Even The Guardian Is Now On The ‘Skunk Scaremongering’ Bandwagon.
In the last couple of years, even the Daily Mail has shifted its stance on cannabis as it sees opportunities to sensationalise ‘miracle cures’ from medicinal use – the epileptic child now smiling, the cancer patient whose tumour has disappeared. Truth and balance are irrelevant when a dramatic headline is all you’re after.
The Daily Telegraph has become the new home of ‘reefer madness’ with bad science, nasty prejudice and booze-fuelled fear of a safer recreational drug threatening the massive profits of the alcohol industry.
Now, even the Guardian jumps on the ‘skunk scaremongering’ bandwagon with the exaggerated claim that “the risks of heavy teenage cannabis consumption should frighten all of us”. In a backhanded editorial it suggests legalisation because cannabis is dangerous. It claims the consequences of cannabis “abuse are devastating. Psychotic breakdowns smash up lives and can lead to full-blown schizophrenia.” There is little evidence to support such hysteria. In reality, such effects are so rare as to be virtually unheard of and it’s impossible to prove they are caused by cannabis.
Of course we must protect young people, particularly from the high-THC/low-CBD ‘moonshine’ varieties that are a direct result of government policy. However, we cannot compromise facts and evidence for the illusory belief that buying into scare stories will somehow reduce harm. The only way to protect children is by legal regulation with mandatory age limits.
The Guardian makes much of Public Health England’s (PHE) figure that “there are more than 13,000 under-18s in treatment for the consequences of heavy cannabis use in England”. It neglects to mention that PHE also publishes more than 69% are referred by the criminal justice, education and social care systems while only 17% are referred from healthcare and just 11% by themselves or their family. Thus, more than two-thirds are receiving coercive treatment and only 11% actually consider they have a problem.
It is government propaganda that thousands of young people are suffering from mental health problems due to cannabis. Why is The Guardian promoting this myth? Last year, in answer to a Parliamentary question, Jane Ellison MP, minister of state at the Department of Health, revealed there have been average of just over 28 ‘finished admission episodes’ (FAE) for ‘cannabis-induced psychosis’ in young people for each of the past five years.
Of course, each of these 28 cases is a tragedy for the people involved and nothing must distract from that but it clearly shows that in public health terms, ‘cannabis psychosis’ is of negligible significance. To put it into perspective, there are an estimated 3,000 FAEs for peanut allergy each year but we don’t waste £500 million pa on futile law enforcement efforts to ban peanuts!
For 50 years, the Home Office has systematically misled and misinformed the British people about cannabis. Successive generations of young people know they have been lied to. Such dishonest health information is counterproductive. As a result, many children may think that heroin or crack are not as harmful as they have been told.
Cannabis is not harmless but neither is it ‘dangerous’. If you apply that description to it you also have to apply it to energy drinks, over-the-counter painkillers and hay fever remedies. Similarly, whatever scaremongering there is about ‘addiction’, the scientific evidence is that dependency amongst regular cannabis users is slightly less than caffeine dependency amongst regular coffee drinkers – and withdrawal symptoms are similar in nature and intensity.
What we need is evidence-based policy. Government needs to take responsibility for the £6 billion pa cannabis market instead of abandoning our young people and communities to street dealers and criminal gangs. The benefits to be gained from cannabis law reform are reduced health and social harms, massive public expenditure savings, increased tax revenue and proper protection for the vulnerable, including children.
Young people’s statistics from the National Drug Treatment Monitoring System (NDTMS), Public Health England, December 2015
Drugs: Young People. Department of Health written question – answered on 20th March 2015.
Relative Addictiveness of Drugs, Dr. Jack E. Henningfield, NIDA and Dr. Neal L. Benowitz, UCLA, 1994