Peter Reynolds

The life and times of Peter Reynolds

Posts Tagged ‘psychosis

‘Gone To Pot’ Shows How Close We Are To Legalisation. Now We Just Need To Deal With The Scaremongering.

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It seems we really are on a roll now.  The cannabis campaign has gained momentum over the last five or six six years more than ever before.  It’s snowballing, the rate of progress is accelerating.

What’s made this happen? It’s recognition of the benefits that cannabis offers.  It certainly isn’t because of some crazy idea that if we exaggerate and overstate its harms, suddenly the government will recognises that legal regulation makes it safer.  No, that flawed idea has nothing to do with the fact that we are now getting very close to the change we seek – even here in backwards, bigoted Britain.

There are more and more reports of real medical benefits and also of less dramatic but very real help with conditions such as insomnia, anxiety and stress.  It’s this that is changing minds, not scaremongering and fake data from the charlatans in the ‘cannabis therapy’ business.  Sadly this is the path that Volteface, the new drug policy group, has chosen to take with its ‘Street Lottery’ report.  It’s not the first of course, Transform has also followed this misguided path but at least, unlike the newcomers, it has real credentials in campaigning for reform.

Of course, legal regulation will make the cannabis market safer for everyone but the real dangers are not of young people developing psychosis after bingeing on so-called ‘skunk’ – the actual numbers are tiny – but of the harms caused by prohibition.  It is the criminal market that means cannabis is easily available to children and no age limits can be enforced.  It is the criminal market that means nobody knows what they are buying: how strong is it, is it contaminated, has it been properly grown, does it contain any CBD? It is the criminal market that leads to violence, street dealing even involving young children, dangerous hidden grows that are serious fire risks, human trafficking and modern slavery and, of course, profits on the £6 billion per annum market being diverted into ever more dangerous criminal activities.

ITV and the production company Betty have done an enormous amount of good for our campaign and for the whole of Britain in bringing a balanced, rational, honest exposition of cannabis to our TV screens.  This series showed quite clearly how beneficial cannabis can be but also how it can bite back if you’re a bit silly with consuming too much.  Thankfully it didn’t follow the familiar path of talking up, overstating and exaggerating the very small risk of mental health effects.  It’s easy to see why those who support prohibition have used this tactic to try and demonise the plant but how anyone who claims to support reform can see it as an intelligent or positive way to create the right environment for change is inconceivable.

Volteface is the money of Paul Birch, who became a multi millionaire after his brother founded the now defunct social media company Bebo.  It was a classic flash in the pan of the dot com boom but left those lucky enough to be involved with bulging bank accounts.  Birch first tried to enter the reform movement with his Cannabis Is Safer Than Alcohol (CISTA) political party.  It really is a ‘volteface’ to move from that accurate if tired message to now pushing the dangers of so-called ‘skunk’ as if that’s going to encourage reform.  However, I have it on reliable authority that recently Mr Birch suffered a major panic attack (or ‘psychotic episode’) after over-consuming some potent weed, so much so that an ‘intervention’ was called for.  Many of us will know how disconcerting such an experience can be and usually we can laugh at ourselves in retrospect (just as we laughed at Christopher Biggins and Bobby George when they ate far too much cannabis-infused food on ‘Gone To Pot’).  If he’s basing an entire campaign strategy on one personal experience it’s hardly sensible.

Paul North

Birch’s money has enable Volteface to hire full time staff and now its own tame drug therapist, Paul North. He is the very epitome of the angry young man, getting into furious outbursts on Twitter with anyone who dared to challenge his view. The way people like North manipulate and misrepresent data is horrendous and when they’re challenged their answer is they were engaged in the collection of the data – well yes, duh, that’s the point!  People who work in mental health or drug therapy are always pronouncing on our mental health wards being ‘packed full’ of people with problems caused by cannabis but the facts don’t support these claims. It’s inevitable that if you spend most of your life surrounded by people who are mentally ill, you get a rather distorted perspective on the world.

In many previous articles, I’ve laid out the facts of the number of people admitted to hospital and in GP community health treatment for cannabis.  The truth is that those with an agenda don’t care about facts.  They prefer the wild, speculative studies from Professor Sir Robin Murray and the Institute of Psychiatry with their bizarre statistical tricks that would make you think there are cannabis-crazed axe murderers on every street corner.  Journalist Martina Lees recently published two articles in the Daily Telegraph where she exaggerated the number of people admitted to hospital for cannabis related problems by 50 times!  Of course, we’re used to this sort of thing and it’s a sad fact that when it comes to science or medicine reporting, even in the so-called ‘quality’ press, Fleet Street is not just incompetent, journalists don’t just exaggerate, they’re systematically mendacious whenever it’s possible to be sensationalist about cannabis.

So let’s be grateful for the light that ‘Gone to Pot’ has shone on the reality of cannabis and let’s continue to reject the falsehood, deception and exaggeration that Volteface and others try to bring to our campaign.  I have no doubt that when legalisation finally arrives some politicians will use their argument to post-rationalise their ‘volteface’ on policy but it’s not the truth and it never has been.  The simple truth is that for 99% of people, not only is cannabis benign but it’s positively beneficial.

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Reefer Madness 3.0 Is Here And It’s Being Promoted By Cannabis Law Reformers.

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Reefer Madness started in 1930s America with the propaganda film of the same name.

Reefer Madness 2.0 was promoted by the Daily Mail from 2003 onwards after cannabis was classified downwards to a class C drug.  It was strongly supported by the Labour Party through home secretaries Jacqui Smith, Alan Johnson and prime minister Gordon Brown.

Reefer Madness 3.0 is its latest incarnation but this time it’s promoted by reform groups Transform, which has been around as long as CLEAR and Volteface, which is a new group funded by Paul Birch’s personal fortune.  (Birch was also the founder of the now defunct Cannabis Is Safer Than Alcohol (CISTA) political party.)  Despite the overwhelming body of scientific evidence and the facts of healthcare records which show that cannabis is an insignificant health problem, both Transform and Volteface argue that ‘cannabis is dangerous so it must be regulated’.

Click to download

This is nonsense.  Cannabis is not dangerous, in fact for most people it’s beneficial.  It’s prohibition and enforcement of the law against cannabis that are dangerous.  Prohibition has caused far more harm than cannabis ever has or ever could.  Cannabis needs to be regulated because prohibition is dangerous.

I’m very disappointed by the new, much-hyped Volteface report ‘Street Lottery’. It offers nothing new, either in information or in proposed solutions. It takes us no further on from Transform’s work in 2009 or CLEAR’s proposals from 2011.  What it does is ramp up the unjustified scaremongering and panic about high THC and low CBD levels.  It panders slavishly to the exaggerated studies on psychosis from the Institute of Psychiatry and wildly overstates the health harms that, in fact, only occur in a very small number of people.

That’s not to say that we shouldn’t do all we can to protect those very few people for whom cannabis can be a problem and we should certainly educate about harm reduction.  The most important message is that the most dangerous thing about cannabis is mixing it with tobacco.

It’s worth saying that in my opinion, cannabis is a better product when it has higher levels of CBD than usually found in what’s generally available today.  When I say better, I mean more pleasant for recreational use and more effective for medicinal use and it is the ratio of THC:CBD that is more important than the absolute levels.  10:1 THC:CBD is plenty adequate enough to provide the benefits of CBD, any higher that 3:1 and it begins to wipe out the benefits of THC.  It certainly is true that younger people and novice users are best with higher levels of CBD.

Of course I understand that arguing for regulation as a means of reducing harm should encourage politicians towards reform.  I’m all for that but we don’t have to exaggerate the health harms and overlook the massive social harms in order to do that. However, it’s blindingly obvious that decisions on drugs policy are not made rationally, so what’s the point?  Our politicians have failed to act on cannabis law reform, despite the solution to the harms of the criminal market being obvious for more than 30 years. Ministers are completely disinterested in effective drugs policy. The truth about their attitude is best illustrated by the Psychoactive Substances Act. This disastrous legislation is regarded as a success because it has taken the sale of NPS off the high street and driven it underground. This is all that ministers care about. They have been seen to do something and these drugs are no longer so obviously available. They really don’t give a damn that use has increased, harms have multiplied and deaths are becoming increasingly common.

Where the Volteface report actually takes us backwards is its pandering to renewed reefer madness and vast exaggeration of the harms of cannabis.

Correct, cannabis can be harmful to a tiny minority of consumers. All the speculative studies from Robin Murray and his team at the Institute of Psychiatry, all the scaremongering hyperbole in what is presented as ‘scientific’ evidence, all the esoteric, statistical tricks that create alarming headlines – none of these can change the hard facts of how infinitesimal is the number of people whose health is genuinely impaired by cannabis.

It’s ‘young people’ that all the concern is about but in the last five years there has been an average of just 28 cases per year of cannabis-induced psychosis – a tragedy for the individuals but a problem that is irrelevant in public health terms: https://www.theyworkforyou.com/wrans/?id=2015-03-17.227980.h&s=drug

For the entire population the total number of finished admission episodes (FAE) for ‘mental and behavioural problems due to use of cannabinoids’ in 2015 – 16 was 1606.  A very long way from a problem of huge significance and you don’t be have to be an expert to realise that a very large proportion of those are due to ‘Spice’, suynthtrci cannabinoids which can have severe health effects.

For GP and community health treatment, Public Health England’s own data shows that 89% of under-18s in treatment are coerced into it, only in 11% of cases does the patient themselves or their families believe they need it: See table 2.4.1 http://www.nta.nhs.uk/uploads/young-peoples-statistics-from-the-ndtms-1-april-2015-to-31-march-2016.pdf

I welcome any new entrant to the drugs policy reform movement. We need all the help we can get but all Volteface has done since its inception is repeat the work already done by other groups. Now it is pursuing the same flawed and misguided route as Transform. It’s worth repeating – cannabis doesn’t need to be regulated because it is dangerous, it isn’t, cannabis needs to regulated because prohibition is dangerous.

US Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders

Note that this mythical ‘mental health crisis’ only seems to exist in the UK. It doesn’t exist in the rest of Europe, the USA, Israel or other jurisdictions where cannabis is legally avalable. Note also that former US Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders is published in the November edition of the American Journal of Public Health saying “The unjust prohibition of marijuana has done more damage to public health than has marijuana itself.”

The valuable contribution Volteface has made so far to cannabis law reform is the money it has spent on professional media relations. This has elevated the subject up the news agenda and that is a very good thing indeed. Everyone, cannabis consumers and those who don’t have the slightest interest, will benefit from legalisation. The sooner we get on with it the better.  A legal, regulated market will help protect the few dozen children and few hundred adults who are vulnerable to possible health harms.  Much, much more important it will halt the enormous harm that prohibition causes.

 

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.

 

 

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

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

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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

How To Campaign For Cannabis Law Reform Under A Theresa May Government.

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  • Lobbying Parliament

  • If the Government Won’t Regulate Cannabis Then We’ll Do It For Them

  • The CBD Market

  • Medical Cannabis

  • Educating And Influencing Researchers

For cannabis and drugs policy reform, out of 650 MPs, there could not have been a worse person to seize power than Theresa May.  There are a few who come close on both Tory and Labour benches but no one who has such a long record of bigotry, denial of evidence and refusal even to consider the subject.

Senior Tory MPs For Cannabis Law Reform

To be fair, I am a member of the Conservative Party, which to many people involved in the cannabis campaign is a mortal sin but my advocacy is based on science and evidence, not tribalism or wider politics.  In any case, though many find this fact hard to accept, there has always been more support from Tory MPs than Labour. Highly influential and senior Tory MPs such as Crispin Blunt, Peter Lilley and Dr Dan Poulter are powerful advocates for reform. I firmly believe that the only sustainable route to legalisation is commercialisation and the left wing, nanny state, anti-business types are already pushing the ‘Big Cannabis’ scare stories.

So what can we do and what are we doing to advance our cause in these dark days?  Theresa May always has been secretive, inaccessible, unresponsive and entirely disinterested in any opinion except her own.  How can we possibly make any progress with a PM who has already shown she is prepared to cover up or falsify evidence and defines herself by her belief in a supernatural power?

There is more support for cannabis law reform in Parliament than ever before.  It is now official policy of both the Liberal Democrats and the Scottish National Party. The support from Scotland is far more valuable than that from the discredited LibDems.  With the added factors of Brexit and Scottish Independence, the SNP is in a powerful position to advance its policies.  Also, in Ireland, both north and south, public support for medical cannabis reform is exploding.  Michelle O’Neill, SinnFein’s new leader, has pledged medical cannabis reform if she is re-elected (though she has no power to do so!).  Her negotiating position is immensely strong now that the problems at Stormont, the rise of Sinn Fein and the Brexit factor all combine to make a united Ireland a real possibility.

During the coalition government from 2010 to 2015, few doors were closed to us.  Over that period, CLEAR conducted more meetings with ministers and senior politicians than the entire UK campaign had achieved in 50 years.  Because we had support from the LibDems, and introductions from the Deputy Prime Minister, even Tory ministers were ready to see us, even if they were merely paying lip service.  That all stopped with the election of a majority Conservative government and after Cameron stepped down the doors were slammed in our faces, bolted and double-locked.  The campaign has been in the doldrums ever since. Or has it?

The last major achievement of the last few year’s campaigning was the release of the APPG report on medical cannabis in September 2016.  Alongside it, Professor Mike Barnes, CLEAR advisory board member, published his review ‘Cannabis: The Evidence for Medical Use‘.  To all impartial and reasonable observers, these documents should have initiated positive government action towards reform, even if it was only very limited in scope.  But no, Theresa May didn’t leave it to Amber Rudd, her successor as home secretary, she stepped straight in herself on the day of publication, before she could even have read it and dismissed the report out of hand.  This echoes the apocryphal story of James Callaghan, then PM, throwing the 1969 Wooton Report in the bin without even opening it.  Such is the inertia and prejudice that has not softened at all amongst the bigots despite 45 years of science and research proving that there are better, safer, more beneficial options available on cannabis.

Lobbying Parliament

For now, individual lobbying of MPs is our only route to power. Over the years we have refined our approach to this and we know what works.  Getting into ping pong correspondence with an MP is a waste of time.  An initial letter or email needs to be followed up with a face-to-face meeting and a determined focus on getting a tangible result. What sort of result you should look for depends on your circumstances but getting your MP to arrange a meeting with a government minister should be your goal.

If you’re a medical user then you’ll want to meet a health minister, preferably the Secretary of State, if not a junior minister or perhaps an advisor to the Department of Health.  Work with your MP to achieve the best result you can.  Your MP doesn’t necessarily have to agree with you about cannabis but they should facilitate your communication with government, that’s their job. If you’re more interested in the economic or social benefits to be gained from reform, you could ask for an introduction to the Chancellor, a treasury or business minister, or someone at the Cabinet Office who is involved in policy development.  CLEAR can usually provide someone to accompany you on meetings but this must be arranged in advance and agreed with your MP or whoever your appointment is with.  Alternatively, we can provide advice over the telephone on how to approach the meeting, what to ask for and what evidence or supporting material to take with you.

If the Government Won’t Regulate Cannabis Then We’ll Do It For Them

With an intransigent government that does it all it can to evade engagement on this issue, there is more that CLEAR is already doing.  If the government won’t take responsibility and regulate cannabis, then step by step we are going to do it for them.  Someone has to, there is far too much harm and suffering caused by present policy.

The CBD Market

Through 2016 the CBD market in the UK really began to take off.  These are products derived from industrial hemp, grown legally under licence that offer many of the therapeutic benefits of cannabis.  They should, in fact, be more accurately termed low-THC cannabis as apart from crystals and a few, rare examples of isolated CBD, they are whole plant extracts and contain all the cannabinoids, terpenes, flavonoids and other compounds found in the plants from which they are made.  Therefore they offer many of the ‘entourage effect’ benefits but with very low levels of THC.  It was obvious though that this market was heading for problems.  More and more dubious suppliers were starting up, many making brazen claims for the medical effects and benefits of their products and many without any product testing, quality assurance or honest customer service.  The law was then and always has been crystal clear, you cannot make medical claims for a product without it being properly licensed or regulated.  Inevitably, in June 2016 the MHRA stepped in and sent threatening letters to a number of CBD suppliers.

CLEAR took the initiative.  We wrote to the MHRA requesting a meeting.  We engaged with the leading CBD suppliers and our advisory board members Professor Mike Barnes and Crispin Blunt MP were quickly on the case.  The story has already been extensively reported but now, nearly a year on, our efforts are coming to fruition. We led the approach to the MHRA and in the process created what is now the Cannabis Trades Association UK (CTAUK).  It is now recognised by the MHRA, it has established a code of conduct and it is now the gold standard of quality, ethics and legality that can give anyone buying CBD products real peace of mind.  There are still cowboys out there, making false claims, selling products that offer no real benefit and even endangering their customers with products that are illegal under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 or the Psychoactive Substances Act 2016.  Now though, customers can go to the CTAUK website and choose a supplier that is operating legally, ethically and within the regulations that the industry itself has established.  We expect the MHRA very shortly formally to endorse CTAUK members as legitimate suppliers of CBD products as food supplements.

Medical Cannabis

Professor Nigel Mathers, Honorary Secretary, Royal College of GPs

Neither can we accept the government’s irresponsible and cruel policy towards people who need cannabis as medicine. So CLEAR has taken a further initiative. After Theresa May’s dismissal of the APPG report, we approached the Royal Colleges of medicine.  We pointed out that whatever the government might say, around one million people are using cannabis as medicine.  Doctors have a duty and an ethical responsibility to educate themselves on the subject and be able to provide properly informed care to their patients.  Our efforts have borne fruit.  Professor Mike Barnes and I have worked with Professor Nigel Mathers of the Royal College of GPs (RCGP).  We will be producing a draft set of guidelines on medicinal cannabis for GPs which will go the next meeting of the RCGP Council and is planned for publication in June 2017.  If the government won’t do it, we will and the medical profession agrees with us.  This will be the greatest practical advance ever made in medical cannabis in the UK.

Educating And Influencing Researchers

Dr Musa Sami, Peter Reynolds

The UK is the most prolific source of research into the harms of cannabis, particularly the tenuous links between cannabis and psychosis.  Despite dozens of studies, mainly from the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College Hospital, this has never been shown to be any more than statistical correlation.  Most of these studies are confounded by tobacco use but the latest work from Professor Sir Robin Murray and his team shows an even stronger correlation between tobacco and psychosis than cannabis.

Across the world, UK scientists have become notorious for this scaremongering which seems little different from the ‘reefer madness’ hysteria.  To be fair, much of this is down to the UK media which has barely advanced since the 1930s in its reporting.  It provides the environment in which researchers are able to gain funding for research into cannabis harms but hardly ever for cannabis benefits.

CLEAR is now working with the Institute of Psychiatry to develop a new and more balanced way of surveying the effects of cannabis.  Dr Musa Sami has asked us to advise on the construction of a questionnaire on which the Institute will base its future work.

Even The Guardian Is Now On The ‘Skunk Scaremongering’ Bandwagon.

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guardian cannabis psychosis headline picRead The Guardian’s Editorial Here

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.

References

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