Talk to Frank is still there – Part 2 Medicinal cannabis and SCRAs

TTF Medicinal cannabis

Talk to Frank really does leave a lot to be desired on occasion, but this is beyond satire. Sometimes it’s almost as if they just didn’t know what to write and just copy pasted stuff to fill the space. The section on medicinal cannabis is an outstanding example of Talk to Frank at its cut and paste worst.

The section on SCRAs (Synthetic Cannabinoid Receptor Agonists) – which Frank calls by the snappy name of “synthetic cannabinoids” – is classic cut and paste stuff and in places downright wrong, maybe even dangerously wrong.

Sorry, this blog is a bit long, but there’s a lot to cover.

Medicinal Cannabis

In the last blog I was pleasantly surprised to see that some effort had been put into the cannabis section so that it not only contained some useful information but also some good harm reduction advice. It read well, the cut and paste issues and bad grammar Frank had been so famous for had been banished, it was quite good in many ways.

So when I sat down to critique the section covering medicinal cannabis I was expecting something of the same standard. How wrong I was.

There’s a link to medicinal cannabis on the front page of Frank, just below the search bar. It takes you to a surprisingly short page given the high profile the issue has had recently. Some of the information is just wrong:

The term ‘medicinal cannabis’ is used to describe a product derived from cannabis which is prescribed by a health professional to treat a medical condition.

Well, OK, but it can include herbal cannabis (eg Bedrocan) but yes, it has to be prescribed.

Cannabis based medicinal products can vary considerably. Some are produced by pharmaceutical companies according to rigorous production methods to ensure standardised strength of contents such as THC and CBD. Other products are produced to less rigorous standards with contents that may vary between batches

The recent change in the law to allow medicinal cannabis is framed around it only being obtained from recognised sources which meet high standards of manufacture, so this is utter rubbish, medicinal cannabis is highly standardised and consistent in quality.

Then it has a short section to say that the guidelines will change as we learn more about cannabis as a medicine and a warning that it’s illegal to use cannabis as a medicine without a prescription.

And that’s it, not really very good. But there is more, there’s a a whole section devoted to medicinal cannabis that comes up when you search for cannabis

Talk to Frank information on medicinal cannabis

The page is here and as has already been said, it’s a corker.

The page is a standard Frank page, which is obviously the output of a database which means each page takes the same form with the same headings and it’s clear there wasn’t much information to hand to put into in the database. Now for a start this is just stupid, medicinal cannabis is a section covering the medicinal use of cannabis, otherwise the information is just about cannabis because it’s the same thing. What we get is:

What does it taste/smell like?
Cannabis based medicinal products can vary considerably. Some are produced by pharmaceutical companies according to rigorous production methods to ensure standardised strength of contents such as THC and CBD. Other products are produced to less rigorous standards with contents that may vary between batches.

Followed by

How does it make you feel?
Cannabis based medicinal products can vary considerably. Some are produced by pharmaceutical companies according to rigorous production methods to ensure standardised strength of contents such as THC and CBD. Other products are produced to less rigorous standards with contents that may vary between batches.

and then

Physical health risks
Cannabis based medicinal products can vary considerably. Some are produced by pharmaceutical companies according to rigorous production methods to ensure standardised strength of contents such as THC and CBD. Other products are produced to less rigorous standards with contents that may vary between batches.

with a bit more added

The evidence for the benefits and risks of cannabis based medicines is still developing, as is the understanding of which medical conditions they treat. As this evidence builds, the guidelines for use of cannabis based medicines are likely to develop.

And then a bit about what to do if you’re worried about your use of medicinal cannabis … really, you couldn’t make this up, could you? Seriously, some heads need to be banged together at Frank HQ and this rubbish needs to be taken down now.

Frank on SCRAs

SCRAs are becoming a big problem, especially in prisons and amongst the homeless and socially excluded. That they are dangerous and very destructive is surely not beyond doubt. That they are far more dangerous and harmful than cannabis likewise shouldn’t be in doubt. All this would surely be essential information to convey on a page about SCRAs?

Frank falls well below what is expected here, the information it gives is dangerously wrong

Frank uses the term ” synthetic cannabinoids” throughout this page, the rest of the world knows them as SCRAs or perhaps “spice”.

What does it look like?
The smoking mixtures are packaged in small, often colourful sachets with labels describing the contents as incense or herbal smoking mixture, and usually stating ‘not for human consumption’.

This is out of date. Since they were outlawed the supply has moved from a product sold in a shop to one sold by dealers. These days it’s likely to come in a small baggy like cannabis, or maybe even in a small plastic bottle for using in vapes

There are many different brand names for smoking mixtures, but it is not uncommon for different brands to contain the same synthetic cannabinoids.

A better and more accurate warning would surely be that SCRAs sold as one product may well contain a range of chemicals, the product name means nothing.

The section on how SCRAs are taken is fair enough

How does it make you feel?
Since synthetic cannabinoids act like cannabis, the effects – good and bad – are similar. Some users will feel happy and relaxed, may get the giggles, feel hunger pangs and become very talkative. Others mainly feel ill or paranoid.

This is seriously wrong, very, very bad information. SCRAs are often used in a problematic way by people seeking oblivion and they are very capable of providing that. Since they were made illegal their prevalence amongst problematic drug users has been the subject of much tabloid coverage – the so-called “spice zombies”. Frank does say this:

Because synthetic cannabinoids react more strongly with the brain’s cannabis receptors they’re more potent than natural cannabis. This means it’s easier to use too much and experience unpleasant and harmful effects.

But it’s nowhere near enough and to keep making a false connection with natural cannabis is likely to lead to people thinking the two are equivalent.

Synthetic cannabinoids act like THC, the active substance in natural cannabis, but are often more potent, so it’s easier to use too much and experience unpleasant and harmful effects

Sorry, but this needs an urgent re-write. Yes, SCRAs act on the same receptors as cannabis, but there the similarity ends.

Typical effects include:
* Feelings of being happy, euphoric and relaxed, with some people gettings (sic) the giggles, feeling hunger pangs and becoming very talkative, while others get more drowsy.
*Mood and perception can change, and concentration and coordination may become difficult. Synthetic cannabinoids, possibly because of their potency, are more likely to be associated with hallucinations than natural cannabis.
* Some will have quite bad reactions, such as paranoia, panic attacks and forgetfulness.

How can this be online? SCRAs can lead to very much worse effects than listed here.

Duration
How long the effects last and the drug stays in your system depends on how much you’ve taken, your size, whether you’ve eaten and what other drugs you may have also taken.

Some SCRAs (at least) are quite short acting, even if large doses are taken. That looks like a bit of generic “good advice” inserted because they didn’t have better information. The long term effects of SCRAs can be quite severe as well

Physical health risks
The risks of synthetic cannabinoids are similar to natural cannabis

No, absolutely not.

but because synthetic cannabinoids are more potent, it is easy to use too much and experience the unpleasant and harmful effects. This higher potency also means that the effects may last for longer.

“Because they are more potent” implies they are the same as cannabis but stronger. In fact they are different drugs which act on the same parts of the brain as does cannabis but in different ways. The effects sometimes last for shorter periods than with cannabis.

Then at last the page gets real:

There than follows a list of the effect of SCRAs which is reasonable and really highlights how unlike cannabis these drugs are.

feelings of lightheadedness, dizziness, confusion and tiredness
feeling excited, agitated and aggressive
mood swings
anxiety and paranoia
suicidal thoughts
memory problems and amnesia
nausea and vomiting
hot flushes
increased heart rate and blood pressure, which may cause chest pains and damage your heart and even cause a heart attack
excessive sweating
fingers, toes or muscles feel numb and tingly
tremors, seizures and fits

Then it mentions of some other risks

*Research suggests that they may be an association between using synthetic cannabinoids and acute kidney injury.
*Many synthetic cannabinoids have a chemical structure that is similar to serotonin, a natural chemical found in the body. It’s been suggested that there’s a risk that synthetic cannabinoids could overstimulate the serotonin system (called serotonin syndrome), which can result in high fever, rapid pulse, sweating, agitation, confusion, convulsions, organ failure, coma and even death.
*Because of the way that smoking mixtures are made, there can be differences in the concentration of synthetic cannabinoids in individual packets and between different batches. You can never be 100% sure of how powerful a dose you are going to take.

And finally something about mental health

Synthetic cannabinoids are more likely to be associated with hallucinations than natural cannabis, possibly because of their potency.

No, it’s because they are entirely different chemicals to anything found in cannabis

Use of synthetic cannabinoids can cause psychotic episodes, which in extreme cases could last for weeks

No “may be” or “linked to” note, but “can cause”. This isn’t at all like cannabis

Regular use could cause a relapse of mental health illness or increase the risk of developing a mental illness, especially if you have a family history of mental illness

Yeah…

The page finishes with some more warnings about the herbal products SCRAs are often sprayed on, the usual warning about mixing with other drugs and a surprisingly weak section on addiction potential.

In short, this page needs a re-write and it needs to be made clear that SCRAs are not cannabis and are far more dangerous than cannabis.

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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.

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