Peter Reynolds

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“The Settled View Of Ministers Is That The Medicinal Campaign Is Just An Excuse To Take Cannabis”.

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These are the words of Sir Oliver Letwin, my MP, during a meeting with him just a few days ago.

To some this may be an astonishing revelation, to others it will be depressing confirmation that this bigoted and out-of-date view still persists.  Anyone with even a modicum of knowledge will agree that it is deeply ignorant and in defiance of a vast quantity of scientific evidence.

This is the end point of my two and half years of discussion with Sir Oliver.  He’s not currently a cabinet minster but through his 20 year parliamentary career he’s always been at the top of the Conservative Party: Shadow Home Secretary, Shadow Chancellor and then in government in 2010 elevated to the status of right hand man to David Cameron.  As Minister for Government Policy and then Chancellor of The Duchy of Lancaster, he was been described as ‘the intellectual powerhouse of the Tory Party’ and as ‘number three in the government after Cameron and Osborne’.

So what goes through Oliver’s mind is a pretty good indication of how the Tory Party establishment thinks.  I’m absolutely certain that what he has told me is exactly the present mindset of ministers from Theresa May down.

Back in 2015 Oliver wrote to George Freeman MP on my behalf, then the minister with responsibility for medicines.  He’s also written to Jeremy Hunt, the Health Secretary and Amber Rudd, the Home Secretary.  None of this correspondence has resulted in anything but the usual, anodyne words that are nothing but a brush off.  I did think I was getting somewhere though when he told me he would establish with the Department of Health what its position was on the scientific evidence. Back came the answer that all the evidence had been considered, expert advice had been taken and the conclusion was that the risks of  legalising for medicinal use would outweigh the benefits.

Now this didn’t make sense to me. I wanted to know what evidence and what experts.  After half a dozen requests for this information and no response I submitted a Freedom of Information Request to the Department of Health.  Eventually it was returned stating quite clearly that it had neither requested, received nor considered any evidence on medicinal cannabis. Coincidentally, just a few days later, Paul Flynn MP asked almost exactly the same question in Parliament and received the same answer. So I wrote to Oliver and said that either he had been misled or he was misleading me, which was it? It was at this point that he stopped replying to my emails.

After several months of repeated requests and no response I went direct to his parliamentary secretary and booked a surgery appointment to see him as a constituent.  I was quite prepared to confront him face to face.  I was amused to receive an email from Oliver the very same day in which he said that would reluctantly agree to see me on the subject “one last time”.  So at the meeting his explanation was that it had all been a huge misunderstanding, he didn’t mean to suggest that any evidence had been examined, it was simply “the settled view of ministers is that the medicinal campaign is just an excuse to take cannabis”.

Such is the state of our so-called democracy and so-called evidence-based policy.

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Written by Peter Reynolds

October 18, 2017 at 4:26 pm

The Daily Telegraph Misrepresents ‘Skunk’ Cannabis Mental Health Cases With Figure of 82,000. True Figure is 1,600.

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Martina Lees

Two almost identical articles were published in The Daily Telegraph on 11th and 12th August 2017

Does smoking skunk trigger psychosis? And if so… why aren’t we doing more about it?

The secrets of skunk

In both articles, journalist Martina Lees wrote that:

“…hospital admissions with a primary or secondary diagnosis of drug-related mental and behavioural disorders have more than doubled over the past decade, to almost 82,000 a year. Most are believed to be cannabis-related.”

This is a combination of wildly misleading manipulation of data and brazen falsehood.

Hospital Episode Statistics are maintained in great detail by the NHS using a system of coding called ICD10 – a medical classification list by the World Health Organization (WHO). containing codes for diseases, signs and symptoms, abnormal findings, complaints, social circumstances, and external causes of injury or diseases.

The specific code for ‘mental and behavioural disorders due to use of cannabinoids’ is F12.  For the past 11 years, ‘finished admission episodes’ (FAE) for F12 have averaged 973, so the claim that most of the 82,000 are cannabis-related is simply false. (Unless of course, Ms Lees is going to claim she made a mistake.)

So where does the extraordinary figure of 82,000 come from (the exact figure is 81,904)?

Firstly, it is for all illicit drugs or ‘drug misuse’ including the following ICD10 codes:

F11 Mental and behavioural disorders due to use of opioids
F12 Mental and behavioural disorders due to use of cannabinoids
F13 Mental and behavioural disorders due to use of sedatives or hypnotics
F14 Mental and behavioural disorders due to use of cocaine
F15 Mental and behavioural disorders due to use of other stimulants, including caffeine
F16 Mental and behavioural disorders due to use of hallucinogens
F18 Mental and behavioural disorders due to use of volatile solvents
F19 Mental and behavioural disorders due to multiple drug use and use of other psychoactive substances

Secondly, the figure is not just for primary diagnosis but for secondary diagnosis.  So the primary reason for one of these cases might be a broken leg or any other medical condition. The secondary diagnosis might be that the person was high on speed or any of the drugs mentioned.  The primary diagnoses for all these codes adds up to about 8,000 FAEs but the figure is inflated ten-fold by the inclusion of secondary diagnoses.  Why do this?  Why have the figures been presented in this way?  With what purpose?

If the whole premise of her article is about the mental health effects of cannabis, why does Martina Lees use this massively larger figure for all illicit drugs when the specific figure for cannabinoids is easily available?  And if the purpose of the article is to investigate the effect of cannabis on mental health, why look at secondary diagnoses – except that it handily inflates the figure ten-fold?

Three other important points about this data:

1. ‘Finished admission episodes’ is not the same as people, its caseload, so those 1606 cases in 2015-16 almost certainly includes cases where the same person has been admitted more than once.

2. ‘Cannabinoids’ includes synthetic cannabinoids such as Spice and anyone with any knowledge of current affairs will know how problems with Spice have exploded in recent years.  It is a fact that Spice is much more harmful to mental health than cannabis so the increase in F12 FAEs in recent years is almost certainly explained by this.

3.  I’m not a believer in always comparing any data about cannabis with equivalent data for alcohol but it is worth noting, to put these figures into perspective, in 2015-16 the number of FAEs for mental and behavioural disorders due to use of alcohol was 44,491.   As there about 10 times more people use alcohol regularly than cannabis, that means anyone is nearly three times as likely to be admitted for ‘alcohol psychosis’ as ‘cannabis psychosis’.

I have written to Martina Lees asking her to comment on this data and explain why she has used it in such misleading fashion.

 

 

Irresponsible, Reckless BBC Broadcasts Dangerous Claim That So-Called ‘Skunk’ is More Harmful Than Heroin.

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Louisa Philips Kulukundis. Psychotherapist at Soul Counselling, counsellor at Steps2Recovery, member of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy.

“I would say give me a room full of heroin addicts than skunk addicts…

I remember saying to my older son I would prefer you to take heroin than to smoke skunk…

There will be generations of kids with severe mental health issues.”

Source: ‘Cannabis: Time for a Change?’ From 28:20

There is huge and justifiable righteous anger about the idiotic words spoken by this woman on the BBC Newsbeat documentary ‘Cannabis: Time for a Change?’

It would be easy to launch into a tirade against Ms Kulukundis but her words and their crass stupidity speak for themselves. I wonder how many kids, listening to her recommendation on the BBC’s ‘yoof’ channel will think ‘Well I’ve smoked weed loads of times with no trouble, now this woman who’s an expert says heroin is safer, maybe I’ll see if I can get hold of some.’

I understand that Ms Kulukundis supports the idea that cannabis with a higher proportion of CBD should be legally available instead of so-called ‘skunk’ which with zero or very little CBD dominates today’s illegal market.  She deserves credit for this and I would be very surprised if she wasn’t already regretting the very serious mistake she has made.

Ms Kulukundis does however subscribe to the falsehood that cannabis is a major cause of mental health problems.  The facts of hospital admissions and GP/community health service treatment prove this is not the case.  While we shouldn’t turn away from protecting those very few people who can be vulnerable, it is about time that the media started reporting accurately instead of the gross distortions and misrepresentation seen recently, particularly from the brazenly dishonest and ‘fake news’ Daily Telegraph.

Far, far more serious and the place where responsibility really lies for this broadcast is with the BBC.  Its negligence in allowing these words to be broadcast is unforgivable and CLEAR is pursuing a complaint.  The BBC’s complaints procedure is of course notorious for its determination to brush aside viewers’ concerns with anodyne responses that mean nothing. Many don’t realise that until you get to stage three you’re not even communicating with the BBC but with Capita to whom it outsources its complaints handling.  We will pursue this complaint until it reaches the BBC Editorial Complaints Unit and if necessary we will appeal it to OFCOM which, with the demise of the BBC Trust, is now the independent regulator.

It is a shame that the BBC has spoiled what is a clear shift in its position on cannabis.  Instead of mindless obedience to the government’s bad science and propaganda it is now recognising that reform is the only rational way forward.  As usual its coverage is dominated by stereotypical caricatures of what it regards as cannabis users.  It still seems incapable of recognising that most of the three million regular cannabis consumers in the UK are not relics of the hippy era but hardworking people with families and ‘ordinary’ lifestyles.  It also allowed its debate programme ‘Newsbeat Debates. Legalising Cannabis’ to be dominated by the ‘Gateway Theory’, an idea comprehensively disproven many times over, which even our prohibitionist government recognises is invalid.  What is the point of debate if it is hijacked by misinformation and not informed by science and evidence?

The BBC should take the initiative in apologising, correcting and broadcasting a full explanatuion of why Ms Kulukundis’ claim is scientifically inaccurate and extremely dangerous. Sadly, it will almost certainly have to be dragged kicking and screaming to provide any meaningful response at all.

 

 

 

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

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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

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

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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?

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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

Bad Behaviour On Both Sides Of The Cannabis Debate.

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Is Mr Angry For Or Against?

Cannabis evangelists, with their conspiracy theories and religious ‘belief’ that cannabis is totally harmless and cures everything, are every bit as delusional as those who subscribe to ‘reefer madness’.

We see this every day on the CLEAR Facebook page.  Anything we share that is even slightly negative about cannabis or that suggests some people might be vulnerable to some harm from using it, produces a hostile, often hysterical reaction.

100% Fake News

Actually, the evangelists play straight into the hands of prohibitionists.  They make fools of themselves by behaving as if we have committed the most heinous blasphemy by daring to criticise their favourite plant.  Particularly amongst our American followers, many cannot distinguish between sharing something and endorsing it.  We share many news items we disagree with but when it comes to science we neither agree nor disagree, it’s all part of the body of evidence that needs to be considered and balanced.

Of course, the reality of social media is that those who shout loudest or comment most frequently are not necessarily representative of the whole audience.  We put a lot of effort into moderating our page to make it as informative as possible.  We have a very strict policy on bad language.  We won’t tolerate commenters abusing each other or launching vicious personal attacks (even if they are against Donald Trump or Theresa May).  All single word comments are deleted.  No one wants to read an endless string of “bullshit”, “BS” or worse.  Far too often we have to ban some commenters immediately.  We simply don’t want people who can express themselves only through a string of obscenities getting in the way of our newsfeed.

A few days ago we shared the study presented at the American College of Cardiology’s 66th Annual Scientific Session, held in Washington, D.C.  It suggests that cannabis use can raise the risk of stroke and cardiac failure.  The furore and firestorm of abuse that erupted is quite ridiculous and only serves to make the cannabis campaign look completely ridiculous.  There are clearly limitations in the study.  Firstly, it doesn’t show causation, merely statistical correlation.  Secondly, all the subjects had been discharged from hospital so clearly had suffered some serious health problem.

It is a ridiculous way to behave for anyone who wants to advance the cause of cannabis law reform.  It’s also utterly stupid constantly to accuse scientists, researchers or indeed CLEAR of being corrupt, dishonest, ‘in the pocket of Big Pharma’ or often far, far worse.

It is true that the history of cannabis prohibition is all about lies, deceit, misinformation and propaganda.  There are still some people, even in elevated positions such as UK prime minister Theresa May, who wish to continue with this form of repression but wiser counsel is prevailing in most parts of the world.

More and more scientists, researchers and doctors are studying the effects of cannabis and rarely does a day pass without a cannabis report being published somewhere in the world. What were almost accepted prejudices such as the ‘gateway theory’ and that ‘cannabis causes psychosis’ are being debunked more and more often.

Of course, scientists, researchers and doctors, just like everyone else, have been subject to all the propaganda for the past 100 years, so there is still much prejudice and confusion to dispel but we should respect and value the work of such people even if we don’t like all their conclusions.

On any subject, truth lies in assessing and balancing all the evidence that is available.  CLEAR will continue to share all significant evidence published about cannabis whether it is positive or negative.  Similarly, we will continue to share stories from the tabloid media that seek to demonise or scaremonger about cannabis.  It is important that people see the propaganda that is being published and the way that public opinion is formed.

 

Written by Peter Reynolds

March 12, 2017 at 3:48 pm