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Time to turn against Cannabis!

The dangers of cannabis use are back on the front pages thanks to a report just published in The Lancet from a team led by Theresa Moore & Dr Stanley Zammit. From their meta-analysis of 35 studies from around the world, Moore & Zammit inferred that any use of cannabis – which means even taking the drug just once – was associated with a 41% greater risk of experiencing some form of psychosis – and possibly even developing full-blown Schizophrenia. People who smoked the most cannabis were the most likely to suffer a psychotic breakdown; for frequent users, the risk rose to between 50% and 200%.

Overall, cannabis could be to blame for one in seven cases of Schizophrenia and other life-shattering mental illness. With up to 40% of teenagers and young adults in the UK believed to have tried cannabis, the researchers estimated that the drug could be behind 14% of cases of Schizophrenia and other psychotic illnesses.

Perhaps fortuitiously Gordon Brown announced on 18 July that the status of cannabis was to be considered as part of a wide-ranging drugs review commissioned by Home Secretary Jacqui Smith.

The Brown-Smith move was initiated a week after former Tory Party leader Iain Duncan Smith called for reclassification of cannabis from ‘C’ back to ‘B’ in the ‘Breakthrough Britain’ report of his policy group on social breakdown. Duncan Smith’s call was trailed and endorsed several days before the report’s publication by current Tory leader David Cameron.

The basis of Duncan Smith’s call was the already-large body of evidence linking the development of various psychoses – especially the onset of Schizophrenia – to the use of cannabis. However, Cameron focussed more specifically on ‘Skunk’, the genetically-modified development of ‘the weed’ containing approximately 3 times the amount of the active ingredient THC as ‘standard’ cannabis.

To some extent, in differentiating between standard cannabis and Skunk, Cameron was following the lead of the Independent on Sunday (IoS) newspaper which campaigned right up to and beyond then-Home Secretary David Blunkett’s 2004 reclassification for the complete decriminilisation of the use, storage and selling of cannabis. (The IoS has been one of the most prominent pro-cannabis voices in recent years and the paper’s influence amongst leading thinkers and parliamentarians on the issue is thoght to have been significant.)

However, in ordering a review of the classification of cannabis per se, Gordon Brown is treating all varieties of the drug as potentially warranting a more ‘dangerous’ classification.

As evidence has grown dramatically in the past few years of just how dangerous cannabis can be, so the likes of the IoS have been caught on the backfoot, overtly supporting the legalisation of a truly dangerous drug. It, therefore, suits them to draw a huge distinction between ‘standard’ cannabis and Skunk; the IoS argument is that it only campaigned for the ‘more or less harmless’ standard cannabis and the paper is totally against the use and distribution of Skunk.

As regards David Cameron’s own record on cannabis, it may well suit his agenda to follow the IoS distinction between standard cannabis and Skunk. He has all but admitted that he has used the drug himself by refusing to deny reports this February that he had been punished for smoking cannabis during his schoolhood at Eton; his office have also allowed stories to circulate that he was an occasional user at university. Only the month before (January 2007), the Tory leader had said publicly he opposed making cannabis legal but would be “relaxed” about legalising it for medicinal use if there was evidence of health benefits.

Hopefully the rash of Government ministers who have admitted recently to indulging in mild cannabis use during their younger days – including Alistair Darling, Ruth Kelly, Hazel Blears, John Hutton, Yvette Cooper and Jacqui Smith herself – will lessen the potential impact on political careers of *owning up* and this will enable a more mature debate on the issue.

Unfortunately many, many people have been caught in the trap the IoS and Cameron have found themselves in. For decades users and research scientists have said that cannabis was less harmful than alcohol and tobacco and, therefore, the argument against legalisation on health grounds simply didn’t stand up. How now do the politicians who supported such propositions reconcile their ‘service for the public good’ with their support for a drug some increasingly consider as dangerous as heroin or cocaine…?

The Skunk-‘Standard Cannabis’ Fallacy
While there is no doubt that Skunk is a much more potent drug than standard cannabis, to draw such a distinction between the two varieties is at best disingenuous. Moore & Dammit certainly do not let standard cannabis off the hook and the science appears not to support such a distinction – at least in terms of the serious long term psychological effects.

Zammit personally led an earlier study, published in 2002, which looked at 50,000 Swedish conscripts from 1970 through to 1996. Those who had tried cannabis by the time they were 18 were 2.4 times more likely to receive a diagnosis of Schizophrenia. Those who had used cannabis more than 50 times had 6 times the usual risk of developing Schizophrenia. Zammit and his colleagues then estimated that 13% of Schizophrenia cases could be averted if all cannabis use were prevented.

Another study of almost 5,000 subjects in the Netherlands replicated the findings, and also found that cannabis users were more likely to be diagnosed with Schizophrenia during the study’s 3-year follow-up period. Other studies suggested that participants who used cannabis in their early teens were more likely to be diagnosed with Schizophrenia by their mid-20s.

In 2005 Netherlands researchers reviewed 5 studies and concluded that the use of cannabis approximately doubles the risk of developing Schizophrenia. Because the studies excluded anyone with a history of psychosis and controlled for the use of other drugs, they were “able to show the specific effects of cannabis”.

Also in 2005 research by Robin Murray of the London Institute of Psychiatry – eg: Marta Di Forti & Robin Murray – found that those who smoked cannabis regularly at 18 were 1.6 times more likely to suffer serious psychiatric problems, including Schizophrenia, by their mid-20s. For those who were regular users by 15, the risk of mental illness by the age of 26 was 4.5 times greater than normal.

Further Dutch, German and New Zealand studies have all found a relationship between regular cannabis use and psychosis, with heavy cannabis users doubling or tripling their risk of psychosis.

Critically a Department of Health spokesman summed up much of the emerging evidence in January 2005 thus: “There is medical clinical evidence now that there is an important causal factor between cannabis use and schizophrenia – not the only factor, but an important causal factor. That is the common consensus among the medical fraternity.”

Clearly, while there are minor variations in the percentages of risk, ‘standard’ cannabis is a very dangerous drug. Compared to Skunk, it isn’t at all harmless in the way pro-cannabis lobbyists like the IoS have suggested. It is simply that Skunk is a genetically-engineered more powerful version of a naturally-dangerous drug. Robin Murray, in commenting on the Moore-Zammit findings, possibly put it best: “My own experiences suggest to me that the risk with Skunk is higher. Therefore their estimate that 14% of cases of Schizophrenia in the UK are due to cannabis is now probably an understatement.”

Why does smoking cannabis cause Schizophrenia in some but not others?
Irving Gottesman’s 1991 large-scale study is generally taken as the ‘gold standard’ for evidence that a substantial number of people have a genetic predisposition to develop Schizophrenia. He found a concordance rate of 48% for monozygotic twins – in other words, if one identical twin develops the illness, there is a 48% likelihood the other will – reducing down through 17% for dizygotic (non-identical) twins), 6% for half-siblings  and 2% for the nephew/niece-aunt/uncle relationship, set against the 1% risk of developing the illness in the general population. So, basically the more genes you share with someone with Schizophrenia – ‘genetic relatedness’ – the more likely you are to develop the illness. Genetic predisposition to develop a very serious illness is a pretty scary proposition. However, it doesn’t mean that having a genetic predisposition automatically means you will develop the illness. It’s an example of the Diathesis-Stress model; in almost all such cases, it will need a damaging lifestyle or significant ‘life event’ to trigger the onset of the illness.  For people with the genetic predisposition, smoking cannabis can be that trigger. People without the genetic predisposition may get away with prolonged heavy use of cannabis without developing a psychosis.

So how do you know if you’ve got the genetic predisposition? Since the scientists have yet to isolate the gene(s) responsible, they can’t test for it. Clearly, if you’ve a close relative who has or has had pschotic episodes, you’re at risk. However, there being no apparent mental illness in the family is no guarantee that someone doesn’t have the genetic predisposition since the predisposition can be passed on through several generations via recessive genes without it being obvious.

If someone is high in the Psychoticism Dimension of Temperament, then it might be logical to assume that person (usually male) is more at risk. However, for all there being some similarities in the behaviour of psychotics and those very high in Psychoticism, Hans J EysenckHans Eysenck & Sybil Eysenck, 1976 – went to great lengths to emphasise that Psychoticism and psychosis are not the same thing.

The results of a 2007 study by Xiaobo Li et al at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York may have found a degree of explanation for this. They found that heavy use of cannabis caused the same type of abnormalities in certain areas of the brain as were found in the brains of people with Schizophrenia, and these abnormalities were the most pronounced in schizophrenics subjects who regularly smoked cannabis.

The abnormalities occur in a brain pathway related to language and auditory functions which is still developing during adolescence.

Thus if a young person is genetically at risk for Schizophrenia, the research suggests the use of cannabis can cause the same kind of damage the Schizophrenia would cause, which could bring on the illness when it might otherwise have not have emerged, cause earlier onset, and/or worsen the condition.

The ‘Harm’ Fallacy
Although Gordon Brown is said to have “a personal instinct” that cannabis should be reclassified back to ‘C’, there is no guarantee that will happen. It certainly didn’t when then-Home Secretary Charles Clarke first reviewed predecesser David Blunkett’s 2004 decision in January 2006.

However, Clarke’s decision was influenced substantially by a report from the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs which found alcohol (significantly so) and tobacco to be more harmful than cannabis. However, the Council’s findings related primarily to 3 classes of harm: physical harm, dependence and social harm. What they don’t appear to have considered (at least in sufficient depth) is the nature and depth of psychological harm.

There simply is no ‘cure’ for Schizophrenia. It is a serious and debilitating illness, with nearly a third of sufferers deteriorating progressively until they require full-time care and supervision. (The archetypal insane!) According to a 2004 study led by Delbert Robinson & Margaret Woerner (Robinson et al), just 13.7% of diagnosed sufferers make an effective recovery. (However, since the illness is not well understood – there is a growing body of professional opinion that we should revert to Eugene Bleuler’s original 1908 proposition that the schizophrenias (plural) were a group of distinct psychiatric illnesses with some key similarities – it is difficult to be precise about what consitutes ‘recovery’.) The majority of sufferers will require a lifetime of managing the illness via medication and/or psychotherapy.

While the problems caused by alcohol misuse and tobacco use should never be under-estimated, it is surely a fallacy to say they are more harmful than cannabis. Even the argument about scale of use is becoming flawed. While the level of alcohol misuse is rising, tobacco use is continuing to fall while the rate of cannabis use, especially amongst teenagers, is on the rise.

In 2005 some 10,000 11-17-year-olds required medical treatment of some kind as a result of cannabis use. As researcher John Macleod told The Times in March this year: “…the number of cases of Schizophrenia will increase significantly in line with increased use of the drug.” No wonder that paper concluded we are sitting on a ‘cannabis timebomb’.

Should cannabis be reclassified to ‘B’?
The Association of Chief Police Officers responded with some dismay to Gordon Brown’s 18 July announcement for all the reasons they lobbied for the original reclassification in 2004 – ie: large amonts of resources wasted on chasing smalltime perpetrators of what the general public largely percieved as a ‘non-crime’. (It is worth stating that there have been a notable minority of senior police officers who have consistenly disagreed with ACPO’s position.)

Which is where the views of Paul Corry, the public affairs director of Rethink, show us at least some of the way forward. (Rethink is a mental health charity which, amongst many other worthwhile activities, has campaigned vociferously for more research into establishing the causes of mental illnesses. In particular, it has campaigned for research into the effects of cannabis use on mental health

Corry wants education in schools about the dangers of cannabis use, directed from the Department of Education & Skills (DfES) so programmes are mandatory. Cleverly, he also wants young people who have suffered mental health problems as a result of cannabis use to be a key part of delivering the programmes on the grounds that teenagers are more likely to listen to other young people than teachers and police officers.

On an annecdotal note, I can certainly see Corry’s point. In teaching a class of disaffected Year 9s (the 14-year-olds) recently, I overheard 2 students discussing ‘blow’. When I asked them if they knew anything about Schizophrenia, one of them said he had an uncle with it. When I explained the link between cannabis use and Schizophrenia, they (and their mates!) wanted to know more.

In their kinds of communities (traditional working class/former mining), where the traditions and the superstitions associated with the PURPLE vMEME dominate culturally, mental illness still tends to attract real stigma. These young people viewed Schizophrenia with abhorrence; they don’t want to have anything to do with mental illness or anything that causes it. The kind of educational programmes Corry is proposing may well have a major impact with this kind of teenager.

Incidentally, when asked what was a ‘safe’ level of cannabis use, I gave the Department of Health 2005 guideline of 50 joints (average cannabis content) per year.  One student went white at this while his mates laughed at him, one of them saying, “Fuck me, you must do 50 a week!”)

Simon Heffer, in an otherwise-heavy handed piece in the Daily Telegraph, made the point that reclassification would give the courts a wider and more stringent range of penalties, particularly for use with traffickers.

If we aimed to implement both Corry’s and Heffer’s proposals but also looked to address Corry’s concerns…

Firstly, the DfES would implement programmes in both primary and secondary schools to educate children and teenagers about the dangers of cannabis (and other drugs). Children will pass some of this on to their parents. (Perhaps, given the likely cost to the National Health Service of more people developing psychoses, perhaps the Department of Health could fund anti-cannabis educational campaigns in the media…?)

Secondly, reclassification would encourage and enable the police and the courts to tackle the dealers and traffickers. If the general public are being made more aware of the dangers of cannabis use, then the police should receive more support in directing their resources this way.

Thirdly, as Rethink is campaigning for, the NHS should put much more resources into identifying and helping people with mental health problems. At the same time the Ministry of Justice can issue regulations directing police to treat personal use levels of possession either as a cautionary offence (as under the current ‘C’ classification) or to seek a conviction requiring medical treatment, if appropriate.

While I was never much of a cannabis user – never a smoker, so very uncomfortable with that method of ingestion! – I freely admit I have ‘dabbled’ at times in the past. (Since I’ve yet to develop any form of psychosis – at least I don’t think I’m psychotic!! – I can only thank God I don’t seem to have the genetic predisposition which makes cannabis a near surefire route to Schizophrenia.). Until recently I approved of the Independent on Sunday’s legalisation campaign. I whole-heartedly approved of Blunkett’s 2004 decision. Today I have friends who are users. I have no wish for my friends to be criminalised. On the other hand, we need to recognise cannabis for the highly dangerous drug it is, deglamourise it and deal very harshly with those who deal and traffick in it.

I’ve had to deal with Schizophrenics. Believe me, if we can prevent some people from developing the illness, it’s most definitely worth it.

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  1. keitherice says

    Hi, jacjub…and thanks for reviving this thread.

    I don’t know that I’ve got anything to add to what I said about the science and the negatives about cannabis than I said in the original blog over 2 years ago. Of course, the science changes from time to time – somebody usually manages to come up with some studies that seem to condtradict the trend of what’s gone before. And, of course, as Benjamin Steele points out in his comments above, there’s often a political agenda in the way the science is used and presented. And that is at the centre of why Gordon Brown and Alan Johnson sacked David Knutt from his post as head honcho at the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs – Knutt talking about the latest science and the Government’s refusal to take it on board.

    I don’t claim to be any kind of expert on cannabis but I do regard Schizophrenia as a very scary illness indeed – with about a third of sufferers having to be closely supervised or even incarcerated for the rest of their lives. While never anything but a very, very occasional user myself many (many!) years ago, I was generally pro and sort-of supported the Independent on Sunday’s early-Naughties campaign to have it reclassified to C (which, of course, Blunkett did in 2004). However, as more and more evidence emerged of a link between dope and psychosis – all the references I gave in the original blog are easily traceable – my position increasingly reversed until I wrote the blog in 2007.

    If the latest science says that maybe the link is not quite as strong as we thought it might be, then that’s great. And, as Benjamin points out in his blog, http://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2009/08/24/re-time-to-turn-against-cannabis/, we don’t know how many people with the genetic predisposition to develop Schizophrenia might have gone on to develop it even if they hadn’t used dope. But, to use a physiological analogy, if you think about it, you’d advise an obese man in his fifties with a serious heart condition not to eat chips & burgers. The problem is, until we can isolate the genes responsible, we’ve no way of knowing who is vulnerable to developing Schizophrenia and who isn’t. Given how life-destroying Schizophrenia can be, my advice would be to stay away from anything that can significantly increase the risk of triggering psychosis.

    jacjub, I’ve had a look at http://vibed.wordpress.com/2009/11/04/two-sides-of-a-coin/ and think you do a pretty good job of presenting your argument while appearing to accept it’s not the last word on the subject. Which is good: if you’re open to new ideas and actively seeking them, as you appear to be, you should come to healthy conclusions that are right for you.

    Personally, when it comes to Schizophrenia, I prefer to err VERY MUCH on the side of caution.

    Best

    Keith

  2. jacjub says

    hey mate!

    im a strong cannabis smoker and supporter. Anyway, u have alot of knowledge on the topic seems more than me thats for sure, my knowledge maybe limited but as much as i know the lovely things about pot im not quite sure about the negatives; so do you think you can post a summary of the negatives to give a birds of view of the green drug, or maybe atleast point me in the direction of a summary. Thxx mate.

    Checkout my blog as well. feedback is always great.
    http://vibed.wordpress.com/ thanks.

  3. keitherice says

    Gosh, Benjamin, you argue a point well, Eloquently and logically – if, like all of us, you inevitably reflect your own biases.

    I’ve enjoyed your contributions to this and the Depression thread – even I can’t agree with some of your views, they’re so well put it forces me revisit my own views and review the precepts upon which they’re based.

    You may not be in a ‘position of power and authority’ but you clearly think things through deeply and present very strong arguments for your cases. Please carry on presenting your views in forums like this – because you never know whose thinking you’re going to influence.

    You haven’t changed the core of my thinking on this issue – but you’ve certainly ruffled the edges and that, I think, will affect certain elements of my approach next time I come to write a blog entry based on certain avenues of research. So, thank you for your challenges!

    If you’re up for it, e-mail me off-Blog. There’s a contact page on the main http://www.integratedsociopsychology.net. There’s some things I’d like to say to you, based on what you’ve said here, that I think you might find helpful – but are probably better said as a private discussion.

  4. Benjamin Steele says

    You said something that caught my attention.

    “So simplifications/generalisations/lies-based-on-truth can work. I think there will be whole load of factors which give us the zeitgeist – the spirit of the times.”

    Attitudes can be changed, but I’m not sure exactly what changes them.

    Why has the attitude about cigarettes changed so quickly? It’s really hard to explain. How does something switch from being socially acceptable to being socially unacceptable in such a short period of time? Second-hand smoke is bad, but so are many things such as second-hand car exhaust… the latter being far worse for one’s health. Why do cities build large parking ramps in the middle of town to encourage the concentration of car exhaust in the very concentration of the human population. Why don’t they instead build parking ramps far away from populated areas and encourage public transporation? I don’t own a car and so aren’t my rights being infringed in the way a non-smokers rights are being infringed sitting next to a smoker?

    There are all kinds of things that are far worse than second-hand smoke. Maybe the lies-founded-on-truth of the anti-tobacco lobbies worked because of effective campaigning that had nothing directly to do with facts. They touched upon people’s emotions and other psychological motivations which are largely unconscious. They made it uncool, but the facts were secondary. If you know what you’re doing, people can be easy to manipulate sometimes (there is a lot of research studying this). That is what advertising is about. If companies couldn’t influence people to do things they wouldn’t otherwise do, then there’d be no advertising. Campaigning, like advertising, actually works best when you bypass people’s rational response. If you present facts, they’re only a facade to hide the true mechanisms of manipulation. However, if the campaign lies about the facts and gets caught, then the manipulation will backfire.

    Sadly, humans aren’t primarily rational and the change in public opinion isn’t rational either. As I metioned, I think fastfood and junkfood are the biggest killer of any substances in the world. If we were worried about public health, it would be illegal to buy fastfood and junkfood for kids. But peole cherish their freedoms (and their habits and addictions) and will fight if you try to take them away. The worst health hazards never get changed because they involve too many people. If you can get the majority of people addicted to your substance such as sugar or if you can get the majority to use it on a regular basis such as alcohol, then you can ensure it will never be made illegal or that it won’t remain illegal for long because of public demand.

    “As regards, alcohol, while it is still the most popular drug of all, certainly amongst the late teens/early twenties I meet either through family or school networks are very strongly anti-drink driving and they almost unanimously assure me their friends and acquaintances are of a similar mind. Drink-driving just isn’t cool! And now I see it starting to spread quite strongly amongst my own age group (45-50), often considered in the UK previously the most hard-to-shift group.”

    This might be where it’s important to consider how generational cohorts play a part in change in attitudes. But it’s important to keep in mind that generational shifts in attitude don’t always last beyond a specific generation. There has been a campaign against drunk driving and it’s been effective. The reason it’s worked is probably because it didn’t use lies and misinformation like was done with the anti-drug campaign. It also touched upon the power of peer pressure. Nobody wants to be uncool or to be judged. This is particularly true for kids of the Millenial Generation which seem to put greater emphasis on peer influence than some previous generations.

    I should add that I work in a parking ramp near bars where college kids congregate. It may be true that drunk driving is less cool than it used to be, but trust me there are still a lot of drunk drivers. It’s surprising that I see so many drunk drivers on a regular basis considering the legal ramifications of getting caught. I’d be curious about the statistics about how much drunk driving has actually decreased.

  5. Benjamin Steele says

    I’m sorry if I’m being too confrontational. I guess this topic touches a nerve for me. Personally, I don’t care about marijuana in and of itself. I don’t use it nor do I have any desire to use it.

    Even so, my highest ideal in life is truth. Nothing is more important to me than truth. However, does bare factual truth always lead to positive happy results? I don’t know… probably not. But given a choice, I’d probably take truth despite the conseqences. My ideal of truth is what gives my life purpose and as a depressed person who has hit rock bottom a time or two having a sense of purpose is very important.

    That said, you could be right about this. I really don’t know. Anyways, I’m not in a position of power and authority. It’s not up to me what information scientists and politicians share with the public nor how that information is shared. I’d like to believe that there is good in being completely truthful. I’d like to believe that most people are intelligent enough not to have to be told what to think.

    It seems to me that democracy can’t function without open access to unbiased knowledge, but what do I know. In a democracy, are there things more important than democracy itself? That is a profound question. It would seem that much of politics is about expediency and maybe it can’t be any other way. All that I know is that I find it rather uninspiring to think in that direction. I doubt that I’d make a very good politician. 🙂

  6. keitherice says

    Hmmmm….you present some powerful arguments there, Benjamin.

    Certainly the marijuana-leads-to-harder-drugs lie – which was a central plank of Western governments’ anti-drugs campaigns for much of the second half of the 20th Century – failed. Possibly because it was a fairly transparent lie.

    The lies-founded-on-truth of the anti-tobacco lobbies, whilst they are still failing miserably amongst some groups, have generally succeeded in lowering the social acceptability of smoking in North American and Western Europe. As regards, alcohol, while it is still the most popular drug of all, certainly amongst the late teens/early twenties I meet either through family or school networks are very strongly anti-drink driving and they almost unanimously assure me their friends and acquaintances are of a similar mind. Drink-driving just isn’t cool! And now I see it starting to spread quite strongly amongst my own age group (45-50), often considered in the UK previously the most hard-to-shift group.

    So simplifications/generalisations/lies-based-on-truth can work. I think there will be whole load of factors which give us the zeitgeist – the spirit of the times.

    In terms of cannabis, we’re still in the early days of cannabis-causing-schizophrenia to tell how successful this lie-based-on-truth will be. And, as you have pointed out in this discussion, Benjamin, the evidence is far from being uniformly conclusive.

    Undoubtedly it’s my own bias about Schizophrenia that fuels my anti-cannabis stance. Having dealt with schizophrenics and seen the misery the illness causes and done some (desk) research into its potential causes, I’m for anything that might inhibit the development of the illness in people.

    Certainly, as in the story I told in this blog, linking use with Schizophrenia – especially in communities where PURPLE stigma about mental illness is strong – really makes young teenage users take note.

    And, perhaps, that questioning of the given that it’s okay to use cannabis, is the best start we can hope for…?

  7. Benjamin Steele says

    I must admit that I don’t have that strong opinion about marijuana per se. I just have a negative reaction to the lies and propaganda I was spoon-fed growing up. It’s hard to know what is true when you were never given the truth. For example, this meta-analysis had an obvious bias. The data was being interpeted to a specific ideological conclusion. I say just give me the data and don’t tell me what it means. I’m fine with presenting me with the various ways of interpreting it. I do think there is a decent chance that it might contribute to schizophrenia and so the authorities should say that in an honest way. It’s possible to simplify information so as to effectively communicate without turning it into lies and propaganda.

    Yeah, marijuana has risks but so do lots of legal substances which have dangerous side effects when misused or not supervised carefully by a doctor. Marijuana also has medical benefits. That is why you legalize it so that people using it for medical purposes get medical supervision. Sure, people will still use it incorrectly, but that is true for every other legal medication. Every substance that is prescribed by a doctor can also be bought on the street. In fact, some legally prescribed drugs are very popular in college and highschool. Kids illegally sell their legal prescriptions all of the time. You can’t stop illegal distribution of drugs (whether or not the drugs are legal), but you can decrease the dangers by not lying to people. Making generalizations that are simplified truths are fine. Lying is never acceptable.

    I don’t think everyone can handle everything. For one, that is why you legalize it in order to put it in the realm of public knowledge and accountability. Many people do listen to their doctors and other authority figures, but people lose trust in authorities when they’re lied to. Drugs bought on the street are even more dangerous because you don’t necessarily know what you’re buying. As far as I know, there is no evidence that legalizing marijuana increases its use. You simply decrease the number of people being in prison. Prohibition proved the truth of this.

    I understand your general argument, but it’s a slippery slope. Why stop with cannabis? People do all kinds of things that are immensely unhealthy (physically and mentally). The most unhealthy addictive drug man has ever invented is refined sugar which kills massive numbers of people and leads even more to miserable lives of a wide variety of diseases and disabilities. Fast food is probably a bigger killer than smoking and alcohol combined. People make bad decisions all of the time that quickly or slowly destory their lives. I’d be fine with illegalizing all unhealthy and dangerous activities if it actually stopped those activities, but it doesn’t. Marijuana is illegal and yet people keep using it.

    By the time of college, around half of people report having tried marijuana and about half of those report being current users. However, I don’t know if this takes into account the massive under-reporting. According to under-reporting estimates, 41 million Americans use marijuana annually. The drug war has failed. Lies and propaganda have failed. Why not try a different approach?

    So, I say prove to me that illegalization and scare tactics work because all evidence seems to be to the contrary. The government has already tried for several decades of “lurid front page headlines about the dangers of using cannabis” and they failed. Cannabis use increased during that time of endless propaganda. I saw that kind of propaganda growing up. It didn’t stop me and it didn’t stop my peers. I’m for whatever works, whatever helps people. I’m just against ideology. It’s similar to people who promote abstinence programs even though they increase the number of pregnancies and STDs. Personally, I believe results are more important than ideology. Show me the results. It’s not about what people can handle. It’s about what works.

    There actually is an argument for propaganda. It does work when all avenues of information are controlled. For example, China has been very successful with propaganda because it tightly controls all media. The problem is such control isn’t possible in a democracy. Propaganda also works during times of extreme fear such as war, but it’s almost impossible to uphold a constant state of fear and probably isn’t desirable. The thing is that kids these days are media saavy. They don’t just accept what they’re told. If you tell them one thing, they’ll search for opposing viewpoints and they’ll ask their friends. If they learn they’ve been lied to or been told partial truths, then the propaganda will have an opposite effect than was intended. Propaganda is a hard thing to do well.

    Why do you think marijuana use increased during the largest anti-drug propaganda program the US government has ever implemented? It wasn’t for a lack of trying nor was it for a lack of good intentions.

  8. keitherice says

    Hi, Benjamin

    Your point on the dangers of alcohol to others is well made.

    Of course, research on links between cannabis use and psychoses have produced quite a wide variety of results and conclusions over the past 20 years. You have to factor in a whole load of cultural, social and personal factors as well as a potential genetic predisposition to explain why some people develop Schizophrenia and some don’t.

    What is undoubtedly clear is that the use of cannabis can be a major causal factor for some high-risk groups. And, since we haven’t yet identified the gene(s) responsible for the diathesis, we don’t know how to identify the high-risk groups.

    How you present that information – and with what degree of accuracy – I think brings us to an ethical dilemma. Do you present the information as ‘CANNABIS CAUSES SCHIZOPHRENIA’ or well, some reports really do say cannabis is dangerous but other reports fail to find this consistently across all groups….?

    It’s like ‘SMOKING KILLS’ on cigarette packets. No, it doesn’t. ‘SMOKING KILLS’ as an absolute statement is a lie. There is no straight-forward cause-effect EVER been demonstrated. There’s some terrifyiingly high correlations linking tobacco smoking to lung cancer, heart disease, etc, but no absolute proof.

    Benjamin, you say: “I believe if you give people accurate information, they’ll generally make wise choices.”

    Well, that’s not always true. How you respond to information will depend on the schemas you already hold, other memes you are being exposed to, which vMEMES are dominating in your selfplex and how your temperament predisposes you more to risky or cautious behaviour.

    The dangers of smoking have been in the public domain since the 1960s. It’s taken decades of ‘propaganda’ campaigns – eventually resulting in the ‘SMOKING KILLS’ lie – and finally the imposition of legislation restricting where you can smoke to gradually whittle away consumption of tabacco in the West. And, you know what?…in the UK, smoking is still on the increase amongst teenage girls and young women in the UK!

    Personally, having seen my mother die messily, in pain and without dignity from lung cancer linked to – not necessarily caused by – a lifetime of smoking, I’d rather they did put out the ‘SMOKING KILLS’ lie if it helps to prevent just a few others ending up like my mother.

    Using a similar argument, I’d rather see – for the general public – lurid front page headlines about the dangers of using cannabis, rather than measured scientific discussion about the variables involved buried at the bottom of page 12. Save that for the scientific journals and people with the expertise to appreciate the nuances.

    Manipulation of the media for an agenda, rather than so-called ‘democratic choice’? You bet!

    In my view it’s GREEN’s fallacy that everyone can handle everything.

    Think about the executives of the struggling recession-hit company sharing just how close the company is to going under with the workers. A GREEN-led observer would think the execs wonderful for treating the workers as mature, responsible and ready/willing to share the pain. However, the PURPLE of the workers is more likely to be flipping out at the potential redundancies meaning loss of security.

  9. Benjamin Steele says

    I’m a typical Gen Xer. I’m cynical of anything authority figures say. I question everything and I always demand to see the data for myself. I grew up being lied to with anti-drug propaganda. There are genuinely good reasons to be wary of illegal drugs, but I’ve generally found most sweeping statements to be false.

    You might be interested in the following blog post. The author discusses this meta-analysis and other research that contradicts it. I agree with the author that the best way to regulate a drug like marijuana isn’t criminalization as that has never stopped anyone from using. Spreading misleading propaganda makes it impossible for the average person to make informed decisions about realistic risks. I believe if you give people accurate information, they’ll generally make wise choices.

    http://freethemarketman.wordpress.com/2008/05/14/how-to-tell-if-the-drug-czar-is-lying-his-lips-are-moving/

  10. Benjamin Steele says

    I’ve dabbled a bit with marijuana in the past. I knew plenty of potheads, but never really liked the stuff much myself. I never used it regularly and certainly not at high doses. The only negative psychological effect was a slight nervous paranoia which as I understand it isn’t an unusual side effect. Yep, life is all about calculated risks… and calculated benefits. I personally never gained much benefit from marijuana and so the calculation was easy for me.

    I was recently looking into the research about marijuana and driving. Marijuana may be more dangerous to one’s mental health than alcohol, but alcohol is by far more dangerous to the health of others. People under the influence of alcohol are way more likely to be in accidents or just outright violent. Marijuana interestingly had little to no effect on driving ability. Some research even showed some positive increase in driving skills.

  11. keitherice says

    Every one a good point, Benjamin.

    I’m a sort of hippie guy who used to think cannabis was a lot less harmful than alcohol. And, yes, I’ve ‘dabbled’ with no negative psychological effect I’m aware of whatsoever.

    But, having dealt with schizophrenics close up, would I risk that for myself – even if the estimated risk was subtantially lower than the clumsily-estimated 40%….? The answer is, No, I wouldn’t.

    In my view it simply isn’t worth the risk.

    Keith

  12. Benjamin Steele says

    I hadn’t heard of this research. I love research because it can disprove commonly accepted ‘facts’, but I’m always suspicious of how research gets interpreted. The obvious question that arises in my mind is whether people with certain personlity and/or genetic predispositions are more likely to smoke marijuana. Maybe people who have a predisposition to schizophrenia also have a predisposition to experimenting with drugs and so the correlation may or may not be causation.

    For example, Ernest Hartmann has written about the relationship between dreams and schizophrenia in terms of thin boundary types. One trait that thin boundary types have is an openness to experience and so they’re more likely to experiment in general.

    The question is how many people who become schizophrenic after cannabis use would’ve become schizophrenic whether or not they’d used cannabis? Does the cannabis cause or contribute to schizophrenia? That question still hasn’t been answered. More careful research is required.