Commission about this item, which can be seen here. I spoke to the PR department of Bristol University who were “angry” with the way the Daily Mail reported this study. The report is a work of fiction, totally and utterly baseless lies.

The Daily Mail is, without doubt, a very influential publication which politicians are clearly very scared of. That is can so evidently distort and misrepresent news stories like this is a very real cause for concern. This wasn’t simply a case of sloppy writing from a journalist who couldn’t be bothered to check his or her facts, it was a deliberate set of lies designed to further the Daily Mail’s anti cannabis law reform agenda. It is only the latest in a long line of examples of such distortions from the paper.
The rats, it should be noted, made a full recovery within a couple of hours.

About UKCIA

UKCIA is a cannabis law reform site dedicated to ending the prohibition of cannabis. As an illegal drug, cannabis is not a controlled substance - it varies greatly in strength and purity, it's sold by unaccountable people from unknown venues with no over sight by the authorities. There is no recourse to the law for users and the most vulnerable are therefore placed at the greatest risk. There can be no measures such as age limits on sales and no way to properly monitor or study the trade, let alone introduce proper regulation. Cannabis must be legalised, as an illegal substance it is very dangerous to the users and society at large.

20 thoughts on “Daily Mail does it again – Just say “NO”

  1. There really need to be more stringent methods for preventing publication of lies which can be so damaging. A 3 strikes and your out kinds thing would do it!

  2. People with schizophrenia are six times more likely to develop epilepsy, says a study which finds a strong relationship between the two diseases.

    Writing in Epilepsia, researchers in Taiwan say this could be due to genetic, neurobiological or environmental factors.(PMSL IT COULD ONLY BE GENETIC NUEROBIOLOGICAL OR ENVIROMENTAL (EPIGENETICAL INHERINTENCE) THAT WAS VAGUE)

    I`m epileptic did that arise due to me being a schzo no i dont think so. Going by stats as a medicinal cannabinid user then i should be very schizophrenic if the daily mails article is correct. The illegality of cannabis can cause psychotic episodes FACT!! I know my body produces lots of oxytocin when using external cannabinoids NOT cortisol only alcohol produces that in my body. So how the feck can i have a psychotic episode with low levels of cortisol in my body. I beleive the endo cannabinoid 2ag kicks cortisols ass right after i take a seizure as i feel very paranoid and disorientated until the point that 2ag nurtures me back 2 reality thanx 2ag/cbd

  3. “So the study did not use cannabis, or even any of the constituents of cannabis and for this reason alone it seems difficult to justify the claim that the dose used was equivalent to one joint. Indeed it is impossible to compare doses in such a direct way, but if we wanted to try Wikipedia has this to day about CP55940:”

    Typo there at the end. Guess you meant to say ‘say’.

    Interesting read, thanks!

  4. You’re never less than thorough Derek!

    This one will be a real test for the PCC. They still have to come up with a ruling on the Amanda Platell DM article in which she falsified scientific research in a similar way.

    There are different degrees of inaccuracy, error and ignorance in the press which I accept have usually been published in good faith. This is different though. It is deliberate, calculated deception. It does seem to me to be very close to criminality to publish such misinformation about a health related subject.

    When you see Paul Dacre of the Daily Mail defending the PCC as he did recently, well, I think the truth is, shall we say, clear?

  5. Brit – yes indeed,a typo – thanks

    Yes, “deliberate, calculated deception” is the only way to describe this item.

  6. I’ve always wondered if anybody knows who read the Daily Mail. I mean, not just broad categories such as right wing, left wing, white collar or blue collar. I would like to know, for instance, what percentage of the Daily Mail 2 million readers:

    a) have used or continue to use drugs recreationally or otherwise, and SUPPORT decriminalisation.

    b) have never used drugs, but SUPPORT decriminalisation.

    Wouldn’t it be interesting to find out that a significant percentage of its readership supports decriminalisation and yet buy or read a tabloid that misinforms them about drugs and deliberately distorts the facts in order to advance its agenda?

    I wouldn’t dare for a moment censor, let alone, limit the media rights to think, say and write about whatever it wants. I do believe the onus is not on the tabloids but on those who buy or read them. The onus is on those who complain about the Daily Mail, and their like, but play into the ‘listen-to-me-because-I-reflect-popular-opinion’ slogans and then replicate and amplify those same slogans by giving credence to them. If one talks the talk and walks the walk, then the right thing to do is to stop buying or reading them.

  7. The principle of the right to free speech is an important one Gart, but I don’t agree that it should extend to the press being free to report downright untruths dressed up as factual news.

    I would accept the right of corporations to express opinions, but that should always be separate from news reporting as fact and indeed that is what the PCC is supposed to enforce.

    Having said that though, corporations are not people and I do have reservations about treating them in the same way,granting them the same rights, as I would defend for individuals. To simply say “don’t buy them” is a bit simplistic I’m afraid.

  8. It is vital that every time lies or untruths are printed or broadcast about cannabis that we do everything we can to correct them.

    Otherwise we have no business complaining about public opinion or government policy, prejudice or discrimnation.

  9. Derek & Peter,

    Probably I didn’t make myself clear in my previous comment. I totally agree with you both: the right to free expression does not mean that the media is not accountable, of course not. My point is that in addition to the PCC or any other similar body, there is still a greater and more powerful “regulator”, the public.

  10. Sent to the PCC just now

    Sir

    Daily Mail 26th October 2011

    “Just ONE cannabis joint ‘can bring on schizophrenia’ as well as damaging memory”

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2053486/One-cannabis-joint-bring-schizophrenia.html

    I wish to complain about the above article, I do so in a private capacity and also as the editor of the website https://www.ukcia.org , a cannabis law reform site. The article would seem to clearly violate the PCC code in that:

    * It amounts to deliberate falsification of evidence and would therefore seem to breach the editors code.
    * It breaches clause 1.i) of the code in that it publishes inaccurate, misleading and distorted information.
    * It breaches clause 1.iii) in that it fails to distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact.

    1: The report concerned a study by Matt Jones and others at Bristol University entitled “Dysfunctional Prefrontal Cortical Network Activity and Interactions following Cannabinoid Receptor Activation”. The Daily Mail represented this as demonstrating a causal role for cannabis in the development of serious mental illness. That was not the point of the study, nor was it a conclusion of that study.

    2: The headline contained the phrase ‘can bring on schizophrenia’ which is contained in quote marks, implying it is a quote from someone. It is not attributed to anyone however and seems to not actually be a quote, it is therefore misleading.

    3: A sub-heading states “Strongest evidence yet, claim scientists”, yet no scientist seems to have made that claim and it was not a conclusion of the study.

    4: It states that “Smoking just one cannabis joint can bring on symptoms of schizophrenia, a study has found”. The study did not find that conclusion.

    5: It states that “Researchers at the University of Bristol have, for the first time, looked in detail at the changes in the brains of cannabis users”. This is untrue and in fact there have been several studies of the effect of cannabis on the human brain, never mind those of rats. For example the work of Philip McGuire and Zerrin Atakan from the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s, Jose Crippa from Ribeirão Preto, Brazil and Rocio Martin-Santos in Barcelona, Spain (http://www.iop.kcl.ac.uk/news/default.aspx?id=274& ).

    6: The item reported that “They found the drug disrupts the same parts of the brain as the psychotic illness, those associated with memory and decision-making” and “Cannabis abuse has previously been linked with increased rates of schizophrenia but this is the strongest evidence yet that the drug mimics its effects”. This is not a discovery made by this study, in fact it is well understood and has been for some time that cannabis mimics some of the effects of psychosis, which is why such drugs are called “psychedelics”. As there has been no recorded increase in the overall rates of psychotic illness in the UK (Frisher et al http://www.schres-journal.com/article/S0920-9964%2809%2900269-2/abstract ) it cannot be claimed that cannabis has been linked with an increase.

    7: The report stated: “The scientists studied rats who had been given the active ingredient of cannabis – in a similar dose to a person smoking a joint”. This is an utter fabrication. The drug used in the experiment was a pharmaceutical product not found in cannabis known as CP55940 and this was made clear in the original paper. It simply isn’t possible to make dose comparisons with any degree of certainty, but it is likely, allowing for the weight difference between a rat and a human that the dose administered would have been vastly higher than a normal cannabis joint would deliver. The essential point however is the chemical used was not one found in cannabis, much less was a it a reflection of the profile of chemicals found in real cannabis.

    I would like to request in the strongest terms that immediate and strong action be taken against the Daily Mail to both correct this totally falsified report and to prevent similar false reporting in future.

  11. Good stuff Derek. This was a particularly bad example of daily mail reefer madness. They clearly dont have leg to stand on. The only point the PCC could possibly fault you on is 6 – as there are studies that suggest a rise in cannabis related psychotic illness, as well as those that dont. and total numbers of pschotic illness remaining constant doesnt meen that cannabis related ones havent gone up (as other could, theoretically at least, have gone down). Any of the rest of it seems a clear cut violation. interesting to see how this pans out.

  12. Nice to see my name in lights 🙂 While I did make that comment, the original calculation can be credited to our good friend Yumita Yumara. They removed my acknowledgement because it was a link to his/her fb profile

  13. Excellent critique Derek! That article was beyond a joke.

    @Gart, I remember this from the Sun at the start of the year – http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/mysun/3334712/SunVoters-split-on-legal-highs.html where ~60% agreed that some drugs should be legalised… I also found this http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1339115/Bob-Ainsworth-criticised-irresponsible-declaring–Decriminalise-ALL-drugs.html , there is a poll below the pic, with 69% opting for decrim.

    I think we have to remember that the DM tries to tell people what to think according to Dacre’s views, evidence (in many, many cases) be damned!

  14. @ Jake,

    Very similar and telling figures. Mind you, they probably are not significant (in the statistical sense of the term) but they suggest that the tabloids (or at least, some of them) do not reflect the opinion of the majority of their readership. Interesting! Thanks, Jake.

  15. thanks for all that folks – and nicely deconstructed derek.

    i think this gives us a deeper understanding of press perfidy when we apply it to the broader picture.

    we only object here because it’s a subject we are experts in and we recognise mischief when we read it. think of all the ‘news’ we are subjected to that we have no experience of – where the presenter gives us their take on what’s going on and we have the choice of believing it or not. since we are rarely offered an alternative angle and the presenter is such a trusted figure we have little choice but acceptance – and so the Daily Mail keeps chipping away at the truth and reinforcing the ignorant. compare the news on BBC and Russia Today, the difference is staggering.

    the press has been right wing for many generations now. advertising is what pays the bills, and papers that supported workers fighting for their rights couldn’t attract wealthy industrialists and capitalists as advertisers. the right wing press became richer and bought out all the smaller left wing outfits and we’re left with the propaganda organ that exists today.

    one reassuring thing is the ratio of pro cannabis to anti on the DM Comments section – and the lack of knowledge of the few prohibitionists. so let’s keep writing to them folks.

  16. It is politicians and the media who greatly affect the mind set of the great mass of people.

    If they continue to spread lies and misinformation it is hard to see how cannabis will ever be legalised.

  17. The sad fact is that this is a problem with science reporting all across the mainstream media. Take anything from cannabis to GM food to nuclear power and you find the same thing. Papers aren’t reporting facts, they’re shamelessly bending facts in a somewhat helpless attempt to ‘prove’ what they’ve already decided is true.

    I find it frustrating more than anything…

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