02 Sep ‘Cannabis – A New Hard Drug’. An Exercise In Deception and Propaganda By The Centre For Social Justice

csj logoThis is a republication of pages 33 to 36 inclusive of ‘NO QUICK FIX. Exposing the depth of Britain’s drug and alcohol problem’, a report by the Centre for Social Justice, published at the end of August 2013.

It is an object lesson in how to construct a plausible but entirely misleading report. It has all the appearance of a rigorous and scientific approach with a lot of references to peer reviewed and published evidence. The evidence is, of course, cherry picked and what is excluded shines the brightest light on the integrity and true purpose of the authors.

A CLEAR analysis of this will be published shortly.

1.3 Cannabis – a new hard drug

Over the last decade, the strength of cannabis across Britain has nearly trebled and more people are seeking help for its effects.101 With an increasing number of studies reporting the adverse effects of this stronger cannabis upon mental health and the brain development of under-25s, the long-term impact of cannabis may increasingly be felt by society.102 Be it children caring for a parent 188 suffering extensive mental health problems, or indeed parents looking after their damaged children, the costs of cannabis are great and rising.103

Despite the dangers of this drug, it was used by over two million people aged 16-59 years old.104 Although there has been a reduction in use since 2003, more people, especially young people, are seeking treatment for cannabis addiction and corresponding mental health problems.105 Drugs treatment centres, although still dominated by heroin and/or crack addicts, now see one-fifth of all treatment presentations and one-third of first-ever presentations due to cannabis.106 107

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This increase has accompanied the rise of super-strong herbal cannabis – ‘skunk’. In 2002, ‘skunk’ made up about 30 per cent of the British market. Today that figure has grown to 80 per cent of the cannabis available, and it has a tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) concentration of 16.2 per cent. The cannabis of the 1960s had a THC content of three to four per cent making today’s cannabis at least four times stronger.108 109

This rise in potency has corresponded with a rise in the numbers accessing treatment for cannabis addiction. As can be seen above, there has been a 36 per cent increase in those coming forward for help with cannabis dependency and abuse since 2005, with 15,000 people getting help in England last year.110 111

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SARAH’S STORY, mother of Andrew.

The case study was given to the CSJ by the charity CanSS, which focusses on the impact cannabis/skunk can have on children

Andrew first became noticeably unwell during the summer holidays, aged 16. Sarah found some cannabis in his room and yet at the time she no idea, indeed Andrew did not even drink alcohol as far as she was aware. His mood changes were almost immediate. Laughing one minute, crying the next. He spent days in bed and had no energy or motivation. Previously he loved sport and was an accomplished ice-skater.

His return to school was the beginning ‘of a journey to hell’. Andrew had been a ‘Grade A’ student and yet after his drug use began he missed days from school and did not work. Andrew tried going to different schools to ascertain if his problems stemmed from a particular environment.

After several months of continuing problems, Andrew’s mother discovered he was still using ‘skunk’. He went to a private hospital and was sectioned under the Mental Health Act. Sarah said it was the worst day of her life, he cried for his parents and had to be held down. ‘He just screamed, it was heart wrenching.’

After being there for over three months he was discharged, and Sarah believed it was the end. Unfortunately it was the ‘beginning of a road that I would not wish on my worst enemy.’ Repeated inpatient stays resulted over the next eight years.

In that time, he stayed between three months and up to a year. Yet he always returned to ‘skunk’. Sarah said that ‘it is very addictive. He hears voices, has no motivation. He is very depressed and has attempted suicide. He has been beaten up, tied up and robbed, and not just once.’

Andrew has become very vulnerable and is terrified a lot of the time. ‘It is absolutely heartbreaking. My son was a happy, highly intelligent young man who has had his life wasted, destroyed! As well as mine and his father’s.’

Andrew sadly has no friends anymore. ‘Most of the patients I have met in the various hospitals over the last eight years have taken drugs in one way or another the psychiatric hospitals are full of young people who have drug related psychosis.’

Andrew is now 25, it is nine years since this began.The police too have reported the growth in ‘skunk’ production, which tends to be grown in indoor farms, under lights, using hydroponics.112 The number of such farms has increased from 3,000 in 2007 to about 8,000 last year.113

Skunk has the potential to have far more damaging effects than the cannabis available in previous decades, especially on the developing brain. There are also links to damage to the lungs, behaviour, psychosis, educational attainment, complications in pregnancy and foetal development.114

The CSJ has heard first-hand what cannabis abuse can do to a developing brain and how it can be the first step on a journey to harder drugs. Addictions charity, One North East London, told the CSJ: ‘We are seeing a familiar progression of younger people using cannabis and as they get older moving on to class A drugs mixed with alcohol’.

The dramatic rise in potency should be considered in any discussion about the classification of cannabis. Those making policy should take account of how the strength of the drug has increased and with it the harm it is causing to young, developing brains – a group which also happens to be the most likely to use it.115 Such is the danger of this development that the Dutch government plans to classify cannabis with a THC content of 15 per cent or more a Class A drug, in the same bracket as heroin and cocaine.116

It is of concern that ever increasing numbers of people (particularly young people) are being taken into treatment for the effects of ever more super-strength cannabis. It remains the most commonly consumed illegal drug in Britain, meaning that there is a mental health time-bomb ticking.117 This has been observed by Dr Wendy Swift whose recent study into cannabis in Australia found a similarly high THC content to that in the UK. She cautions ‘these results suggest that the profile of cannabis currently used in Australia may make some users vulnerable to mental health problems…the high THC/low CBD profile of Australian cannabis has been linked to increased risks for cannabis dependence, increases in treatment seeking and increased vulnerability to psychosis’.118

Cannabis cannot be dismissed simplistically as a soft drug. The drug that many of its appeasers grew up with is very different from the ‘skunk’ which has come to dominate the market. More people are suffering harm and a growing body of evidence points to the dangers to developing brains.

References

101 Hardwick S, King L, Home Office Potency Study, London: Home Office, 2008; National Treatment Agency, Statistics from the National Drug Treatment Monitoring System (NDTMS) 1 April 2011- 31 March 2012, London: Department of Health, 2013 [accessed via: http://www.nta.nhs.uk/uploads/statisticsfromndtms201112vol1thenumbersfinal.pdf (08/08/13)]

102 University of Maryland, ‘Univ. of MD finds that marijuana use in adolescence may cause permanent brain abnormalities’, 2013 [accessed via: http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2013-07/uomm-uom072413.php (08/08/13)]

103 University of Maryland, ‘Univ. of MD finds that marijuana use in adolescence may cause permanent brain abnormalities’, 2013 [accessed via: http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2013-07/uomm-uom072413.php (08/08/13)] and Griffith-Lendering et al, ‘Cannabis use and vulnerability for psychosis in early adolescence – a TRAILS study’ 2013 [accessed via: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/add.12050/full(22/08/13)]

104 Information Centre for Health and Social Care, NHS Statistics on Drug Misuse, 2012 [accessed via: http://www.dependencias.pt/ficheiros/conteudos/files/drug_misu_eng_2012_rep.pdf (08/08/13)]

105 National Treatment Agency, Statistics from the National Drug Treatment Monitoring System, London: Department of Health, 2012,

106 United Kingdom Focal Point, UK Drug Situation 2012, London: Department of Health, 2012 [accessed via: http://www.nwph.net/ukfocalpoint/writedir/userfiles/file/Report%202012/REPORT2012FINAL.pdf]

107 Hardwick S, King L., Home Office Potency Study, London: Home Office, 2008

108 National Treatment Agency, Statistics from the National Drug Treatment Monitoring System, London: Department of Health, 2012

109 Hansard, HC Deb 6 Jun 2013: c291wh [accessed via: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201314/cmhansrd/cm130606/halltext/130606h0001.htm (22/08/13)]

110 National Treatment Agency, Statistics from the National Drug Treatment Monitoring System, London: Department of Health, 2012

111 Association of Chief Policy Officers, Commercial Cultivation of Cannabis, London: ACPO, 2012

112 Association of Chief Policy Officers, Commercial Cultivation of Cannabis, London: ACPO, 2012

113 Association of Chief Policy Officers, Commercial Cultivation of Cannabis, London: ACPO, 2012

114 Ministry of Security and Justice, Strong cannabis becomes a hard drug, Government of the Netherlands, 2011; British Lung Foundation, The effect of cannabis on your lungs, London: BLF, 2012; NHS Choices, More evidence on cannabis psychosis, NHS, 2011; ‘Griffith-Lendering et al, ‘;Cannabis use and vulnerability for psychosis in early adolescence—a TRAILS study’ 2013 [accessed via: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/add.12050/full(22/08/13)]; and NHS Choices, The dangers of cannabis[accessed via: http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/drugs/Pages/Cannabisdangers.aspx (22/08/13)]