06 Jan Who to trust for reliable information?

Two of the “respected” sources of drug information and one regular source of lies are worth a mention this week.

First Drugscope – which describes itself:

We are the leading UK charity supporting professionals working in drug and alcohol treatment, drug education and prevention and criminal justice. We are also the primary source of independent information on drugs and drug related issues.

Drugscope is, to be fair, the place most people would go for a definitive answer to drug issues, although it’s emphasis on prevention and criminal justice might make cannabis users justifiably cautious.

On New Years day, Drugscope issued the following tweet

K2, Spice, Salvia, Bath Salts… How much do you know about emerging drugs? Fact sheets from NIDA

Now when Drugscope recommend a factsheet it is usually worth checking out and both UKCIA and CLEAR have an interest in the first couple of substances mentioned: K2 and Spice. These two substances are “SCRA’s” – Synthetic Cannabinoid Receptor Agonists to give them their full name. Both UKCIA and CLEAR run an information campaign about these substances called “Ex-SCRA – exposing Synthetic Cannabinoid Receptor Agonists” (here), so I followed the link provided by Drugscope which pointed to the NIDA website

Now, NIDA (National Institute on Drug Abuse) is not an objective website, it’s run by the American government and it’s stated aim is to provide information on “The Science of Drug Abuse and Addiction”. The use of the term “drug abuse” gives a hint to NIDA’s agenda; all use is abuse. But what of the facts it provides about SCRA’s?. The page is here

“Spice” refers to a wide variety of herbal mixtures that produce experiences similar to marijuana (cannabis) and that are marketed as “safe,” legal alternatives to that drug. Sold under many names, including K2, fake weed, Yucatan Fire, Skunk, Moon Rocks, and others — and labeled “not for human consumption” — these products contain dried, shredded plant material and chemical additives that are responsible for their psychoactive (mind-altering) effects.

This is true, but somewhat shallow information for the professionals Drugscope is pointing towards this site. What it carefully doesn’t say is that these products are designed to look like real cannabis, or at least some magical alternative herb. They are real prohibition products, on the market to cash in ont he drugs policy NIDA is a part of.

Be-cause (sic) the chemicals used in Spice have a high potential for abuse and no medical benefit, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has designated the five active chemicals most frequently found in Spice as Schedule I controlled substances, making it illegal to sell, buy, or possess them.

This illustrates the way the drug laws work rather better than a similar statement in the UK would do. The reason they are banned in the US is because people enjoy using them – the “high potential for abuse”. of course they have – they are marketed as being an alternative to the most popular prohibited drug in existence; cannabis. We know a lot about cannabis and we know that most if not all of the scare stories we’ve heard are lies.

Now there are good reasons for being concerned about SCRA’s, they are, after all chemicals which play around in the brain about which we know very little. They are all new chemicals, untested and with unknown long term consequences. Most importantly, despite the way they’re packaged up and marketed, they are not cannabis. Not in any way shape or form are they cannabis.

However, NIDA tells us

Spice products do contain dried plant material, but chemical analyses show that their active ingredients are synthetic (or designer) cannabinoid compounds.

This is, simply, wrong. SCRA’s are not cannabinoids and should not be presented as being so. A cannabinoid is

any of various chemical constituents (as THC) of cannabis or marijuana

SCRA’s have never seen the inside of a cannabis plant, they are totally artificial man made chemicals. They are not “synthetic (or designer) cannabinoid compounds”. The correct term for them is “Synthetic Cannabinoid Receptor Agonists” because of the effect they have on the brain, not on the nature of the drug itself. Although not Cannabinoids, they act on the Cannabinoid receptors – the same part of the brain cannabis affects. This isn’t a pedantic point, what these chemicals actually do when they interact with the Cannabinoid receptors is anyone’s guess. Understanding why that is important is key to understanding why SCRA’s are so dangerous.

Drugscope prides itself in providing hard facts about drugs, yet links to third rate information like this.

Another drug information source is HIT – the Liverpool based drugs agency. HIT is running a one-day course on cannabis:

What’s the Deal on… Cannabis? (S-CAN)
Date: Wed 23 Jan
Duration: 1 days
Location: Liverpool
Tutor: Alan Matthews

The blurb states

Cannabis has been utilised by human beings for millennia, both for its psychoactive properties and its fibres. In fact, some archaeologists believe it was the first plant to be cultivated by man, even before we were growing plants for food. But over the past 100 years this humble plant has, by turns, been glorified and vilified. What is it about cannabis that so confounds us?

So far so good

This one-day course takes an in-depth look at the history, pharmacology, effects and risks of cannabis. Its present day status will be explored in the light of its social use, medicinal application and potential for harm. For those wishing to reduce or stop their cannabis use, practical steps will be considered on how best to address cannabis-related problems and initiate and support behaviour change.

Now any factual examination of cannabis should also include the reasons why people enjoy using it socially and the benefits they get from it as well as the dangers. Will this course examine the destructive effects of the current prohibition policy?

The learning outcomes are listed as

To review the historical context and current cultural relevance of cannabis
To understand the pharmacological actions of cannabis in lay terms
To clarify the latest information on cannabis-related problems
To consider treatment options and how best to support behaviour change

Doesn’t sound like it.

Finally, a quick mention for The Sun – that trusty source of information from the home of reliable news, Rupert Murdoch’s News International. The Sun is hardly worth the title of a “Newspaper”, indeed it usually makes the Daily Mail look intellectual and hard core left wing. The Sun is the definition of the gutter press and its latest cannabis shock horror has driven it to new lows.

Don’t go soft on cannabis…it turned me into a thieving heroin addict

Straight out of the 1950’s campaign of misinformation and hype. The story concerns Ocean Hanna – that’s her name – who tells of how cannabis ruined her life:

Speaking exclusively to The Sun, the recovering addict, now 22, says: “For people with addictive personalities or who need to fill a void, legalising cannabis could be so dangerous.

“My problems started with alcohol. I moved on to cannabis, then cocaine, and eventually heroin.

Hang on. She started with alcohol, then cannabis? So her “gateway” to harmful drug use was alcohol then? It’s an interesting variation on the “cannabis opened the door to drugs” story we usually get.

In June 2008, Ocean moved to Oxford, she was due to start the course in September that year. But within a matter of weeks she fell in with the wrong crowd and started drinking heavily, as well as smoking cannabis. This eventually led to her snorting cocaine.

So we can see how it was cannabis that caused all her troubles and we can be thankful that prohibition did such a good job of protecting her.

Quite how the Sun draws the conclusions it does from this story isn’t obvious to put it mildly. Perhaps the paper is worried by the support for drug law reform its readers showed recently and is doing its best to do something about it.

Don’t buy he Sun.