01 Aug PCC Complaint. The Daily Mail, 26th July 2011

Complaint regarding the article by Amanda Platell: Genius, but Amy's was not a life to admire
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/debate/article-2018741/Amy-Winehouse-dead-Genius-life-admire.html
The Daily Mail 26th July 2011

I write this complaint both in my personal capacity and that of the editor of the website www.ukcia.org, a cannabis law reform website.

This article makes several claims of harm from cannabis use as established fact which are not established fact and most importantly misrepresents a scientific study so as to "prove" cannabis is a gateway drug to heroin and cocaine.

The article states

"But, of course, it is not just drink. Amy was proud of the fact she started smoking cannabis at the age of 13. A year later, she started writing songs, and cannabis was part of the creative process — and part of being a modern, uninhibited woman.
Tragically, any number of her fans agreed. Even though countless scientific papers have shown cannabis can lead to schizophrenia. Even though research in the online scientific journal Neuro- psychopharmacy shows conclusively that cannabis is a gateway drug to heroin, cocaine and crack — all of which Amy Winehouse became addicted to. Ten years after she had her first joint, and within three weeks of her marriage,

This is clearly claiming that cannabis use was the reason for Amy Winehouse's death, which is clearly a very alarmist thing to claim.

Whilst there have been some studies which indicate cannabis use is linked to mental illness, very few if any have shown a clear causal link. Indeed a large study commissioned for the UK Home Office in 2009 by Keele University (Assessing the impact of cannabis use on trends in diagnosed schizophrenia in the United Kingdom from 1996 to 2005" – Martin Frisher, Ilana Crome, Orsolina Martino, Peter Croft ) concluded "Between 1996 and 2005 the incidence and prevalence of schizophrenia and psychoses were either stable or declining. Explanations other than a genuine stability or decline were considered, but appeared less plausible. In conclusion, this study did not find any evidence of increasing schizophrenia or psychoses in the general population from 1996 to 2005" and also The most parsimonious explanation of the results reported here are that the schizophrenia/psychoses data presented here are valid and the causal models linking cannabis with schizophrenia/psychoses are not supported by this study.

Of more concern however is the claim that "Even though research in the online scientific journal Neuro- psychopharmacy shows conclusively that cannabis is a gateway drug to heroin, cocaine and crack". Now this is clearly not a statement of personal opinion, the phrase "shows conclusively" that it is an established and undeniable fact. It is not.

No such online publication "Neuro- psychopharmacy " exists, although possibly she is referring to "Neuropsychopharmacology", which does contain some studies done on rats which might indicate a "gateway" role for cannabis in rats. One such study is "Adolescent Cannabis Exposure Alters Opiate Intake and Opioid Limbic Neuronal Populations in Adult Rats" http://www.nature.com/npp/journal/v32/n3/full/1301127a.html which concludes "The current findings support the gateway hypothesis demonstrating that adolescence cannabis exposure has an enduring impact on hedonic processing resulting in enhanced opiate intake, possibly as a consequence of alterations in limbic opioid neuronal populations". There are a few similar studies on the site which produce a range of results, some supportive, some less so. However, this is far short of "conclusive proof" as claimed in the article. Indeed there are many other studies which do not support the gateway theory and it is not a theory which generally has much solid support, many other factors have a far greater influence on a drug using career.

I emphasis this article is not written or presented as a personal opinion piece, it states certain things as a fact. It is therefore misleading and it breaches the Editors' Code Of Practice clause 1.i) in that it publishes inaccurate, misleading and distorted information.

Indeed there is no evidence to suggest that her cannabis use was in any way responsible for Amy's death, the article is simply irresponsible.

I expect a full retraction from the Daily Mail.

Sincerely

Derek Williams