PCC Complaint. The Mail On Sunday, 23rd January 2011
From: Peter Reynolds
Sent: Monday, February 07, 2011 3:24 PM
Subject: Complaint against The Mail On Sunday, issue dated 23rd January 2011
“My son played Russian roulette with cannabis – and lost’: Patrick and Henry Cockburn tell their story”, The Mail On Sunday, 23-01-11
I wish to make a complaint concerning the above article which is still available online at: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-1349398/Patrick-Cockburn-My-son-played-Russian-roulette-cannabis-lost.html
I make the complaint on my account but also in my capacity as the Speaker of the Legalise Cannabis Alliance, a political party, of P.O.Box 674, Salfords, RH1 9BN. For the purposes of correspondence, please use my personal address as below. Please acknowledge receipt of this complaint.
1. This article breaches the Editors’ Code Of Practice clause 1.i) in that it publishes inaccurate, misleading and distorted information.
2. It also breaches clause 1.iii) in that it confuses comment, conjecture and fact.
3. The Daily Mail is also in breach of clause 2 in that it has failed to provide an opportunity for reply to inaccuracies.
4. The headline is inaccurate and misleading. It also confuses comment, conjecture and fact. It states that the risk of using cannabis is the same as the risk of Russian roulette. Of course the possible consequence of Russian roulette is death whereas no one has ever died as a result of using cannabis. Within the body of the article it becomes clear that it is the risk of developing schizophrenia that is being referred to. However, the risk of Russian roulette is a chance of one in six, i.e. one loaded chamber in a six cylinder revolver. By the latest research, the risk of developing schizophrenia as a result of using cannabis is at least one in 7500 and perhaps as little as one in 30000.
Professor Glyn Lewis of the University Of Bristol reviewed all the published evidence on the subject in 2009 and says that 96% of people can use cannabis without any risk of psychosis at all and in the remaining 4% the risk is statistically tiny. Even if direct causation of schizophrenia by cannabis was accepted (which is clearly not proven) then on Prof. Lewis’ figures that would amount to approximately 800 additional cases per annum. Based on the Home Office’s figure of six million regular cannabis users that amounts to a risk of one in 7500. In fact, while there is evidence of some correlation between cannabis use and mental health problems there is very little of causation. There is, in fact, much stronger evidence of correlation between tobacco smoking and mental health but no one is claiming that tobacco causes schizophrenia.
Prof Lewis’ report states that among light cannabis users “…it would be necessary to stop over 10,000 young men and nearly 30,000 young women to prevent one case of schizophrenia.”
5. The article goes on to say that schizophrenia “… might, as many studies appear to prove, be the result of mind-altering street drugs such as cannabis.” This is inaccurate and misleading and it confuses comment, conjecture and fact. There are no studies which offer proof or even apparent proof of such wild speculation.
6. The article then says “Three-quarters of consumers may take cannabis with no ill effect but the remaining quarter, the genetically vulnerable, play Russian roulette.” This is inaccurate and misleading and it confuses comment, conjecture and fact. As referred to above, 96% can use cannabis without any risk of psychosis whatsoever. In the remaining 4% the risk is statistically tiny and nothing like the risk of Russian roulette which one in six and the consequences of which are death.
7. The article then goes on to say that: “Sir William published many papers with his colleagues in the Seventies, revealing for the first time evidence that even limited social use of cannabis could precipitate schizophrenia in people who previously had no psychological problems. He discovered that smoking a single joint could induce schizophrenia-like symptoms such as hallucinations, paranoia and fragmented thought processes. These were not fashionable ideas in Oxford in the Seventies but Sir William’s findings were confirmed by a series of other studies. An American study found that after cannabis became widely available in the US army in Europe, the incidence of schizophrenia among troops increased 38-fold.”
This is entirely misleading as it is based on research which is 30 years out of date. As well as the University of Bristol study referred to above, studies published in US journal “Schizophrenia Research” in 2010 indicate that “…marijuana is unlikely to instigate incidences of schizophrenia in the general population, that cannabis use among patients with the disease is associated with higher cognitive function, and that at least some schizophrenics find subjective relief from symptoms of the illness by using pot”.
Furthermore, in Britain in 2009, the ACMD commissioned a study by Keele University into the trends in schizophrenia specifically to test the claims in the media of a link between it and cannabis. It looked at almost 600,000 patients and concluded that “..the incidence and prevalence of schizophrenia and psychoses were either stable or declining” despite alleged increased use of allegedly more potent cannabis.
8. The overall effect of the article is inaccurate and misleading and it confuses comment, conjecture and fact in the most crass and inflammatory way. It is in fact dangerously hysterical and sensationalist. The journalist and editor concerned have failed miserably in their “duty to maintain the highest professional standards”.
I would be grateful if you would deal with this complaint at your earliest convenience. I shall be happy to provide any furrther information required or to give oral evidence in support.
—– Original Message —–
From: Charlotte Dewar
Sent: Friday, April 15, 2011 12:28 PM
Subject: Complaint 110779 – Mail on Sunday (Cockburn) – Commission’s Decision
Commission’s decision in the case of
Reynolds v The Mail on Sunday
The complainant was concerned that an excerpt from a memoir by the journalist Patrick Cockburn and his son Henry, published by the newspaper, about Henry’s schizophrenia had raised breaches of Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code, particularly in relation to Mr Cockburn’s suggestion that cannabis might have contributed to Henry’s development of the disorder. The article had suggested that in some cases the onset of schizophrenia might, “as many studies appear to prove”, be the result of taking cannabis. The complainant said no studies offered such proof.
The Commission noted first that the newspaper had been entitled to present Patrick Cockburn’s interpretation of the evidence on schizophrenia and its causes. It was evident that Mr Cockburn’s views were based to an extent on his personal experiences, but the article had made clear that the causes of schizophrenia are the subject of “rancorous debate among scientists” and discussed several possible contributing factors, of which cannabis use was only one. The Commission noted that the article had referred to “apparent” proof of the causal relationship, underlining that this was the author’s interpretation of the findings.
Furthermore, the Commission emphasised that although the article had represented a personal perspective, it had also addressed a matter of legitimate public concern.
The complainant had provided a meta-analysis of research pertaining to cannabis use and the occurrence of psychotic or affective mental health outcomes (Moore, THM et al. Lancet 2007; 370:319-28) to support his position that there is little evidence of a causal relationship between cannabis use and mental health problems. The study’s authors discussed a number of difficulties in interpreting research on the effects of cannabis in this area. However, they concluded:
We believe that there is now enough evidence to inform people that using cannabis could increase their risk of developing a psychotic illness later in life. The evidence that cannabis use leads to affective outcomes is less strong or psychosis but is still of concern. Although individual lifetime risk of chronic psychotic disorders such as schizophrenia, even in people who use cannabis regularly, is likely to be low (less than 3%), cannabis use can be expected to have a substantial effect on psychotic disorders at a population level because exposure to this drug is so common.
With this in mind, the Commission could not accept that a significant inaccuracy had been established with respect to the claim that some studies appear to show a causal link between cannabis use and schizophrenia.
The complainant was also concerned that the article had referred to the possible risks of smoking cannabis as “Russian roulette”, and cited research into the effects of cannabis conducted by Sir William Paton, Henry Cockburn’s maternal grandfather, in the 1970s. The complainant said that it was “seriously misleading” to compare the risks of smoking cannabis with the risks of Russian roulette, which were much greater, and he objected to the citation of Sir William Paton’s work, which he considered to be out of date and superseded by other research.
The Commission was aware that the magnitude of the risk posed by cannabis is a matter of debate and a subject on which the complainant has strongly held views. However, it did not accept that – in the context of the article’s discussion of the causes of schizophrenia – readers would have understood the phrase “Russian roulette” as a suggestion that using cannabis leads to a one-in-six risk of developing schizophrenia. Rather, in the view of the Commission it expressed Mr Cockburn’s view that genetically vulnerable adolescents risked serious harm by using cannabis. He had been entitled to express this opinion, which was not significantly misleading under the terms of Clause 1.
Finally, the Commission considered the complainant’s concerns about the article’s reference to the research of Sir William Paton. The complainant did not appear to suggest that the article had reported the findings of the research inaccurately; he was concerned only that the research itself was out of date. However, Patrick Cockburn had specifically drawn attention to the findings because of the “strange coincidence” between the Sir William Paton’s research and his grandson’s mental illness. No specific inaccuracy had been established, and the Commission considered that Mr Cockburn had been entitled to highlight this family link. There were no further issues to pursue under the Code.