Peter Reynolds

The life and times of Peter Reynolds

Archive for the ‘Health’ Category

The Shame Of Drugs Minster Sarah Newton MP.

with 2 comments

Sarah Newton is MP for Truro and Falmouth. Since July 2016 she has been Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Home Office. Her responsibilities include drugs and alcohol.

During last month’s drugs debate Mrs Newton caused uproar in the House of Commons when she said she “would not agree that alcohol is the most dangerous drug” and that “alcohol taken in moderation is not a harmful drug”.

Both these statements are, of course, directly contradicted by a vast quantity of scientific evidence and many MPs corrected her dreadful mistakes as they spoke in the debate.  Mrs Newton demonstrates very clearly the standard of knowledge, evidence and probity that prevails in the Home Office.  It is locked into a policy of deliberately misleading both Parliament and the public on drugs and has been so for at last 50 years.  Mrs Newton is the just the latest MP prepared to sell their soul and integrity for ministerial office.

Her shame is compounded by the photograph above from March 2017 which shows her endorsing and supporting the work of the Portman Group, the alcohol industry’s shadowy lobbying organisation which works relentlessly to minimise controls on alcohol and public perception of the harms it causes.

There can be no doubt that this is a form of corruption.  Mrs Newton, along with the home secretary, Amber Rudd MP and her predecessor, Theresa May MP, is engaged in misleading the public, encouraging use of the most dangerous drug of all while misinforming about the less harmful alternatives such as cannabis.

Written by Peter Reynolds

August 8, 2017 at 4:22 pm

UK Drugs Policy Equivalent To A Grenfell Tower Tragedy Every Fortnight, Yet Ministers Prescribe More Of the Same.

with 4 comments

The scandal that is UK drugs policy deepened last month as the Home Office published what must be one of the most irresponsible government reports ever.

UK Drugs Policy Kills As Many People Every Fortnight

The 2017 Drug Strategy adds nothing of any significance to the same document published in 2010. Since then, deaths from drug overdose have reached an all time high of 2,479 (latest 2015 data). There has been an explosion in highly toxic new psychoactive substances and the Psychoactive Substances Act 2016 has increased harms, deaths, associated crime and potency, exactly as was predicted, warnings the government chose to ignore.  The government has refused to consider or take any expert advice on introducing legal access to medical cannabis, something that virtually all other modern democracies are moving forward on. Its continuing policy on cannabis defies scientific evidence and real-life experience from places where reform has been implemented.  It also supports and encourages the criminal market, encourages street dealing, dangerous hidden cannabis farms and the production of poor quality, low-CBD, so-called ‘skunk’ cannabis.

Do not doubt that this dreadful toll of death could be drastically reduced, at least halved, by a more responsible, progressive and evidence-based policy.  We should treat those with the disease of addiction humanely, not criminalising them for their drug use, prescribing pharmaceutical heroin where necessary, introducing drug consumption rooms and giving far more weight to harm reduction rather than the unrealistic and ideological pursuit of abstinence.  That would deal with the problem of drug deaths but millions more could have their lives improved, billions in public expenditure could be saved and many divisions and causes of conflict in our society could be swept away by a new approach to drugs policy in general.

Sarah Newton MP, Minister of State, during the drugs debate

The subsequent drugs debate in Parliament exposed the brazen dishonesty and deceit of Home Office ministers. The home secretary, Amber Rudd, couldn’t be bothered to show up so it was left to Sarah Newton, MP.  Her performance consisted only of lies, deceit and trickery, the like of which I have rarely seen before.  For many years, the Home Office has been systematically misleading and misinforming the public about drugs but here was a minister, clearly, deliberately and without compunction, misleading Parliament.  As with so much of the wickedness enforced by the Home Office, Ms Newton is now beyond redemption.  There can be no doubt at all about the depth of her dishonesty and the effect on the lives of millions of people should, surely, amount to a very serious crime.  Its consequences are far, far more serious than the failure of national and local government that led to the Grenfell Tower tragedy but they are caused by the same mindset of arrogance, prejudice and refusal to listen to expert evidence.

If there is any reason behind what comes out of the Home Office on drugs then it is most certainly corrupt.  It may not be plain brown envelopes changing hands but at best it is negligence, failure to act responsibly and in the interests of the public. This is corruption and there is no doubt it is firmly embedded amongst Home Office civil servants.  Their reputation is in the gutter: other government departments, universities and research institutions, drug licence applicants and holders, politicians – they all report stubborn, intransigent, uncooperative conduct.  While giving evidence to a Parliamentary Committee a year or so ago, I was nervous about how trenchant was my criticism of the Home Office.  I needn’t have been.  Every member of the panel nodded and agreed with me that Home Office is impossible to deal with.

Nothing can absolve ministers of their responsibility but after nearly 40 years I have seen many of them come and go while the Home Office remains exactly the same.  There is a culture amongst the civil service that resists any move towards any drug reform using whatever methods it deems necessary.  This is nothing less than subversion of our democracy and it is senior civil servants engaged in this treachery.

There is blood on the hands of Sarah Newton, Amber Rudd and, of course, the former home secretary, Theresa May.  That’s on the top of the misery, deprivation, violence, poverty, crime and ill health that their policies cause.

Change is inevitable but only after many more have died and others have had their lives blighted or ruined by this oppressive, unjust persecution. Although the drugs debate was once again sparsely attended, it was better than the last time the subject was discussed and more MPs from all parties are at last beginning to see the light. The Labour Party remains disgraced.  Its record is even worse than the Conservatives and despite some positive words from Corbyn about medicinal cannabis, this is not reflected in policy and flatly contradicted by John McDonnell.  Diane Abbott, as shadow home secretary, was truly pathetic in the debate and she offered no real opposition at all to the government.

From the campaign point of view it’s very disheartening but reformers should not despair.  We are making steady progress, not just among MPs but also within the media.  Even the Murdoch press, the Mail and all the tabloids have changed their position.  The darkest time of the night is just before dawn and I do believe that shortly we will see the first glimmers of light.  We are on the cusp of change and legal access to medical cannabis will almost certainly come first.

The Drugs Policy Debate. House Of Commons, 18th July 2017.

leave a comment »

This debate was held in Parliament following the publication on 14th July 2017 of the ‘2017 Drug Strategy’.

The debate may be watched in full here.  It starts at 13:17 and finishes at 19:00.

Highlights include:

Crispin Blunt MP at 14:09

 

 

 

 

 

Jeff Smith MP at 15:21

 

 

 

 

 

Norman Lamb MP at 16:10

 

 

 

 

 

 

Paul Flynn MP at 16:32

Written by Peter Reynolds

July 26, 2017 at 4:07 pm

New Drug Strategy Promises More Death, Misery And Ill Health For UK.

with 2 comments

The long overdue update to the UK Drug Strategy is published today by the Home Office.   A copy may be downloaded here.

Sadly, as expected, it is nothing except more of the same.  It offers no new ideas worthy of any note and reinforces the failure of existing policy by further embedding an approach which has already been conclusively proven not to work.

The UK has become increasingly isolated in its approach to drugs policy and now that both Ireland and France are moving towards decriminalisation we are unique amongst modern democracies in maintaining an approach based on nothing but prohibition.  We now stand closer to countries such as Russia, China, Indonesia and Singapore.  In fact, the only thing that separates us from countries with such medieval policies is that we do not have the death penalty for drug offences.  Otherwise our policy is just as repressive, anti-evidence, anti-human rights and based on prejudice rather than what is proven to work.

From Home Secretary Amber Rudd’s introduction, through sections based on repetition of the original strategy, ‘Reducing Demand, Restricting Supply and Building Recovery’, the document is more of the same old platitudes, bureaucratic doublespeak and meaningless civil service and social worker jargon.  It offers nothing but despair to those wracked by addiction, desperate for the proven medical benefits of cannabis or suffering from the tremendous social problems caused by prohibition.  In every respect it mirrors the government’s approach to housing which has led to mass homelessness, depravation and the Grenfell Tower disaster.  It is yet another inadequate response imposed by a government which is out of touch and wedded to policies based on ideology rather than evidence.

UK Government Policy

Current UK drug policy has already led to the highest ever rate of deaths from overdose. Deaths from heroin more than doubled from 2012 to 2015, yet there is absolutely nothing offered in this document that might change this – as if existing policy is quite OK.  Similarly, in what would be farcical humour were it not so tragic, the government seeks to portray the Psychoactive Substances Act 2016 as a success.  It trumpets the closure of hundreds of retailers and websites and end to open sales but it doesn’t even mention the burgeoning new criminal market which has led to a massive increase in harm and products which are more potent but also more inconsistent and unpredictable.  All the experts (except those appointed by the government) agree that this new law has been a disaster.  Just like Grenfell Tower, this is government enforcing policies which significantly increase danger and harm without any regard at all to evidence or public opinion.

As before, this strategy doesn’t even consider harm reduction, it offers only a puritanical, moralistic approach based on abstinence.  It fails entirely to recognise that 95% of all drug use is non-problematic, without causing harm to anybody.  It is entirely focused on mis-use and blind to the great benefits, often therapeutic but also simply of pleasure, enjoyment and recreation that many people gain from safe drug use, just as most people do with that most dangerous drug of all, alcohol.  These people, the vast majority, are completely ignored by their government.

By its own title this is a drug strategy, not a drugs strategy. It treats all drugs and all drug users the same, whether they are a prisoner serving a long sentence without access to education or rehabilitation, a ruthless gangster engaged in human trafficking, an affluent clubber, humble festival goer or a multiple sclerosis patient who grows a few cannabis plants for pain relief.  It is a travesty of government, failing entirely to meet the needs of the population.

It also contains some of the most extraordinary factual errors and contradictions.  “Most cannabis in the UK is imported”, it states in defiance of the evidence that the UK has been virtually self-sufficient in homegrown cannabis since the 1990s, even to the extent where we are ‘exporting’ to other European countries.

Unsurprisingly, the report states “We have no intention of decriminalising drugs” but then makes the dubious assertion that “Drugs are illegal because scientific and medical analysis has shown they are harmful to human health.”  This is simply unsustainable in face of the facts about harms caused by legal substances such as alcohol, peanuts and energy drinks.  It is also inconsistent with the stated purpose of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 which is about misuse “having harmful effects sufficient to constitute a social problem.”, nothing to do with individual health harms.

The report fails at all to consider the negative effects of current policy and how prohibition rather than drugs themselves is actually the cause of most harms connected with drugs. It doesn’t even mention the worldwide revolution in the medical use of cannabis or that one million UK citizens are criminalised and placed in danger of criminal sanctions or contaminated product simply for trying to improve their health.  Neither does it mention drug testing, a proven method of reducing the harms of club drugs, now being supported by many police forces at festivals.

This report really is as empty, ineffectual and useless as anything produced by this already tired and discredited government.  The parallels between Grenfell Tower and a government which actively maximise the harms of drugs through its policies are extraordinary.  Thousands are dying every year because Mrs May and Mrs Rudd won’t listen to evidence.  They pick and choose whether to accept the advice of their own Advisory Council based on political convenience rather than facts and while the Council includes eminent scientists it also includes specialists in ‘chocolate addiction’ and evangelical Christian ‘re-education’ of gay people.

Whether it’s determining the inflammability of building materials or the relative potential for harm of different substances, what is clear is that this government is more concerned with dogma, vested interests and old-fashioned prejudices than the safety, health and wellbeing of the population. This Drug Strategy is a recipe for failure, for continuing exactly as before.

Why Is CLEAR Supporting Lord Monson In His Campaign Against So-Called ‘Skunk’?

leave a comment »

Lord Nicholas Monson

Lord Nicholas Monson

CLEAR’s first and overriding objective is to end the prohibition of cannabis.  The tragedies that have struck the Monson family demonstrate all too clearly that prohibition of cannabis is futile.  Not only does it not protect people from harm, it actually maximises the harms and dangers of the cannabis market.

Nicholas Monson’s eldest son, Alexander, was arrested in Kenya in 2012. allegedly for smoking cannabis.  Toxicology reports found no evidence of cannabis in his system. According to both a government and an independent pathologist he died from a fatal blow to the back of his head while in police custody.  Clearly, it was the law against cannabis that led directly to Alexander’s death.

Nicholas Monson with his son Rupert

Just three months ago, Rupert, Nicholas Monson’s younger son, took his own life after a descent into depression and psychosis in which the excessive consumption of so-called ‘skunk’ was clearly a significant factor.  Rupert himself said that he was addicted and there is good evidence to show that cannabis without CBD is more addictive.  It is well established from research as far back as the early 1990s that approx 9% of regular users develop dependence which produces real physical withdrawal symptoms: insomnia, lack of appetite and irritability, sometimes a headache.  For most people these are easily overcome within a week or so but not for everyone.  Most importantly though, cannabis in the early 1990s contained, on average, half to a third as much THC as it does now and always a healthy buffer of CBD.  The addictiveness of so-called ‘skunk’ with zero or very little CBD, is several times greater than the cannabis available 20 to 30 years ago.

It’s important to add that Rupert was also very badly failed by the dire state of mental health services. Surrey and Borders Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, a specialist provider of mental health and drug treatment services said that he needed to be admitted but a bed was not available.  It was just a few days later that he committed suicide.

Nicholas Monson has called for so-called ‘skunk’ to be made a class A drug but also for lower potency cannabis, with a maximum THC:CBD ratio of 3:1 to be made legally available through a regulated system.  Theresa May wrote to him after reading coverage of the story in the press.  She expressed her sympathy and said how she shared his concerns.  Importantly, she suggested that Lord Monson prepare a paper and a presentation to the Home Office on his proposals.  This is a tremendous opportunity towards introducing measures that will better protect vulnerable people like Rupert and also for wider reform of the cannabis laws that will reduce all the harms presently caused by prohibition.  Cannabis would be purchased from government licensed outlets just like alcohol and the aim would be to collapse the criminal market just like the market in dangerous, ‘moonshine’ whisky.

CLEAR does not agree that raising so-called ‘skunk’ to class A would be an effective measure.  It would be virtually impossible to enforce, requiring a massive increase in laboratory testing of cannabis and the supply of high potency varieties would simply be pushed underground. The price will go up and all the harms of a criminal market will be increased.  All the evidence is that drug classification or penalties have absolutely no effect whatsoever on consumption.  However, Lord Monson suggests that all personal cannabis possession should be decriminalised and police would focus only on dealers in so-called ‘skunk’.  There is a very strong argument that with high quality cannabis available legally, people would turn away from the black market.

Of course, we support the idea of legally available cannabis with a maximum THC:CBD ratio of 3:1.  This could be the basis of a system that could work very successfully. The product would be available only through a limited number of licensed outlets to adults only.  It would be supplied in appropriate packaging with detailed labelling of contents.  Possession of any cannabis not in this packaging would be reasonable grounds for it to be seized and tested.

Lord Nicholas Monson, Peter Reynolds

This will, of course, provoke outrage amongst many cannabis consumers, particularly those who grow their own but it would be fantastic progress.  It would usher in a far more rational, sensible regime where we could establish real data about harms and risks.  If appropriate, this could lead to the regulation of higher potency varieties.  Of course, we recognise that for medical use, a completely different approach to cannabinoid content is required and much higher potency may be necessary in some instances.

CLEAR is in the business of reform and this is the most likely path to reform that has ever emerged in the UK.  We are not in the business of promoting a cannabis market which enthusiasts and connoisseurs would regard as some sort of utopia.  The only purpose of any drugs policy must be to reduce harm and this proposal, if implemented, would massively reduce all the social harms caused by prohibition and reduce the risk of health harms.

Finally, it has to be said that, in typical fashion, a substantial part of the cannabis community has reacted in almost hysterical anger to Lord Monson’s proposals.  The only effect of such behaviour is to hold back reform.  We have been horrified and disgusted at the abuse directed at the Monson family.  It has shown cannabis consumers in the very worst light and demonstrated that some are so stupid that they damage the very cause they seek to advocate.  Nicholas Monson is a grieving father who, despite his agony, has seen the rational way forward and lent his energy and commitment towards reform that will benefit everyone.  We stand alongside him and we urge all cannabis consumers to consider these ideas carefully – and please, lend us your support!

Lord Nicholas Monson adds:

“The motivation for my campaign is to protect the young and vulnerable in particular from ingesting any substance whose contents can have a deleterious short or long term effect on their minds. To watch one’s son spiral into psychosis from a heavy usage of skunk is distressing to behold. Rupert’s psychiatric team put his psychosis down to skunk. This is unequivocal. Yes there are other psychoactive drugs around but skunk is what did for Rupert. It so happens that the remedy for skunk is a legalised and regulated market in cannabis where clear information is available. This should be applauded by the recreational cannabis community. Separately I have long supported the medical community’s initiatives to prescribe variants of cannabis with high CBD for people suffering from a wide variety of conditions.”

Written by Peter Reynolds

June 7, 2017 at 7:10 pm

So-Called ‘Skunk’ – What Does The Word Mean And How Much Of A Problem Is It?

with 4 comments

The meaning of the word ‘skunk’ has changed.   Today it has come to mean high potency cannabis that contains zero or very little CBD and this is a definition that is now in general use worldwide, including by scientists such as Professors David Nutt and Val Curran who are very much supporters of reform.

Skunk #1

Originally, it meant a strain of cannabis selectively bred from a Colombian sativa, a Mexican sativa and an Afghan indica that was christened skunk because of its extremely strong smell. The smell has nothing to do with its strength and is produced by the terpenes in the plant, not the cannabinoids. In fact, contrary to popular opinion, skunk is not particularly strong, producing about 8% THC which in today’s terms, with many strains now exceeding 20%, could even be described as weak. However what defines the strain was that it was one of the first to breed out virtually all the CBD content.

Skunk #1 was one of the earliest successful cannabis hybrids. In fact, its genetics are fundamental to the cannabis grown by GW Pharmaceuticals and incorporated into its licensed whole plant cannabis medicine Sativex.

The word was quickly adopted by headline writers in the British gutter press, the Daily Mail, the Sun, the Daily Express and the Daily Telegraph, all off which are relentlessly engaged in publishing anti-cannabis propaganda, often completely fake and always wildly exaggerated.  In the UK media the term simply became a sensationalist synonym for cannabis.

As well as an unregulated, often wildly irresponsible press, the UK is also home to a small group of researchers who are steadily and consistently funded to investigate the negative effects of cannabis, more than anywhere else in the world. The figurehead and lead scientist is Professor Sir Robin Murray of the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College London.  No one else has published as much research on the negative effects of cannabis which, although they can be very serious in a few cases, apply only to a tiny, fraction of one percent of the hundreds of millions of people worldwide who are cannabis consumers.

Professor Sir Robin Murray

I have met Sir Robin several times.  In fact I once spent two days sitting next to him at a conference in the House of Lords.  His views on cannabis are much more balanced than they are presented in the press.  In fact he is on the record stating that the majority of people gain a great deal of benefit and enjoyment from cannabis.  As a scientist he also recognises the now considerable body of evidence demonstrating that cannabis is a safe and effective medicine for a wide range of conditions.  He is, however, the poster boy for modern day reefer madness and his work his quoted on a selective basis by all those who oppose cannabis law reform.  Even Kings College’s own press office has a record of exaggerating, overstating and misrepresenting Sir Robin’s work.

It was Sir Robin and his team who first started to use the word ‘skunk’ in a scientific context.  As far as I am aware, they have never properly defined it and as the thrust of much of their work is that psychotic symptoms from cannabis use are dose dependent, it is difficult to understand why they have chosen to use it without specifying what it means in terms of THC and CBD levels.

Gradually however, the term has become accepted within the scientific community and this reinforces its use in the media.  Perhaps the last nail in the coffin of the correct definition was the Channel 4 Drugs Live programme in 2015 when Professors David Nutt and Val Curran adopted the word.  This despite the fact that the cannabis they used was provided by Bedrocan, the Netherlands government’s official producer and was a haze strain, most definitely not skunk.

Ch 4 Drugs Live: Cannabis. Prof. David Nutt, Jon Snow, Prof. Val Curran

So, after much consideration, CLEAR has decided to bow to the inevitable and recognise that the meaning of the word has changed.  It is now shorthand for high potency, low CBD cannabis and it has become counterproductive to hold out for the correct definition. We must accept that language and words evolve and change over time.  In future we will refer to so-called ‘skunk’ and we will explain what it means.  Importantly this means stressing that it is not so much the absolute level of THC that matters but the absence or virtual absence of CBD.  Even a strain that contains 5% THC can be harmful to vulnerable people if it contains no CBD.  Conversely, a strain containing as much as 25% THC but perhaps 5% CBD is much safer and virtually harmless for the vast majority of adults.

How Much Of A Problem Is So-Called ‘Skunk’?

It remains a fact that peanuts are a far riskier substance to consume than cannabis, even so-called ‘skunk’.  About one in 100 people suffer from peanut allergy which in severe cases can be life threatening.  By contrast, the data shows that about one in 20,000 people risks a psychotic episode after consumption of cannabis.  To add more context, about four in one hundred people are allergic to seafood and, adjusting for the number of users, alcohol consumption is five times more likely than cannabis to see anyone admitted to hospital for mental health problems.

On the face of it then, relatively speaking, so-called ‘skunk’ is safer than peanuts or oysters – but this doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t do everything we can to protect those few people who are at risk.

No one really understands why, how or even if cannabis is a significant factor in some people becoming seriously mentally ill.  Psychosis in all its forms, including schizophrenia, strikes most commonly in young men just as they are dealing with all the other problems of reaching adulthood: becoming independent from parents, the hormonal changes of adolescence, forming relationships and reaching sexual maturity, pressure of exams, starting work and beginning to experiment with alcohol, cannabis and other drugs.  Nevertheless it is perfectly reasonable to conclude that it is at least a component factor in some cases and possibly much more significant in a few.  Clearly, cannabis is a powerful psychoactive substance and it can have positive and negative effects on the mind.  Science proves that the developing brain is more vulnerable to the effects of any substance while it is at the height of its ‘plasticity’ when its course of development can easily be changed.  Science also proves that so-called ‘skunk’ with zero or very little CBD can be more harmful than when this protective compound is present.

The same vulnerabilities exist in respect of other mental health issues, particularly depression.  Again, depression, manifested at its extreme by suicide, is most common in young men experiencing the turmoil of their time of life.  While some people find cannabis helps with this, for others it can make the condition far worse.  For some a small amount of cannabis can be beneficial but take a little too much and the effect is reversed.  In all cases, the absence of CBD only makes matters worse.

So, in conclusion, the absolute risk of consuming so-called ‘skunk’ is very small but for a few people it can be very serious.  It’s inaccurate to deem so-called ‘skunk’ as dangerous, just as no one calls peanuts or oysters dangerous but for those few people who are vulnerable, ‘skunk’, peanuts and oysters can all be very, very dangerous.

Written by Peter Reynolds

June 7, 2017 at 5:38 pm

Lord Monson and CLEAR to Campaign for a Regulated Cannabis Market.

leave a comment »

Lord Nicholas Monson, Peter Reynolds

Lord Nicholas Monson, whose son Rupert committed suicide after he had become psychotic from ‘skunk’, has teamed up with CLEAR Cannabis Law Reform to campaign for a safer, regulated cannabis market.

‘Skunk’ is a form of cannabis with zero or very little CBD that can be harmful to young people and the vulnerable. The criminal market has driven the production of ‘skunk’ with high levels of THC, the psychoactive compound and low levels of CBD, the protective, anti-psychotic compound. The absence of regulation and control has also led to sales of highly dangerous products such as ‘Spice’ which contain an extremely potent, synthetic form of THC without any balancing CBD.

Lord Monson says:

“It is urgent that the government takes the historic step of legalising and regulating more traditional forms of cannabis and puts severe penalties in place for those dealing in skunk.”  

CLEAR Cannabis Law Reform is the UK’s largest and longest established drugs policy reform group.  It campaigns for medicinal cannabis on prescription by doctors and a regulated market for adults.

Peter Reynolds, president of CLEAR, says:

“We are honoured to work alongside Lord Monson towards a safer cannabis market that will reduce harm instead of the present policy that maximises all harms.  Just like the policy that President Trudeau is introducing in Canada and already exists across much of the USA, we must rigorously restrict access by children and those with developing brains and ensure that safe, properly regulated cannabis with a good proportion of CBD is available for adults.”

Written by Peter Reynolds

May 18, 2017 at 2:18 pm