09 Feb PCC Complaint. The Evening Standard, 26th January 2011 – RESOLVED

—– Original Message —–
From: Peter Reynolds
To: [email protected]
Sent: Wednesday, February 09, 2011 5:01 PM
Subject: Complaint against the London Evening Standard, issue dated 26th January 2011

Dear Sirs,

“Out of their minds: the truth about teens, cannabis and psychosis”, London Evening Standard, 26-01-11

I wish to make a complaint concerning the above article which is still available online at: http://www.thisislondon.co.uk/health/article-23917590-out-of-their-minds-the-truth-about-teens-cannabis-and-psychosis.do

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 London Evening Standard 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, misleading and distorted information. It also confuses comment, conjecture and fact in a crass, sensationalist and scaremongering fashion. It uses the phrase “Out of their minds”, conjoined with “the truth about teens, cannabis and psychosis”, clearly suggesting that it is a fact or “the truth” that teens who use cannabis get psychosis.

The facts are that anyone using cannabis is extremely unlikely to develop psychosis. By the latest research, the risk of developing schizophrenia 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 (more than 90% of those diagnosed with schizophrenia smoke tobacco) 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.”

As well as the University of Bristol study, 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.

5. In the first paragraph the article states: “His father…thought his habit was harmless until the day Henry nearly died…”. This suggests that cannabis was responsible for the fact that Henry “nearly died”. This is inaccurate, misleading and distorted information that also confuses comment, conjecture and fact. There is no evidence at all that cannabis caused Henry’s near death. Cannabis is remarkably low in toxicity. The Therapeutic Ratio is a scientific term that compares a basic dose of a drug with a fatal dose. In alcohol the ratio is 1:50, in paracetamol 1:30, in cannabis 1:10000. It is physically impossible to ingest a fatal dose of cannabis. If it is said that Henry’s schizophrenia was responsible for his near death, the chances of it being related to his cannabis use are infinitesimally small (see above).

6. In the 20th paragraph the article states that “… teenage habit led to eight years of mental illness…”. This is inaccurate, misleading and distorted information that also confuses comment, conjecture and fact. There is no proof that Henry’s “habit” led to eight years of mental illness. In fact the chances that it did so are infinitesimally small (see above).

7. The online version of this article has been substantially edited since its original publication (N.B. currently shows a revision date of 29-01-11) and a great deal of inaccurate, misleading and distorted information that confuses comment, conjecture and fact has been removed. However, this cannot reverse the huge damage and misinformation promoted by the article that appeared in print, nor that caused by the online version before it was edited. I do not have a copy of the print version to hand so I cannot refer to it.

8. The sources quoted in the article are vastly weighted in favour of the message as described in the headline. In particular, Julie Myerson is a rabid anti-cannabis campaigner with extremist views,. While she is clearly entitled to her opinion, because it is not balanced by a source with the alternative point of view, the article is misleading, distorted and confuses comment, conjecture and fact. Professor Robin Murray, despite being a scientist, is also well-known as an anti-cannabis campaigner. Again, he is entitled to his opinion but why was it not balanced with independent scientific comment? Professor David Nutt or Professor Les Iversen, the former and present chairs of the Advisory Council on the Misuse Of Drugs, or Professor Roger Pertwee of the University of Aberdeen are at least as well qualified in the specific area of cannabis and known to adhere rather better to science than opinion. Prof. Murray was clearly selected to support the prejudiced viewpoint of the article.

The only “non-anti” source is Danny Kushlick of Transform but that is against Myerson, O’Connell, Murray, Hammond and Mulvany all taking predominantly the anti point of view. This means that the article is inaccurate, misleading and distorted and confuses comment, conjecture and fact.

8. The overall effect of the article is inaccurate and misleading and it confuses comment, conjecture and fact in the most 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”.

9. I wrote to the editor of the Standard on 26th January 2011 asking for an opportunity to reply and correct the inaccurate, misleading and distorted information. (See copy below)
Mr Doug Wills, Managing Editor, replied to me on 27th January 2011 (see copy below), stating that the Letters Editor would be in touch with me about the possibility of a letter for publication.

I replied the same day (see copy below) confirming that I wished to take up this offer and proposing that a more appropriate balance would be an article of similar length.

I have not heard from the Letters Editor. I have made six phone calls to the Standard’s offices attempting to contact him/her or Mr Wills to pursue the opportunity for reply. My calls have not been returned and therefore the publisher has failed to provide an opportunity for reply to inaccuracies.

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.

Yours faithfully,

Peter Reynolds

—– Original Message —–
From: Peter Reynolds
To: [email protected] ; [email protected]
Cc: alun
Sent: Wednesday, January 26, 2011 1:31 PM

Subject: “Out of their minds: the truth about teens, cannabis and psychosis”

Dear Mr Greig,

I am the Speaker of the Legalise Cannabis Alliance and also a founder council member of the British Medicinal Cannabis Register, where my colleagues include Baroness Meacher, the MP Paul Flynn and Professor Les Iversen.

I was dismayed to see this sensationalist, scaremongering story about cannabis in today’s issue. Complaints have already been made to the Press Complaints Commission about the Mail On Sunday’s coverage of this story. In your article, you have also included reference to Julie Myseron, Helena O’Connell of Addaction and Professor Robin Murray. All of these people are well known for having extremist, partisan views on the subject. In addition you quote Terry Hammond and Duncan Mulvany who also add to the hugely disproportionate slant you have given this subject. You skate over Danny Kushlick’s remarks and dismiss them with “This is of little comfort…”. This article is so outrageously unbalanced as to be ridiculous. It is in flagrant breach of the Editors’ Code Of Practice.

Please will you give the Legalise Cannabis Alliance the opportunity to reply? If not, then we shall be complaining to the Press Complaints Commission. Your deviation from the Editors’ Code of Practice is far, far more serious than the Mail On Sunday’s.

Henry Cockburn’s story is a tragedy but blaming it on cannabis is not justified, nor is it helpful. It is an outrage that you should publish such grossly biased misinformation. Six million people in Britain use cannabis regularly, probably including hundreds of thousands of your readers. Why are you so out of touch with both the facts and public opinion?

The data simply does not support the idea that cannabis causes schizophrenia. In fact, it more strongly suggests that people who have mental illness may use cannabis to self-medicate. It is instructive to note that Henry’s crisis arose when he had deliberately stopped using cannabis. Indeed, there is existing and continuing scientific research into cannabinoids as an anti-psychotic therapy.

Professor Glyn Lewis of the University of Bristol said in 2009 that even on the most extreme interpretation of the data on cannabis and psychosis (a review of all published evidence) that 96% of people could use cannabis with no risk whatsoever of developing psychosis. In the remaining 4% the risk is statistically “tiny”

Professor Les Iversen is a professor of pharmacology at Oxford University, the current chairman of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs and author of many books on the subject of cannabis. Prof Iversen was also the author of an article in The Times entitled “Cannabis. Why It’s Safe” and he delivered a lecture last month entitled “Bringing Cannabis Back Into The Medicine Cabinet”.

The demonisation of cannabis is a grave mistake and a disservice to young people and their parents. It looks almost certain that cannabis will be legalised in at least one state in the USA either this year or next. Progress will then roll out across the world. It’s about time that the British media caught up to fact that, as Professor Iversen says, cannabis is “one of the safer recreational drugs”, much safer than alcohol. It also has tremendous actual and potential benefit as medicine and Britain is way, way behind in the world in recognising this.

Cannabis is, in fact, 100 times safer than alcohol. In terms of sheer toxicity, the therapeutic ratio of alcohol is 1:50, of cannabis it is 1:10000.

This scare story should be replaced with facts and information about this valuable and relatively harmless substance. Will you please take steps now to correct this terrible travesty of journalism?

Yours sincerely,

Peter Reynolds

—– Original Message —–
From: <[email protected]>
To: “Peter Reynolds” <[email protected]>
Sent: Thursday, January 27, 2011 12:03 PM
Subject: Cannabis article, London Evening Standard, 26 January 2011

> Dear Mr Reynolds
> Thank you for your email. I have spoken at length with our Features
> executive and also with the writer of the article Sophie Goodchild.
> We do appreciate that you feel strongly about the article. There is no
> question that the whole debate around cannabis raises passions with those
> who have strongly differing views. For this reason alone it is a subject
> that we believe it is right to focus on with articles such as the one we
> printed yesterday.
> Sophie Goodchild has much experience as a health editor and is highly
> regarded. She has told me she was careful when writing the article to
> ensure that she did not suggest there was any conclusive evidence linking
> cannabis with psychosis. This was reflected in the quotes from Helena
> O’Connell and from Danny Kushlick.
> Sophie Goodchild has also told me that she spoke with both of them because
> of their experience. Helena O’Connell runs a team of dedicated people
> helping young people with drug issues, from advice on their habit to
> helping them if they feel they are over-using. Terry Hammond has carried
> out work for many years for Rethink which is a respected mental health
> charity.
> Sophie Goodchild tells me that Patrick himself makes the link between
> cannabis and his son’s decline and that this is his own interpretation. He
> says: ‘It wasn’t until Henry was in hospital that we learned of its
> (cannabis) potentially devastating impact on somebody genetically
> predisposed to schizophrenia. Three-quarters of consumers may take
> cannabis with no ill effect but the remaining quarter, the genetically
> vulnerable, play Russian roulette.’
> I hope the above is helpful. I have spoken with our Letters Editor and
> asked him to be in touch with you about the possibility of you sending in a
> letter making your points about the cannabis debate to be considered for
> publication on the Letters page. I will leave this possibility with you.
> Yours sincerely
> Doug Wills
> Managing Editor

—– Original Message —–
From: Peter Reynolds
To: [email protected]
Cc: Alun Buffry
Sent: Thursday, January 27, 2011 12:36 PM
Subject: Re: Cannabis article, London Evening Standard, 26 January 2011

Dear Mr Wills,

Thank you for your reply which I do appreciate. Of course, I would very much like to take up your offer of submitting a letter. I shall wait to hear from your Letters Editor

Nothing though can change the way you sensationalised this story and the overall impression given to an uninformed reader would be that cannabis causes psychosis. Just the headline alone is misleading enough.

Whatever Ms Goodchild’s experience or reputation, this article cannot pass any test of decent or responsible journalism. It is a crass distortion of the scientific evidence and entirely misleading. The damage is already done. Ms Goodchild is an enemy of the truth and a propagandist. I hope she is handsomely paid for the sale of her integrity.

What amazes me is that you seem to overlook the fact that hundreds of thousands of your own readers are regular users of cannabis. Your credibility and reputation will be shot to pieces in their eyes because they know the impression you have given is entirely false.

The fact remains that this article was so unbalanced as to be absurd – even just on the disparity in numbers of sources on each side of the debate.

Where is the evidence of Professor Iversen, the government’s chief drug advisor or Professor Nutt, his predecessor, who was sacked for telling the truth and exposing the Home Office’s lies about cannabis? These men are intellectual and scientific giants compared to the people you quote. Professor Murray is discredited by his virulent campaigning, which is entirely inappropriate for a scientist.

Might I suggest that a better way of balancing your coverage than just a letter would be to allow me to submit an article of similar length putting the other point of view? There is a huge story to tell about the latest research into cannabis and cannabinoids and their potential in the treatment of cancer, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Crohn’s and ADHD.

Once again, I am very grateful for your response.

Kind regards,

Peter Reynolds

Published in the Evening Standard, 13th May 2011. The result of many weeks back and forth negotiation through the Press Complaints Commission.