17 Oct Talk to Frank is back!

Talk to Frank, the government’s anti-drug advertising campaign has been updated, indeed, having been left to sit there and grow mould for over two years, the whole sorry effort has been relaunched today with an exciting new (well, OK, different) look. The cannabis section is only a rehash of the old information, in places badly copy-pasted as well. It also features the past campaigns such as “cannabis messes with the mind” and includes an especially weird game called “spliff pinball” – more about that later, but do play it before it gets taken down, which it soon will be. There is one new section, a help centre for quitting cannabis.

The main pages feature strange images of young people, often of their groins, which is worrying.

Talk to Frank image

Not qute sure who this is aimed at.

Partly because of this the site looks totally different, but is actually much the same as before, although the latest problem for the government – the so-called “legal highs” – feature prominantly in the list of drugs covered, ideed it is interesting to see how many new drugs there are for Frank to talk about now.

At the top of the list on the front page is a link to the good old A-Z of drugs list, so to find out about cannabis, we click that and get a new page, again featuring groin shots

Talk to Frank image

scroll down to “C” and click the link to “cannabis”

Instead of the page of text we had before, the information is presented in a series of windows with bite sized snippets in.

The Drug:

What is cannabis? It’s the most widely-used illegal drug in Britain. But there’s a whole lot more to learn about it, and what it does to you.

  • Cannabis is naturally occurring – it is made from the cannabis plant.

  • The main active chemical in it is tetrahydrocannabinol (or THC for short).

  • THC is the ingredient in cannabis that can make you feel very chilled out, happy and relaxed.

  • THC can also make you hallucinate, meaning that it can alter your senses, so that you might see, hear or feel things in a different way to normal.

A big myth about cannabis is that it’s safe because it’s natural. Cannabis has some very real effects on your mood, as well as creating longer-term problems:

  • Cannabis can make you feel very anxious and even paranoid.

  • Using it has also been linked, in some people, to serious, long-term mental health problems.

Cannabis is still the most commonly used illegal drug. However, it isn’t as popular as it used to be: just 1 in 6 people aged 16-24 had tried it in 2010/11.

This isn’t too bad, It has to be remembered this information is aimed at kids and so it’s probably OK to simplify things a bit. But it is worth mentioning that cannabis isn’t just THC and that different strains – versions of the plant – have markedly different effects, Frank doesn’t explain this, which is odd given the message it wants to give about “modern” strains.

If they’re going to mention THC, why not CBD as well? Again, it would help later when they get onto so-called “skunk”.

This section is also placing a lot of emphasis on the negative effects users might experience, which of course they probably won’t. This can be a risky and self defeating thing to do, after all, who you going to belive, a website or your experienced mates? And when you try it and discover the real effect, will you believe Frank again?

“Just 1 in 6” as a level of use is a strange figure to boast about, it doesn’t even sound low.

What are the different types of cannabis? Although it’s all from the same plant, cannabis comes in many different forms.


  • Hash is a black or brown soft lump made from the resin of the cannabis plant. It’s much less common in the UK than it used to be. It costs about £26 per quarter ounce.


  • Grass, also known as weed, is made from the dried leaves and flowering parts of the female cannabis plant and looks like tightly packed dried herbs. This traditional grass was normally imported and much weaker than the ‘skunk’ types of cannabis usually sold now. Grass costs around £30 per quarter ounce.


  • Skunk is the term used to refer to strong forms of herbal cannabis that have increasingly dominated the UK market. They are, on average, 2-4 times stronger than cannabis that was used in the past. They include: sinsemilla, with no seeds; homegrown, plants grown indoors with the aid of artificial light, heat and nutrients; ‘skunk’, which has a particularly strong smell and netherweed, an imported form of strong herbal cannabis. Skunk costs around £50 per quarter ounce.

Cannabis oil

  • Cannabis oil is a sticky, dark honey-coloured substance and is much less common.

“Skunk is the term used to refer to strong forms of herbal cannabis that have increasingly dominated the UK market.” That reads like a copy-paste line of text straight from an ACMD report, not really the sort of thing to put in info aimed at kids. Better would have been something much less formal, like “skunk is the name of strong grass which has become very common”. Except the term “skunk” is used far less than it used to be now, but Frank doesn’t seem to have caught up with that.

” They are, on average, 2-4 times stronger than cannabis that was used in the past.” Now again, this is aimed at young kids so perhaps it’s understandable to keep things simple, but the important message about cannabis Frank is trying to get across isn’t about strength. Hash is probably stronger than herbal cannabis in terms of THC content (gram THC/gram of sample) because it’s a far more concentrated form; hash isn’t “made from the resin” – it is the resin without much of the vegetable matter. What is different (if anything is different) and perhaps important for the mental health issue is the THC/CBD ratio. It really isn’t a difficult thing to explain, even to kids – especially if they’re interested in the subject, which most reading this will be.

Still, at least it’s not claiming skunk is 50 times stronger.

The big problem with this section is the use of “skunk” (or worse “netherweed”, nobody uses the term “nederweed”) to describe intensively grown cannabis, kids probably won’t come across those terms – especially netherweed, they’ll probably have achoice between be sold “green”, or “solid”. It doesn’t really read as if it was written by anyone who knows the street scene to be honest.

How is cannabis taken? There are a few ways of taking cannabis:

  • Most people mix it with tobacco, roll it up into something known as a ‘spliff’ or a ‘joint’, and then smoke it.

  • Some people smoke it using a type of pipe called a bong.

  • Others drink or eat it mixed in cookies, cakes or even cups of tea. Taken this way, the effects of cannabis can be more difficult to predict or to control. It takes cannabis longer to get in to your body by this route; and so if unpleasant side-effects do start to develop, it’s too late to do very much about it except wait for the effects to reach their peak and then wear off.

So according to Frank the normal way to smoke cannabis is mixed with tobacco, and this seems to be the safest way as well judging from this. Whilst itis the most common way, it’s a pretty daft message to give young kids. Sadly the idea of a safer use campaign to separate cannabis and tobacco doesn’t feature. “Bongs” are just one type of pipe or course, some are just called “pipes”.

The Effects

What are the effects of cannabis?

Cannabis has a number of different effects. It is classed as a sedating and hallucinogenic drug. Its effects can turn out to be pleasant or unpleasant:

  • Taking cannabis can make people feel chilled out, relaxed and happy, and they may get the giggles or become very talkative.

  • It can make you more aware of your senses, and the hallucinogenic effects can even give you a feeling of time slowing down.

  • It can make you feel very hungry – this is sometimes called ‘getting the munchies’.

  • Some people have one or two drags on a joint and feel light-headed, faint and sick. This is sometimes called a ‘whitey’.

  • Cannabis may cause feelings of anxiety, suspicion, panic and paranoia.

Again, this isn’t really giving a good description of what actually happens when you get stoned; the effect on music, spacial awareness, thinking – to name just three. Anyone who reads this and then tries cannabis is in for one big surprise! On the whole though, it’s not too bad and does acknowledge the good effects.

The Risks

Cannabis can mess with your mind

  • Cannabis can freak you out – it can cause feelings of anxiety, suspicion, panic and paranoia.

  • For people with illnesses such as schizophrenia, cannabis can cause a serious relapse.

This is fine, although “anxiety, suspicion, panic ” is pretty much the definition of “paranoia”.

  • Regular cannabis use is known to be associated with an increase in the risk of later developing psychotic illnesses including schizophrenia; and if you have a family background of mental illness, you may also have an increased risk.

The first part of this is not really true; although some studies have demonstrated this, others – most notably the government’s own study by Keele University – have not supported it. Warning about the family history is probably fair enough.

  • Cannabis can affect the way the brain works. Regular, heavy use makes it difficult to learn and concentrate and research has linked cannabis use to poor exam results. This is a potentially serious risk if you’re young, when the brain is still developing. People who take a lot of cannabis can also find they lack motivation.

This is fair enough and is getting to the important message about young people and drug use, developing brains and so on.

What is noticeable though and will be picked up by many young people is the constant use of “can”, rather than “does”, of course non of this is certain and other factors – environmental and social – also play a role. The qualification about regular and heavy use is worth noting, regular and heavy use of anything is going to cause problems.

Cannabis can mess with your body.

  • Smoking cannabis can make asthma worse, and cause wheezing in non-asthma sufferers.

It can also make asthma a lot better, again as a young user may well discover. It can, indeed, do both. The bad effect is magnified many times by the tobacco used in joints.

  • It can increase the heart rate and affect blood pressure, which can be especially harmful for those with heart disease.

It reduces blood pressure, but Frank doesn’t want to say that. Physical exercise also increases heart rate – and increases blood pressure, but that’s normally thought of as being a good thing.

  • It is reported that frequent use of cannabis may affect fertility. It can cut a man’s sperm count and can suppress ovulation in women.

“It is reported…” now it’ s sounding much less than certain, as indeed it is.

  • If you’re pregnant, smoking cannabis may increase the risk of your baby being born smaller than expected.

Evidence for this is very thin.

Then we get a real cut-paste howler:

  • What is the effect of mixing cannabis and alcohol?

  • Mixing cannabis with alcohol can have particularly serious consequences – the accident rate is 16 times higher than for cannabis or alcohol alone.

What is the effect of mixing cannabis and alcohol?

Mixing cannabis with alcohol can have particularly serious consequences – the accident rate is 16 times higher than for cannabis or alcohol alone.

Someone didn’t proof read this…

Then we get a bit of twisted information, typical of a prohibition campaign site:

What is cannabis cut with?

Cannabis may be ‘cut’ with other substances to increase the weight and the dealer’s profits.

  • Impurities in cannabis may include a variety of substances, with laboratory-confirmed reports of glass and pesticides being found in herbal forms of cannabis; and with hash/resin frequently being mixed with a range of substances to increase weight and the dealer’s profits. In April 2010, a study, looking into contaminants in drugs reported that there were cases of cannabis being adulterated with henna, lead and aluminium.

  • Any impurities you smoke could be inhaled in to the lungs alongside the wide range of chemicals naturally found in cannabis.

Contamination is a serious issue, but it is entirely caused by the government, it is not a risk of using cannabis which would occur if it were not for government policy. The government is guilty of adding a whole new layer of danger to cannabis use and then trying to pretend it’s natural danger of the drug.

Oddly this is dropped in under the contamination section:

  • Like tobacco, cannabis has lots of chemical nasties. So if you smoke it, cannabis could cause lung disease and possibly cancer too, especially when smoked with tobacco.

Although, as the NHS admits in it’s information pack, there is no evidence that cannabis causes cancer. Why is this in the contamination section anyway?

There is then the usual section about the law, which has nothing to do with the health risks of cannabis and so, as in previous reviews, we’ll ignore it.

And that’s it, nothing much has changed and chunks still read as if a government advisor wrote it after digging around as hard as possible for some scary stuff to put in.

It’s not all though, there is now a “self help” section aimed at kids who want to quit cannabis. To use this you have to register so I can’t go there, but I’ll try to find a young person who can and will report back.

In the “drugs on the brain” section is a fairly good little video about how cannabis works, although it is listed alongside heroin and other class A drugs

Besides that there is the infamous “Cannabis mess with your mind” interactive “game” – the term “game” is used in the loosest of senses – and if that isn’t enough excitement you have to try the “Spliff pinball“.

Spliff pinball game image

Spliff pinball is modelled on a pinball game, the idea is to hit a brain with the ball and cause brain damage, a bit like smoking cannabis does you see…

The problem is, it doesn’t work. The ball comes shooting around the table and the flippers flip, but the ball goes stright through the flippers, so try as hard as you can it’s impossible to hit the brain. It gives you three goes and then its game over and you get the message “you damaged the brain”. To be honest, this “game” must have been written by someone with brain dmage. How it made it through any kind of editorial process is totally unknown, it is unbelievably bad.

Cannabis, it must be emphasised, does not cause brain damage.

As for the rest of the site, there are several tit-bits of information, stories – apparently from users – carefully selected to give the right message, such as this from anon:

Drugs make you feel good for the moment. They make you feel like you can be friends, dance and talk but they always make you feel useless in the end and they cost money, lots of it. I am fed up of not being able to go out and just have a drink, it always has to involve drugs and I love it at the time but then the next day I wake up and I feel like poo because I’ve snorted a load of coke and I went to sleep at 7 in the morning. Work on Monday is impossible because I need more sleep and my brain isn’t functioning properly.

PLEASE don’t get sucked in to the trap of people telling you that ‘it’s all good’, it isn’t!! And as you get older and you realise that you have responsibilities, getting off it gets harder. Before you know it, it’s a way of life not just something that you choose.

These are accompanied by the question “Did you find this helpful?” but no chance to vote “No” – there is only a “yes” button.

There is one more point to make about the Frank site, at least it tries to include alcohol as a drug, which is more than government policy does. It’s interesting to compare the alcohol information with that given for cannabis:

Alcohol is a depressant, which means it slows down your body’s responses in all kinds of ways. Just enough can make you feel sociable; too much and you’ll have a hangover the next day, and may not even remember what you got up to; and way too much alcohol in a single session could put you in a coma or even kill you.

This is then followed with advice on safe ways to use a drug that can kill.

Frank is what it is, a government run anti drugs website pretending to be an honest advice service. It is a good idea to try to keep kids away from drugs though and as far as that goes it’s a welcome effort. But really it’s a sticking plaster on a festering wound at best – a wound caused by the dead end drugs policy.

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