Archive for the ‘The Media’ Category
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
The subject of cannabis as medicine is certain to rise to the top of the UK news agenda in forthcoming weeks as a new Coronation Street storyline unfolds.
The character Izzy Armstrong (Cherylee Houston) who has Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, will be seen suffering when her prescription medicine fails to alleviate her pain. Erica Holroyd (Claire King) will then suggest that she starts using cannabis as an alternative and ends up supplying Izzy with the drug. The programme will look at all aspects of the debate on medicinal cannabis and examine the legal implications and the far reaching consequences of Izzy’s actions for her family.
Now, three of the UK’s most important organisations in the field are joining forces to provide the media with facts, evidence and personal testimonies about medicinal cannabis.
CLEAR is the largest drugs policy reform group in the UK with nearly 600,000 followers. The British Medicinal Cannabis Campaign (BMCC) is an independent group consisting of 4,500 members, all of whom are UK-based medicinal cannabis users. UK CBD is the leading distributor of legal, cannabinoid nutraceuticals including the world famous Charlotte’s Web and Mary’s brands.
Roland Gyallay-Pap, managing director of CLEAR, commented:
“Not for the first time, but at a crucial time in the worldwide debate, the issue of medicinal cannabis will be addressed in a British soap. We have high hopes that this will stimulate the debate and bring the absurdity of the UK government’s position into sharp focus.”
Throughout Europe, the USA, Canada, Australia, Israel and South America, interest in and the use of medicinal cannabis is growing fast. The UK is now virtually isolated amongst first world countries with the stubborn refusal of government even to consider the evidence. However there is a growing clamour from politicians, scientists and doctors that it must address what is a deeply cruel and evidence-free policy. Hundreds of thousands already use medicinal cannabis and risk a criminal record just for trying to improve their health. In addition they have to deal with a criminal underworld and risk violence, contaminated and low quality product all because government refuses to take responsibility.
There is now an overwhelming body of peer-reviewed, scientific evidence on the safety and efficacy of cannabis as medicine. CLEAR published ‘Medicinal Cannabis: The Evidence’ in April 2015 which has received international acclaim and is now also available in a Spanish language edition. Download here in English or Spanish.
Individual briefings will be available on request to journalists, reporters, media organisations and other interested parties. Briefings will be led by Peter Reynolds, one of the nation’s leading experts on the science, medicine and politics of cannabis, Mark Scott, a representative of BMCC and Nicolas Ellis, founder and managing director of UK CBD.
Please contact CLEAR to arrange a briefing at your premises by appointment. Alternatively, a central London venue can be arranged on request.
Could This Be A Breakthrough In The UK Campaign For Medicinal Cannabis?
Cannabis used as medicine has appeared before in UK soaps but the news is that this Coronation Street storyline could be less jokey and trivial and actually deal in science and truth. If so it could be a major breakthrough against an intransigent government that flatly refuses even to consider the evidence.
Coronation Street is the world’s longest running soap opera still in production. Each episode reaches an average of between five and eight million viewers. It is deeply enmeshed in the fabric of British working class culture. If it puts a positive spin on medicinal cannabis it could change public opinion quicker than almost anything else.
Most senior politicians know the truth about medicinal cannabis but refuse to act, leaving millions in unnecessary pain and suffering for fear of a media backlash. But the media is changing too. Aside from a few individual dinosaur journalists and the bigots who edit the Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph, the rest of the media is pretty much onside.
The UK government’s position is nothing short of ridiculous, particularly given developments throughout the rest of the world. Look to Australia for the latest progressive, evidence-based change in policy, where very soon 23 million people will gain legal access to medicinal cannabis.
A positive Coronation Street storyline will give the cowards in the Department of Health and the refuseniks in the Home Office a way out. It is inevitable that reform will come. This could mean it is sooner rather than later.
The Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College London issued a press release on 27th November claiming that its latest study shows cannabis causes damage to the corpus callosum. This was widely reported across the world and many publications extended what was already an inaccurate claim into saying that this “damage” was a cause of psychosis.
As I have already reported and as confirmed by the NHS, the study showed nothing of the sort. Then, last week, by accident really, I discovered that quietly and with just a small footnote the headline had been changed!
Original: “Study shows white matter damage caused by ‘skunk-like’ cannabis”
Edit: “Study shows white matter damage may be caused by ‘skunk-like’ cannabis”
Professor Shitij Kapur, Executive Dean of the Institute of Psychiatry hadn’t responded to two emails from me, so this time I wrote to the Principal of King’s College, Professor Ed Byrne. He has now confirmed that the press release has been changed but makes the extraordinary and false claim that “By and large the press coverage was a true reflection of the science.”
Dear Mr. Reynolds
Thank you for your email regarding the recent article from King’s.
I have discussed it with Professor Kapur and the authors and we believe it appropriate to change the headline to ‘may be caused by’, which has already been done.
The body of the press release is a fair representation of the paper so needs no amendment. By and large the press coverage was a true reflection of the science in the paper so we do not believe the press release requires further amendments.
King’s is committed to a balanced reporting of science and its work and hence we have changed the headline and acknowledged the change.
Thank you again for your diligence.
Professor Edward Byrne AC
President & Principal
Too late! The sensationalist, scaremongering deceit and exaggeration has already spread like wildfire across the world. Dozens of publications have repeated the falsehood and yet again the Institute of Psychiatry is responsible for misleading millions of people. It has form for such conduct, regularly, repeatedly and deliberately confusing correlation with causation and vastly exaggerating the results of its work. This is deceit and fraud at the highest level and if it took place in another context, financial services for instance, it would merit police investigation.
I have written again to Professor Byrne asking him to do the right and honourable thing.
Dear Professor Byrne,
Thank you for your email. I am grateful that you have had the courtesy and honour to reply, unlike Professor Kapur.
I am disturbed though by how lightly you take this very serious matter. It is absolutely false to say “By and large the press coverage was a true reflection of the science”.
As someone who has observed the Institute’s work for many years, I am now convinced that it is routinely in the business of exaggerating the results of its work, deliberately misleading the media and through it, the public at large. I can only conclude that this dishonesty is connected with raising funding for its work.
This is not a situation that can be allowed to persist. Every year Professor Sir Robin Murray publishes a paper on cannabis and psychosis which is always presented to the media as showing a causal link when the science itself shows nothing of the sort. I have met with Sir Robin on several occasions and spoken alongside him at conferences. In person he is reasonable and accurate but the way his work is presented to the media is dishonest and false, exactly as this latest episode.
This is a matter of huge importance because it is largely the hysteria drummed up by such falsified science that stands in the way of legal access to medicinal cannabis in the UK. Hundreds of thousands of people suffer needlessly in Britain when throughout the rest of Europe, Israel, Canada and the USA, more enlightened policies enable access to the medicine that people need. I hold the conduct of organisations such as the Institute of Psychiatry directly responsble for the pain and suffering caused.
It is disgraceful that Dr Paola Dazzan should enter into the political arena of cannabis policy with blatantly false claims that her study shows a causal link or that the differences observed amount to “damage”. These are nothing less than lies.
This might be the result of a renegade press office which doesn’t understand the science but we have put up with it for decades and I appeal to you to take proportionate steps to stop it. To start with, on this latest incident, you should issue a further press release explaining the errors in the first. You can’t just change the headline surreptitiously, hope no one will notice and expect the dishonesty to be overlooked. The damage has already been done. You must act to make amends.
This is a matter of professional ethics and integrity and I rely on you to take the appropriate steps.
It’s the Institute of Psychiatry at Kings College London, yet again, with another terrifying story about cannabis that is immediately distorted, exaggerated and misrepresented by the scientifically illiterate hacks of Fleet Street.
This time though King’s College itself has reported the results of its own research inaccurately and published false and misleading claims.
Can King’s College explain why its press release is headlined “Study shows white matter damage caused by ‘skunk-like’ cannabis”, when the researcher Dr Dazzan says “It is possible that these people already have a different brain and they are more likely to use cannabis”? The truth is that the study does not show any causative effect. It is merely correlation yet here we have supposedly eminent scientists and scientific institutions reporting results falsely.
I have written to Professor Shitij Kapur, Executive Dean & Head of Faculty of the Institute asking for an explanation.
On a regular basis the team at King’s College publishes research about cannabis that suggests it is far more harmful than real world experience demonstrates. Always these studies contain the vital caveat that no causation can be shown for the various ‘differences’ or ‘changes’ that the researchers observe. Always, without fail, the researchers overlook this fundamental weakness in their work when they talk direct to the press. As a result we get ludicrous, inaccurate and wildly irresponsible reporting, particularly in the extremist rags such as the Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph but often extending, as today, even into The Times, supposedly a responsible and authoritative publication.
This latest study was led by Dr Silvia Rigucci of Sapienza University of Rome in conjunction with Dr Paola Dazzan and Dr Tiago Reis Marques from King’s College. Dr Razzan has fallen over herself in an undignified rush to gain media headlines. She is reported as saying: “There is an urgent need to educate health professionals, the public and policy makers about the risks involved with cannabis use.” Of course, in truth, all these people have been systematically misled about cannabis for many years. All that Dr Razaan is doing is contributing to the vast quantity of misinformation already out there by misrepresenting and overstating her own work.
This is a very small study with no proper controls that proves nothing either way about cannabis use. It is exaggerated and misrepresented by both King’s College and the scientists concerned, presumably in an effort to boost funding. This is the state of science on cannabis where vested interests promote misinformation which defies the real world experiences of hundreds of million of cannabis consumers worldwide. The team at King’s College displays all the classic markers of a cult. It pursues a belief in cannabis as the ‘devil’s lettuce’ as a quasi-religion. It dresses up its meaningless observational studies as significant evidence. It reinforces its belief by exaggerating and misrepresenting its work. It considers no alternative explanations and it endlessly repeats itself, its ‘studies’ and its presentation of them as proof of its own conclusions.
No one in their right mind can claim that cannabis is harmless but neither is there any evidence to support claims that it is dangerous. These untruths are promoted by vested interests such as researchers needing more funds, the alcohol industry guarding its monopoly of legal recreational drugs or newspapers seeking sensational stories.
It’s difficult to get hold of a copy of the actual study without paying for it. My advice is read the reports, understand the facts rather than the deliberate misinterpretations and expect more of the same. Remember that unless such evidence is compared with evidence in respect of other substances it is meaningless. All in all there is no evidence to suggest cannabis is any more harmful than coffee.
This article started as a comment on an excellent piece in 'The Conversation' byProfessor of Communications, University of Westminster.
The Fleet Street Mafia has successfully subverted and corrupted our political leadership to ensure that Leveson has achieved nothing in bringing the worst excesses of the press under control. In fact, if anything, press regulation is even weaker and less effective than before Lord Justice Leveson first assumed the chair of the inquiry.
The whole exercise has been a farce and a waste of public money. Cameron and his cronies are so terrified of the press that they will do literally anything; change any policy, ignore any evidence, promote any untruth, in order to comply with the wishes of Murdoch, the Barclay Brothers or Paul Dacre.
IPSO, the replacement for the PCC, is even more corrupt, dishonest and fraudulent in its practice than its predecessor. It fails to enforce the Editors’ Code and instead finds excuses for publishers to breach the code as it suits them. It acts in expressly the opposite interest to that which it pretends. It seeks to support the interests of the press over the interests of the public at all stages.
IPSO’s new strategy to deal with troublesome and substantive complaints is simply to dismiss them, even without any consideration. The PCC would have made a play of investigating complaints before dismissing them but IPSO simply closes them down saying they do not raise any possible breaches of the code – even when they consist of blatant inaccuracy and distortion.
The net effect of Leveson is to place the public in a worse position than before it started. We have gone backwards. The press is more powerful, politicians are supine. In the case of weak, corrupt individuals like John Whittingdale, he has become the servant of the press barons, doing their bidding, performing at their wish from inside government where he betrays the electorate and subverts our democracy.
Fleet Street is like the Wild West but with immunity against any consequences of any actions. The only hope that we have is the terminal decline of newspaper circulation and that the power of this unelected elite of editors and proprietors will crumble over time. It would help if our other media, particularly the BBC, would stop letting Fleet Street set the news agenda. We need to accelerate the move to online news content.
The whole corrupt edifice is well illustrated by the regular Sunday morning spectacle of Andrew Marr, a dyed in the wool Fleet Street stooge, interviewing low-rent tabloid hacks such as Amanda Platell or Jane Moore, before another servile chat with a government minister. This defines the shabby, dishonest politicking within and around the Westminster bubble.
We do not have a a ‘free press’, we have an out of control, rampant, vested interest. While we need ‘freedom of the press’, in that journalists may investigate and publish the truth, we also need ‘freedom from the press’ and its bullying, self-serving control of our country and its political system.
Even though the British people have decisively rejected Fleet Street as a purveyor of reliable or impartial news, so the political elite and our broadcasters still allow a small gang of press barons and editors to set the agenda.
Cameron has changed his hateful, ‘walk on by’ attitude to the refugee crisis just like the Daily Mail. These desperate people are no longer migrants who we need to fear but refugees who we need to rescue.
Nothing corrupts UK politics like the Fleet Street Mafia. We are deceived, tricked, misled and cheated by this adherence to the minority views of a few rich, bigoted and out of touch men. The sooner the BBC stops following the Fleet Street agenda, the sooner we can start rebuilding our society in accordance with the wishes of the people.