Tokepure – another reply from Anne Milton at the Dept of Health

    Continuing the exchange between myself and Anne Milton at the department of health regarding asking the Government to run a campaign similar to Toke pure, designed to encourage cannabis users not to smoke tobacco along with their cannabis. You can read the previous exchanges here.

    It’s important to remember when reading this reply that I emphasised I was not questioning the basic policy toward cannabis, I was simply and only asking for a harm reduction campaign aimed at cannabis users to encourage them to smoke without tobacco. The response is amazing for its stupidity, even by the low standards we’ve come to expect from especially this but also previous governments. As always the letter arrived by snail mail on paper, so I’ve had to transcribe it, so any errors are probably mine. Here it is, in full.

    From Anne Milton MP

    Dept of Health

    To my MP, Simon Wright

    Thank you for the letter of 28th September from your constituent (me) about cannabis and tobacco policy

    I note Mr Williams’ continuing concerns about this issue. However I disagree with his statement that ‘the Governments policy towards cannabis is not “driven by science or even a desire to protect public health”. While there are no confirmed deaths due to cannabis use, we must take into account the other harms associated with cannabis:

    * Chronic bronchitis and lung damage
    * Inhibited reproduction functions
    * A small but significantly increased risk of psychotic symptoms and disorders in later life associated with heavy use
    * Schizophrenia (although this may be due to individual vulnerability rather than a universal risk; and
    * Insomnia, depression, aggression and anxiety

    If, as Mr Williams suggests, we were to advocate that people smoke cannabis without tobacco, we would be ignoring this evidence and putting people at risk of harm. It is because of these risks that we advise that no one smokes cannabis. The most important harm reduction measure that cannabis users can take is to not smoke cannabis. If needed there are services and online facilities available that can help individuals reduce or stop their cannabis use.

    We remain very concerned about tobacco use, which, in all its forms, remains one of our most significant public health challenges and is a major cause of health inequalities in England. We are committed to tackling the costs to health and wider society of tobacco use and are determined to reduce the rates of tobacco use. As stated in my letter of 5th September (our ref PO00000637700) we are undertaking the actions set out in “Healthy lives, Healthy People; a Tobacco Control Plan for the UK”

    Over the past 10 years there have been significant steps taken to reduce tobacco use: These include:

    Introducing laws to provide protection from the harm caused by exposure to second hand smoke in enclosed workplaces and public places;
    Raising the age of sale for tobacco products from 16 to 18 years and;
    Setting up an extensive nationwide network of local NHS Stop Smoking Services.

    Today, smokers who quit with the support of the NHS are up to four times more likely to quit long termthan smokers who try to quit by going “cold turkey”. In October, the sale of tobacco products through vending machines became illegal and the brightly coloured displays of tobacco that we are used to seeing will also slowly start to be removed by next year. These measures will help to reduce tobacco use uptake in young people.

    The evidence is clear that cannabis is harmful to health and that tobacco in any form – whether it is in cigarettes, roll ups, water pipes (including shisha) or combined with cannabis or any other drug – is harmful to health. Because of these risks we will continue to advocate that people do not smoke either substance and continue to help and support those who want to stop.

    Please do contact me again id there are any further concerns.

    Anne Milton

    Some comments:

    First she reffered to my comment in the previous letter:

    I note Mr Williams’ continuing concerns about this issue. However I disagree with his statement that ‘the Governments policy towards cannabis is not “driven by science or even a desire to protect public health”.

    The present policy is not driven by science and doesn’t pretend to be. The advice from the scientific advisory body (The ACMD) to keep cannabis as a class C drug under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 was ignored by the previous Prime Minister quite openly. He made the decision to move cannabis to the more serious class B against the committees advice for purely political reasons and was supported by this government in doing so.

    If the policy were driven by health concerns then cannabis would be a ideally regulated drug, controlled for purity, strength and potency (THC/CBD), but at the very least users would be given effective harm reduction advice on the greatest risks associated with using it. This, of course, would mean advice on ways to consume cannabis without tobacco. The government is fully aware of the risks associated with tobacco (as she makes clear in this letter) and yet refuses to communicate known information to the people most at risk.

    She States

    While there are no confirmed deaths due to cannabis use, we must take into account the other harms associated with cannabis:

    * Chronic bronchitis and lung damage
    * Inhibited reproduction functions
    * A small but significantly increased risk of psychotic symptoms and disorders in later life associated with heavy use
    * Schizophrenia (although this may be due to individual vulnerability rather than a universal risk; and
    * Insomnia, depression, aggression and anxiety

    There are, of course, no “confirmed deaths due to cannabis use” in around 5000 or so years of recorded history, I think it’s reasonable to assume from this that cannabis use doesn’t kill anyone. Tobacco however, does and we are dead certain about that.

    The other risks she states may or may not be valid – although they are at the very least over stated in a way typical of politicians when they try to defend the undefendable. However, even if true, most of them are irrelevant to the claim that mixing cannabis with tobacco makes the health risks very much worse.

    The only smoking related issues listed there are

    * Chronic bronchitis and lung damage

    Now there is a lot of research to indicate cannabis does not cause the lung damage it might be expected to do, for example:

    Marijuana Use and Lung Cancer: Results of a Case-Control Study (Tashkin) found:

    the association of these (lung) cancers with marijuana, even long-term or heavy use, is not strong and may be below practically detectable limits

    Marijuana and chronic obstructive lung disease: a population-based study (Wan)

    Smoking only marijuana was not associated with an increased risk of respiratory symptoms or COPD.

    ” COPD is “Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease” – it’s not nice and is strongly connected with tobacco smoking. It should be remembered that the results of those two studies only refer to pure cannabis smoking, not tobacco filled joints. So her claims of lung damage are at best doubtful, although cannabis use may cause bronchitis, especially with heavy use

    However in as much as they are in any way true they are dependent on the amount of smoke inhaled, it really is a quantity thing; the more smoke you breath in, the greater the risk. Smoking pure cannabis means breathing in far less smoke, probably a factor of 10 or more less.

    Also tobacco adds a level of addition and hence compulsive smoking that cannabis simply lacks. Tobacco/cannabis smokers are very likely to smoke a joint not so much for the cannabis effects as to satisfy the tobacco craving.

    This is really very, very simple and it makes her statement that

    If, as Mr Williams suggests, we were to advocate that people smoke cannabis without tobacco, we would be ignoring this evidence and putting people at risk of harm.

    Completely and utterly braindead stupid, a statement way beyond polite comment.

    I emphasis again that I am not suggesting cannabis is without harm, especially if used heavily, nothing on earth is utterly harmless and cannabis is no exception to that rule. All I’m pointing out is that mixing cannabis with tobacco certainly make things worse, very much worse. That this is true is beyond doubt, surely?

    The most important harm reduction measure that cannabis users can take is to not smoke cannabis.

    So is she suggesting cannabis users should eat cannabis? If so then will they advise users to do that? Or does she equate “using” with “smoking” and simply mean to imply users should stop using? I suspect it’s that actually.

    But in any case, assuming her claims of harm are true and assuming the best course of action is to stop smoking cannabis, it isn’t going to happen and she must know that. Even if the policy of stopping use is spectacularly successful there will still be millions of mostly young cannabis users out there ignoring her advice and toking away.

    I’ll write a reply in a day or so.

    • http://www.peter-reynolds.co.uk Peter Reynolds

      Anne Milton is one of the more rational ministers.  She always slaps down Charles Walker’s silly and sensational questions with facts.  Actually, from her position, I think she did quite a good job with this answer, even though that doesn’t change the crass hypocrisy about tobacco and the vastly overstated harms of cannabis.

      Why not ask your MP to see if he can arrange a face to face meeting?  I think that has to be an important part of our strategy for making progress.  We can endlessly bounce letters back and forth.  We need to find a way to break through and I think getting face to face with ministers might help.  We must lean on friendly MPs to make this happen.

    • Cshaws

      I thought the monster raving loony party fizzled out when Lord Such passed on!  But no they’re alive and well and ‘governing’ the bloody country.  “Inhibited reproduction functions”  that’s tobacco isn’t it  ?  Cannabis is one of the best aphrodisiacs around:

      >>”Smoking can shorten lives, and a new study finds it may also hamper men’s sex lives.  Researchers say men who smoke a pack of cigarettes or more a day are nearly 40 percent more likely to have erectile dysfunction compared with nonsmokers”>>    unlike the herb!

      If anything is going to cause psychosis its the braindead f*ckwits that run this country.  arrrrrggggghh

    • Cshaws

      The ammonia thing comes from here :  http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2007/dec/19/drugsandalcohol.drugs 

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Derek-Williams/1072934911 Derek Williams

      Peter, that’s a really good suggestion. I’ll mail my MP see if he can arrange this.

      But it does seem as if she has gone out of her way to deliberately misunderstand what I’m asking for and the reason is probably what it has always been – that they feel they can’t advise people not to use a legal drug when using a prohibited one.

      BTW I was interested in the claim that cannabis leads to aggression. Google, as always, is your friend in times like this.
      http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/6484653.stm

      >>
      Two of the most recent studies into the links between cannabis, mental
      health and violence, carried out among 1,000 young adults in New Zealand
      and published in 2000 and 2002, have been used as major planks in the
      cannabis causes aggression argument.

      Yet Dr Louise Arseneault, the lead author on both studies, says her work has been misrepresented.

      “We found that people dependent on cannabis were more likely to commit
      violent crime. But to say our studies showed that cannabis itself caused
      violence is wrong.

      “We found it was not the substance that caused the violence, it was
      because heavy users were more likely to have a history of anti-social
      behaviour, bad parenting, failure at school, thieving and involvement in
      the illegal drug market.

      “It is not because of consumption, it’s because of past history.

      “To say the paranoia created by smoking cannabis makes you more likely
      to be violent is a very big claim,” she says, “there is no evidence for
      this.”
      >>

    • Joshua

      Peter, any comment on Peter Hitchens’ comments on cannabis here http://hitchensblog.mailonsunday.co.uk/2011/11/how-long-before-the-grey-dictators-march-on-london.html#comments – particularly the claims that he makes in the comments section about the Keele study and diagnosis of schizophrenia?

      Also, is the recording of your debate available anywhere yet?

    • Anonymous

      She’s a Milk Snatcher….

      In August 2010, Milton, in a letter to Scottish Public Health Minister Shona Robison, discussed the idea of withdrawing the scheme which gives free-milk to the under 5s. Any idea that the move was policy, itself reminiscent of Margaret Thatcher’s withdrawing of milk from 7 to 11 year olds in 1971, was quickly quashed by Number 10; with Prime Minister David Cameron stating that he “did not like” the idea of removing milk from children. (Wikipedia)

    • http://www.peter-reynolds.co.uk Peter Reynolds

      Joshua, I don’t usually bother with Peter’s blog anymore.  He never publishes any comments I make and I’m pretty bored with his arguments.  I’ve refuted them so many times and he just keeps on dribbling them out.

      I quite like Peter personally and I agree with him on most subjects except cannabis.   He and I have a tacit agreement to work together to put on more debates and I look forward to that but his blog is a waste of time and rather embarrassing.  I feel as if I’ve caught him having a w**k every time I look at it!
      As you asked I had a look but couldn’t see any comment about the Keele study.

      I was told yesterday that editing the video of the Salford debate is finished.  It should be up on YouTube shortly.

    • Russell

      The Sativex mouth-spray is one of the safest ways of getting THC and CBD into the brain, so my advice would be to make that available to cannabis users, either on the NHS or commercially or both.

    • http://www.peter-reynolds.co.uk Peter Reynolds

      I would agree with that.  The main difficulty with it is the outrageous price.  You can buy pharmacologically identical products in California and Colorado (some in little spray bottles) for less than a tenth of  the price of Sativex.  If more people were able to obtain licences to produce it the price would drop drastically.

    • Cshaws

      Russell – it’s about £400 per month (according to my GP) and many PCT’s won’t permit it mainly because of the price (although I did read somewhere that some where questioning it’s legality – after all it is a schedule 1 non-prescribeable drug). Also, currently, only MS sufferers are allowed it and only when they have tried all the other commercial poisons and they haven’t worked. All over something that any of us could make in the kitchen for the price of the raw ingredients.

    • Joshua

      Thanks for the speedy reply. I agree with you that he unashamedly trots out the same tired and long-refuted arguments over and over again, but then so do most prohibitionists. Your comparison of his blog with ‘self-abuse’, as I think he once called it, is quite apt (and amusing).

      That said, the particular critiques that he made of the Keele study and the diagnosis of schizophrenia were new to me, and I wondered what you would make of them. They’re not in the blog post itself, but rather in the comments, now about eight comments from the top. 

      I’m looking forward to seeing the video.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Lenny-Lennon/100001998948964 Lenny Lennon

      Peter, I wrote to my MP requesting a meeting, outlining the health and social reasoning behind it in some detail, unfortunately what I got back was a letter with the standard blanket statement on all drugs which is the Home Office’s position at this time. My letter clearly wasn’t read and none of the points were responded to in any way.

      Any suggestions on what my next step should be? 

    • http://www.peter-reynolds.co.uk Peter Reynolds

      Lenny,  I would arrange to go and see your MP.  Say to him what you’ve written here and that robot-like repetition of the HO’s standard phrases is not part of the democratic process.  Who does he seek to represent, the HO or you, his constituent?

      Don’t wait to be invited. Ring his constituency office and book an appointment

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Lenny-Lennon/100001998948964 Lenny Lennon

      Cool, thanks Peter, will do.

      Also, I’ve got a few things in the pipeline I’d like to discuss with you, but I’ll be in touch in due course about those.

    • Whenthestigmaclears

      I read some where that sativex had 1 or 2 deaths in it’s clinical trials and that the race to synthesise THC is because natural compounds cannot be patented and therefore cannot be capatlized on, in a monopolistic fashion. Is this something CLEAR can confirm and use in it’s fight?

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Richard-Moore/1294977067 Richard Moore

      I would like to add the point that she makes about inhibited reproductive systems, basically we should also look at the fact tocacco and also alcohol does a very similar thing with problems of reproduction.

      I have been associated with heavy use, of which i only had pshycotic episodes when i was taking alcohol and other drugs! Of which i have now quit and only toke pure!

      I did look at a report that a guy made about research into schitzophrenia, which was made in new zealand, he made a very good point that actually, users of cannabis had soared in Australia years ago, it went from virtually zero to millions in years, but looking at the figures the percentage of people who had schitzophrenia had not altered a great deal!

      Then the * Insomnia, depression, aggression and anxiety bit-Well insomnia! I have no trouble getting to sleep if i don’t smoke. Might do if i drink too much coffee though!!!!!!! depression, well i got more depressed off alcohol and tobacco than i ever did, agression, as for that there has not been a recorded incident of a fight in any of the Dam coffee shops! Anxieity! I acually feel more anxiety after drinking too much lattes at college!!!!

      As for the bronchitis etc…… what about using vap’s? I heard they actually helped open the airways with some people if used correctly, at the right temperature.

      I’d of sent a few home truths back to this letter!!!!