Prohibition Vs the Gold Standard

August 5th, 2006 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, dangers, drurrrgs | 68 Comments »

Ben Goldacre
Saturday August 5, 2006
The Guardian

Certain areas of human conduct lend themselves so readily to bad science that you have to wonder if there is a pattern emerging. Last week the parliamentary science and technology committee looked into the ABC classification of illegal drugs, and found it was rubbish. This is not an article about that report, but it is a good place to start: drugs, they found, are supposed to be ranked by harm, in classes A, B, and C, but they’re not; and the ranking is supposed to act as a deterrent, but it doesn’t.

Watching this small area of prohibition collapse like wet tissue paper got me thinking: how does the world of prohibition match up against our gold standards for bad science, like the nutritionists or the anti-MMR movement? Have any of the prominent academic papers been retracted? Yes, they have. Professor George Ricaurte, funded by the National Institute for Drug Abuse, published an article in Science, describing how he administered a comparable recreational dose of ecstasy to monkeys: this dose killed 20% of the monkeys, and another 20% were severely injured.

Even before it was announced – a year later – that they’d got the bottles mixed up and used the wrong drug, you didn’t need to be Einstein to know this was duff research, because millions of clubbers have taken the “comparable” recreational dose of ecstasy, and 20% of them did not die. It’s no wonder animal rights campaigners manage to persuade themselves that animal research makes a bad model for human physiology.

That’s before you even get started on workaday bad science. Like the food gurus, prohibitionists will cherry pick research that suits them, measure inappropriate surrogate outcomes, and wishfully over-interpret data: a prohibitionist will observe that less cannabis has been seized, and declare that this means there is less cannabis on the streets, rather than less police interest.

For textbook bad science we’d also want to see the media distorting research: overstating the stuff it likes, and ignoring stuff it doesn’t, especially negative findings. We used to read a lot about cannabis and lung cancer in the papers. The largest ever study of whether cannabis causes lung cancer reported its findings recently, to total UK media silence. Lifelong cannabis users, who had smoked more than 22,000 joints, showed no greater risk of cancer than people who had never smoked cannabis.

While no journalist has written a single word on that study, the Times did manage to make a front page story headed “Cocaine floods the playground: use of the addictive drug by children doubles in a year,” out of their misinterpretation of a government report that showed nothing of the sort.

There are even optimists who believe in quick fix treatments for drug habits – the heroin detox in five days, or painless withdrawal in just 48 hours, under general anaesthesia.

Why are drugs such a bad science magnet? Partly, of course, it’s the moral panic. But more than that, sat squarely at the heart of our discourse on drugs, is one fabulously reductionist notion: it is the idea that a complex web of social, moral, criminal, health, and political problems can be simplified to, blamed on, or treated via a molecule or a plant. You’d have a job keeping that idea afloat.

· Please send your bad science to bad.science@guardian.co.uk

[I'm going to be really self indulgent and mention that in my head, well in my book really, this was a smashing 2,000 word thesis with 8 examples in it, and by the time I'd chopped it down to a 600 word column with four crammed half examples it had kind of stopped holding water. I've been playing a bit of Go recently, which always takes my brain over completely, and this column was like trying to fit four battles on a 9x9 board.]


++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
If you like what I do, and you want me to do more, you can: buy my books Bad Science and Bad Pharma, give them to your friends, put them on your reading list, employ me to do a talk, or tweet this article to your friends. Thanks! ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

68 Responses



  1. roymondo said,

    August 5, 2006 at 1:55 am

    I know nothing of this ‘Go’ of which you speak…

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for getting an objective opinion on the media’s coverage of the drug issue into the press. As usual, it’s a shame that you’re preaching to the converted! I’m apalled that the UK press still has a ‘drugs = bad’ policy. It’s not that simple.

    Is there any chance you could use the Google ad money to print this feature as a full page ad in the Daily Mail?

  2. stever said,

    August 5, 2006 at 2:29 am

    good stuff ben. excellent.

  3. Filias Cupio said,

    August 5, 2006 at 3:53 am

    I’ve been playing Go a bit also. Unfortunately (1) I’m not very good and (2) I’m better than anyone I have available to play with, so I’m not going to improve much unless circumstances change.

    It is chess-like in that it is two player, zero sum, deterministic, complete information. The rules are much simpler than chess, but the game is much deeper. One set of rules is fewer than 200 words long. (homepages.cwi.nl/~tromp/go.html)

    I (and many others) was introduced to Go by the anime “Hikaru no go”, which I recommend. www.animenfo.com/animetitle,719,jahmbq,hikaru_no_go.html

  4. superburger said,

    August 5, 2006 at 6:20 am

    can you point me in the direction of the study which showed that lifelong cannabis smokers showed the same incidence of lung cancers as people who’d never smoked draw? I assume they must have factored out the fact the most people who smoke cannabis mix it with fag tobacco and smoke it unfitered as well……

    How the fuck can anyone publish a paper which implies 20% of human ecstasty takers die? Seriously, what were the reviewers smoking?

    ps, in the same way that it’s not H5N1 it’s deadly H5N1; it’s not ecstasy, it’s ‘killer rave drug ecstasy’

  5. kuvera said,

    August 5, 2006 at 7:10 am

    Never played Go, but you’ve reminded me of one of my favourite cheesy headlines.

    See: www.china.org.cn/english/2004/Nov/112331.htm

  6. Pedantica said,

    August 5, 2006 at 9:11 am

    superburger wrote:

    “can you point me in the direction of the study which showed that lifelong cannabis smokers showed the same incidence of lung cancers as people who’d never smoked draw? I assume they must have factored out the fact the most people who smoke cannabis mix it with fag tobacco and smoke it unfitered as well.”

    I had the same reaction. It stretches the credulity to believe that smoking cannabis with tobacco in an unfiltered joint doesn’t increase your risk of lung cancer. So I can only imagine that this was not the form of the experiment. Although there is an argument that decriminalizing cannabis would result in greater smoking of the drug in leaf rather than resin form and the former can be done in without needing tobacco to fill out the cigarette.

    However I strongly agree with the broad point. Moral panic is not a good atmosphere for good science. I think it is actually this which leads to Ben’s second point: the oversimplistic message of ‘drugs’ are bad. The reason this happens is that anyone who suggests a more nuanced message tends to get hit with an irrational response of some type based on that same moral panic: “you must be pro-drugs”, “don’t send out mixed messages”, “think of the children” etc.

    The real world seems to be a complex one which is full of mixed messages; few things are universally bad. There is a genuine debate about how far to simplify these messages to give people good advice. If the message is too simplistic then people will distrust it. If the message is too complex we would all need to be experts in the field to have the time to process and analyse all of the data. I think there’s a strong argument that currently the message on drugs has fallen into the oversimplistic category.

  7. raygirvan said,

    August 5, 2006 at 11:29 am

    Filias Cupio:
    >I’ve been playing Go a bit also

    I’ve played it for a few years. It’s worth signing up with the Internet Go Server where you can always find opponents of any strength.

  8. Robert Carnegie said,

    August 5, 2006 at 1:16 pm

    Not to accept an experimental result that surprises you and contradicts established knowledge, is also Bad Science when column readers do it.

    However, while I’m guessing this to be www.webmd.com/content/article/122/114805.htm (mentions 22,000 joints per person, probably estimated – I really don’t think these people kept count – not 22,000 shared between all the subjects; although I hear that happens a lot, too).

    “A total of 611 lung cancer patients living in Los Angeles County, and 601 patients with other cancers of the head and neck were compared with 1,040 people without cancer matched for age, sex, and the neighborhood they lived in.”

    Also www.counterpunch.org/gardner07022005.html . One report is last May, one is a year ago June.

    But the word that I didn’t find in these reports is “published”. That’s important, isn’t it?

    Also, it may be the largest study of this kind of thing, but it isn’t really huge.

  9. j said,

    August 5, 2006 at 5:01 pm

    “can you point me in the direction of the study which showed that lifelong cannabis smokers showed the same incidence of lung cancers as people who’d never smoked draw? I assume they must have factored out the fact the most people who smoke cannabis mix it with fag tobacco and smoke it unfitered as well.”

    Here’s a website’s report about it, at least – www.webmd.com/content/article/23/1728_57309 I’m sure google will lead you to the actual findings. It does seem odd.

  10. Pedantica said,

    August 5, 2006 at 5:31 pm

    “Here’s a website’s report about it, at least – www.webmd.com/content/article/23/1728_57309 I’m sure google will lead you to the actual findings. It does seem odd. ”

    I don’t think that can be the study Ben is talking about since the sample size is pretty tiny: fewer than 700 subjects and only 164 subjects who actually had cancer. And it’s not that recent, the story from 2000.

  11. j said,

    August 5, 2006 at 9:33 pm

    oops, that’s a point.

  12. Ben Goldacre said,

    August 6, 2006 at 1:34 pm

    Go rocks, although I’m so bad at it that GNUGo running on my geeky computer phone can beat me sometimes.

    The study I am referring to is by Tashkin-DP presented at the American Thoracic Society May 24 2006. Why would I refer to a conference report? Because the media constantly, to my chagrin, write news stories on unpublished research from conference reports, and the American press was all over this one, but the UK press for some reason ignored it, and it’s the press ignoring the kind of story they would normally pick up that’s interesting to me.

    Did they ignore it for methodological/credibility reasons? As conference reports go, this one (unlike, say, a speculative unfinished study by an anti-MMR campaigner who has never published anything with a track record of making claims about his MMR research and then not publishing data) was the best you could possibly get: it is done by a Professor of Medicine from UCLA, a proper University, with 200 papers published in his lifetime, 9 this year so far, using data is taken from a well known epidemiological database.

  13. Ben Goldacre said,

    August 6, 2006 at 1:35 pm

    Oh, it’s worth pointing out that this was a case-control study, not a cohort study or a trial, so in fact 611/1040 subjects is quite large.

  14. superburger said,

    August 6, 2006 at 3:04 pm

    he has a paper out about the effect of cocaine on lung cancer in mice

    Gardner, B Zhu, LX Roth, MD Tashkin, DP Dubinett, SM Sharma, S Cocaine modulates cytokine and enhances tumor growth through sigma receptors.. Journal of neuroimmunology. . 2004; 147(1-2): 95-8.

    Found the conference report. They claim to have taken into account oter factors (age, race, tobacco use, alchol and other drug use), so presumably the effect of the tobacco in the joint is factored out too.

    What’s the take home message? That if you smoke a lot of cannabis, the cannabis isn’t going to give you cancer, but the tobbaco may?

  15. Melissa said,

    August 6, 2006 at 3:49 pm

    What is this “mixing cannabis with tobacco” thing? Is it a British thing? ‘Cos back in my youth I associated with many cannabis users, and not one of them did I ever observe to mix their cannabis with tobacco.

  16. Pedantica said,

    August 6, 2006 at 3:55 pm

    “What is this “mixing cannabis with tobacco” thing? Is it a British thing? ‘Cos back in my youth I associated with many cannabis users, and not one of them did I ever observe to mix their cannabis with tobacco.”

    Quite a lot of cannabis consumption in the UK is in resin form. Which has to be mixed with tobacco to make a joint out of it. Although I believe there may be other methods of consumption. I assume this is because it is imported and it is easier to smuggle in resin form or lasts longer.

    There is cannabis in leaf form as well. But certainly during the period of my *cough* research which admittedly is from about 10 years ago now, the majority of the cannabis around in the UK was in resin form.

  17. superburger said,

    August 6, 2006 at 4:03 pm

    americans, i observe like to smoke cannabis pure in one rizla/zig-zag joints, they also have a strong preference for bongs, in which the smoke it pure.

    The british, i also observe, like to smoke both cannabis and cannabis resin, mixed with cigarette tobbaco, in joints made of many papers stuck together. Tobbaco burns quite evenly so mixing it with cannabis gets a longer lasting, even smoking joint. It is also less harsh on the throat this way.

    Cannabis resin is really hard to ignite, so needs to be heated, crumbled and mixed with tobbaco to get a smokable joint. All these are smoked with no filter (save a coiled piece of cardboard torn from the pack of papers) so the amount of tar inhaled compared to a regular cigarette must be quite high. Then again most people a) share joints b) don’t smoke 20+ a day.

  18. superburger said,

    August 6, 2006 at 4:10 pm

    whic is something Tashkin et al may not have considered as thgeir study was of people in LA county.

    Is there any UK research on joint smoking and lung cancer?

  19. Melissa said,

    August 6, 2006 at 5:10 pm

    Ah! That explains it– thanks, all. I was baffled there for a bit! :)

    It’s true, everyone I’ve ever observed smoking it here in the US used cannabis in leaf form in joints, or they smoked it pure in bongs. I’ve never even seen the resin!

  20. Robert Carnegie said,

    August 6, 2006 at 9:20 pm

    You’ll have the munchies -without- giving up tobacco. Or does that not work in the UK either… it isn’t my thing, and I wonder if British references to cannabis promoting appetite, for instance in comedy sketches, are partly in mimicry of the American experience… anyone watching [Ideal] on BBC Three and can comment on authenticity?

    From previous correspondence, it seems that any silly fool can stand up and declare what they like at a conference, including researchers who have been handling mind-altering drugs for decades – surely a special category of attendee?? So, not reporting those, or reporting them only with prominent – er – “health warnings”, is the correct response, here and with MMR loonies. Should there not be a peer-reviewed publication, given that Dr Tashkin apparently gave a similar verbal report on the same research over a year ago, that time allowing only one question (“Does it actually cure cancer?” “Well, we haven’t proved that it doesn’t.”)

    It isn’t my place to suggest that Dr. Tashkin has gone over the wall, has been standing too close to the fume cupboard, or has for instance sunk his retirement money in a very special farm at a secret location in Mexico, but, y’know, once in a while someone we think is a good guy science-wise turns up bad.

  21. stever said,

    August 6, 2006 at 9:40 pm

    here we are falling into the trap of drug policy in the UK again. talking about how bad cannabis is for you rather than look at the more pressing question of why drug policy generally doesnt conform to the norms of science led, evidence based policy making. the key thing with vcannabis is that people use it and its clearly not risk free – thats the reality public health policy has to deal with (its not, obviously, a criminal justice issue).

  22. superburger said,

    August 7, 2006 at 12:09 am

    i was just interested to see the evidence about the lung cancer risks of cannabis; my first thoughts being that inhaling any organic compounds is generally regarded as a Bad Thing (in health terms) according to Taskin there is less/no risk, so it’d be cool to read his work.

    Even if it was proven that smoking cannabis makes you froth at the mouth and howl at the moon, that isn’t going to stop people doing it- lots of people (lots and lots and lots) really like smoking cannabis.

    There’s evidence that class A drugs are not all eqaul (crack v. ecstasy v. lsd) but drug laws don’t reflect that, that can’t be good.

    There is a moral case that all drugs are bad and we shouldn’t encourage or condone their use, but if that’s the line we’re going to take, at least let law reflect the risk.

    I think a reason ecstasty is class A is becuase of the moral panic when it the scene in ’88 – nice, middle class children going to clubs and doing it and the odd death of white, attractive, intelligent teenagers, followed by sensational headlines. In terms of actualy health risks it appears to be less dangerous then ‘normal’ amphetamine, whic is only class B.

    ps, why would amphetamine be less harmful than MDMA? is it a reflection of the pharmacological activity of the drug, the street quality, the mean dose or the delivery methods?

  23. hatter said,

    August 7, 2006 at 7:09 am

    superburger mixing tobacco and cannabis is a bizarre UK practice. It is the only place I’ve encountered people doing it.

  24. hatter said,

    August 7, 2006 at 7:12 am

    There is also plenty of evidence that cannabis users do not experience accelerated decline of lung function.

    And that at moderate doses it does not significantly impair driving ability. Yet we have panic campaigns aimed at scaring the average idiot into thinking we’ll have carnage on the roads if people are allowed to use the drug legally. As if it being illegal somehow prevents a user from driving if they so wish.

  25. hatter said,

    August 7, 2006 at 7:13 am

    How many times have George Ricaurte and Gabriel Nahas been caught lying and faking research?

  26. hatter said,

    August 7, 2006 at 8:31 am

    superburger George Ricaurte is an anti-drug campaigner. He conducts research to prove recreational drugs are extremely dangerous. It is a given that if his research were to show positive or non-negative results from drug use he would just discard the results or distort them to support his a priori conclusion that recreational drugs are extremely harmful. He is not alone; NIDA as an organisation conducts research with the sole objective of creating evidence for their foregone conclusion.

  27. coracle said,

    August 7, 2006 at 8:35 am

    So what’s the current consensus on cannabis and schizophrenia? I can see there may be limitations with the results (possibility of self-selecting candidates). Is there anything in it?

  28. hatter said,

    August 7, 2006 at 9:00 am

    “It is also less harsh on the throat this way”

    A matter of opinion I think.

    “It stretches the credulity to believe that smoking cannabis with tobacco in an unfiltered joint doesn’t increase your risk of lung cancer”

    I’d say exactly the oppposite. Smoking filtered cigarettes potentially requires smoking significantly more material to achive the same nicotine level. There is evidence that low tar and more drastically filtered cigarettes leads to an overall increase in consumption and more damage to the lungs.

    I am thinking of the children. I want them to grow up in a free country where they are allowed engage the risks of life, not a fascist police state. Life is risk and not everyone is going to make it, some will have brief lives, others will live to be a century.

    “currently the message on drugs has fallen into the oversimplistic category”

    It has just always been this way. The warnings are usually so ridiculous that anyone who actually bothers to analyse them can immediately see them for lies.

    Let’s take it as given that cannabis smoke can cause lung cancer. Let’s even take it as given that cannabis smoke contains four times as much carcinogenic material. So anyone smoking five a day would be ingesting the equivalent of twenty cigarettes. We could even ignore that this is extremely heavy use. There is still no problem, just tax it and put the money into healthcare. And inform users, then leave it to them to decide whether they wish to risk dying young. When it comes to cigarettes I view it as none of my business – nicotine users have more than paid for any costs they might impose on society. I see no reason not to view cannabis the same way.

    I wonder though is it worse to subject your lungs to a whole lot of carcinogenic material a few times a day or to expose them nearly constantly to a lesser amount?

  29. hatter said,

    August 7, 2006 at 9:11 am

    Coracle the facts seem to be that if you’re going to develop schizophrenia, using cannabis may bring it on earlier. It doesn’t appear it will cause schizophrenia in an ordinary individual. Nor is any risk in this regard a valid reason for prohibition. It is again a risk that should be mentioned. Mental health organisations are merely involved in a scaremongering campaign. They are in all likelihood generally opposed to recreational drugs other than alcohol and see this as an opportunity to scare the youth away from cannabis. Of course scaring teenagers out of risky behaviour is probably a fool’s errand.

    On the other hand I know schizophrenics who only started using cannabis after they developed the condition, and they find it actual suppresses the symptoms.

    If cannabis were the danger claimed we should be seeing rampant levels of schizophrenia since cannabis is a widely used recreational drug. This is not because it is viewed as soft (whatever that is supposed to mean), but rather because it is overall a mild intoxicant drug.

  30. hatter said,

    August 7, 2006 at 9:13 am

    “everyone I’ve ever observed smoking it here in the US used cannabis in leaf form in joints, or they smoked it pure in bongs. I’ve never even seen the resin”

    Hash (resin) is readily available in the US. It is typically smoked in small pipes or bongs. Is it perhaps otherwise in the UK because suitable pipes are hard to acquire? Would this be a result of the UK’s harm escalation policies?

  31. hatter said,

    August 7, 2006 at 9:18 am

    “or has for instance sunk his retirement money in a very special farm at a secret location in Mexico”

    If that were the case he would be doing his best to produce research that would make sure it stayed illegal. There is much more money to be made that way.

    Neither drugs dealers nor narco-thugs like the DEA want drugs legalised for the same reason – it would threaten their livelihoods and position. Further the DEA doesn’t want to stop drug use or production for the same reason.

  32. Pedantica said,

    August 7, 2006 at 9:26 am

    “I’d say exactly the oppposite. Smoking filtered cigarettes potentially requires smoking significantly more material to achive the same nicotine level. There is evidence that low tar and more drastically filtered cigarettes leads to an overall increase in consumption and more damage to the lungs.”

    There is evidence that low tar cigarettes are no better than high tar ones. However my understanding was that smokers of unfiltered cigarettes were at the greatest risk of lung cancer. I was able to google to a number of studies with this conclusions but I’m not in a position to evaluate them.

    “I wonder though is it worse to subject your lungs to a whole lot of carcinogenic material a few times a day or to expose them nearly constantly to a lesser amount?”

    I’ve experienced both and I can say that from my experience you’re not exposing your lungs to carcinogenic material a few times a day or many times a day. You are exposing your lungs to carcinogenic material 24 hours a day because once you become a regular smoker even at a fairly low level the effects of the smoke remain in your lungs throughout the day. As evidenced by the enjoyable cough and extra phlem in the morning. Indeed when I gave up smoking it took a number of months for my morning cough to disappear completely.

    I believe that the evidence on smoking and lung cancer is that whilst the rate of smoking is a factor, the number of years you smoke is an even bigger factor.

  33. hatter said,

    August 7, 2006 at 9:44 am

    “why would amphetamine be less harmful than MDMA? is it a reflection of the pharmacological activity of the drug, the street quality, the mean dose or the delivery methods”

    I’d say d-methamphetamine is the highest risk. It definitely takes discipline and the right attitude not to overdo this drug. However I’m inclined to believe many users can be taught how to use the drug more responsibly. The majority of users will never see the inside of a rehabilitation clinic because they have self-taught themselves to use the drug responsibly. With regard to bodily harm I’d definitely rate d-methamphetamine higher than MDMA or d-amphetamine. But sensible use will mitigate most of the potential harm.

    The joke is that dl-methamphetamine used to be commonplace, but the authorities restricted the precursor chemicals, so the manufacturers switched to d-methamphetamine because the precursors were still readily available. Despite efforts to restrict those chemicals the major manufacturers continue to manage to acquire what they need to manufacture d-methamphetamine in large quantities, and the d form has taken hold as the only form you’re likely to encounter.

    Delivery methods – amphetamines are more likely to be insufflated, injected or “smoked” (not burned, but vaporised), while MDMA is more likely to be taken orally or insufflated. You wouldn’t generally “smoke” MDMA.

  34. hatter said,

    August 7, 2006 at 10:08 am

    “I believe that the evidence on smoking and lung cancer is that whilst the rate of smoking is a factor, the number of years you smoke is an even bigger factor.”

    The rate at which you smoke must be a critical factor. A cannabis smoker typically needs to inhale a few times once per day to spend each evening intoxicated. The rest of the day they are not steadily adding more material to their lungs as a cigarette smoker typically would. This is part of the problem with comparing the possible harm from the two activities.

    “You are exposing your lungs to carcinogenic material 24 hours a day because once you become a regular smoker even at a fairly low level the effects of the smoke remain in your lungs throughout the day.”

    Yes, but your lungs do clean and heal themselves. Smoking four cigarettes in the evening may or may not be the same as or worse than smoking them over the course of the day. What about someone who smokes twenty on Saturday, but none during the week? Uncommon I’m sure, but I do know just such social smokers. The regular exposure to irritants in smoke must be a factor – it is these irritants that help in the development of cancer.

    “However my understanding was that smokers of unfiltered cigarettes were at the greatest risk of lung cancer. I was able to google to a number of studies with this conclusions but I’m not in a position to evaluate them.”

    I’m not either, time-wise. I have just observed the differing smoking habits – users of unfiltered cigarettes are sometimes just heavy smokers, but I’ve noted that those that switch to filtered dramatically escalate the number of cigarettes they smoke. Does the research factor out the possibility that those attracted to unfiltered cigarettes might just be inclined towards heavier use?

    THC is also supposed to be an anti-inflammatory where nicotine allaegedly exacerbates or causes inflammation. This may factor into cannabis being less likely to cause cancer, but at the same time more likely to make the user prone to lung infections like bronchitis. This anti-inflammatory effect has been conjectured to be the reason that those that use just cannabis or cannabis plus tobacco do not show the accelerated decline in lung function observed in those who smoke only tobacco.

    Nicotine suffers from the same problem as cocaine in that the short duration of their effects results in constant, habitual use. Ultimately the habitual use is actually harder to break than any physical addiction.

    There are other factors with cannabis as some users are in the habit of inhaling very deeply and holding the smoke in their lungs for extended periods. How much difference does this make? How uncommon is deep inhalation amongst cigarette smokers?

    Basically what we need is to be able to properly study cannabis use for an extended period. In the meantime the facts show that it should be legal and taxed.

    So should the amphetamines, hallucinogens, GHB and pretty much every other currently known recreational drug.

  35. jonman said,

    August 7, 2006 at 10:40 am

    Just a quicky – the majority part of the reason that baccy is mixed in with weed in the UK is to do with the strength of weed – most of the weed you get is ‘skunk’, which is a darned sight stronger than weed used to be. Smoking a pure skunk joint is simply not feasible for all but the most hardened smokers – you’d get too stoned too quick.

    I suspect that if you look at smoking habits in the UK 20 years ago, you’d find less tobacco-adding, as skunk wasn’t prevalent (or even existed?) back then.

    I’ve heard americans express suprise at the adding of baccy a number of times – I can only assume that on average, weed in the US is significantly less intoxicating that the strains we get over here.

  36. Robert Carnegie said,

    August 7, 2006 at 10:47 am

    As for class A, B, C classification of drugs as a public warning of an scientific view of associated risk to physical and mental health or welfare, surely this was only ever secondary by a long way. It certainly has not carried conviction. Of course it is primarily a mechanism to facilitate revisions of drug prohibition; instead of legislating against a drug with extensive Parliamentary debate, you merely assign it to one of these categories. The political propriety of this arrangement is outside the scope of bad science questions, but those who distrust bad scientists may well also distrust governments’ desire to execute their decisions without the trouble of canvassing the elected legislators.

    On the face of it, however, it is reasonable that more harmful drugs should be more severely legislated against, if any are – but wasn’t some minor drug or othar receetly switched between classifications merely because its availability and its popularity with users were rapidly increasing – I forget the details? Unless I’m mistaken, it was not more dangerous to users – merely more available. I suppose that that could represent a greater danger to the floating user who tries whatever new pharmacological experiences are on offer this week, or are specially discounted.

    Other considerations are public opinion and, to some extent duplicating earlier thought, ease of evasion of the law. To ban tobacco smoking outright would be very difficult at the moment, and alcohol is very popular, causes a lot of trouble, and is very easy to make at home. Taxation of these, on the other hand, is probably at the highest level possible, given that a vigorous trade in contraband currently goes on – which large manufacturers of these products simply cannot be expected zealously to oppose. They’re exported and then they’re imported duty-free.

  37. superburger said,

    August 7, 2006 at 12:25 pm

    hatter,

    ‘bizzare UK practice.’ how very cutlurally aware of you. fyi it’s pretty common throught europe to mix cannabis with tobbaco. In fact, it could be said the smoking it pure is ‘a bizzare n. american practice’

    There’s no problem with the availability of hasp pipes and bongs in the UK, and paraphanalia can be freely sold.

  38. CriticalScientist said,

    August 7, 2006 at 6:40 pm

    hatter said,
    “The rate at which you smoke must be a critical factor. A cannabis smoker typically needs to inhale a few times once per day to spend each evening intoxicated…”

    Hmm, do you realize what you’ve just said? I seem to be taking a minority stance here, but I do believe that recreational drugs are potentially harmful, with those harms stretching far beyond the risk of lung cancer. The discussion in the comments above merely seems to distract from this point. Let me elaborate on that.

    To me, the whole discussion above shows one of the most insidious dangers of media reports such as the one Ben reported on. Not of the scientific study it is based on, mind, but of the impression it leaves in public. Assuming its scientific background is entirely valid, what the study shows is that the experimenters did not find a correlation between cannabis consumption and increased lung cancer rate (in the time window under consideration). Does this mean cannabis consumption is harmless? No! But the public impression seems to go this way.

    We know how hard and time-consuming it is to rigorously causal physical defects from any ingested substance, but the association between lung cancer and cannabis doesn’t seem to lie on the main front for me. Indeed, for those who do smoke cannabis, the risk of lung cancer seems to be among the least of their worries. Tobacco smokers have ignored this risk for decades. So, the lacking correlation may be a relief for cannabis smokers, but it shouldn’t be taken as a pro-drug argument. Many other potentially harmful long-term effects persist. Just as an example, do you want your children to “spend each evening intoxicated”? I don’t. If this is already possible from a few inhalations each day, as hatter said, then this is enough reason for me to restrict drug access.

  39. superburger said,

    August 7, 2006 at 6:48 pm

    what does seem to be emerging is the fact that the current, UK, drug classificaion laws – which are based on (supposedy) on relative danger are flawed. Ecstasy is not as dangeroud as freebase cocaine and cannabis is less harmful than alcohol.

    If this is true, then the UK drug policy is flawed and in need of review, in light of scientific evidence.

    The other option is that UK drug policy is bsed on ‘moral’ danger – the ‘reefer madness’ / killer rave drug ecstasy arguments…..

    In any case, drug X, could have risk A,B,C but the fact that the rewards D,E,F exist, will mean there are always people prepared to used that drug.

  40. gaspode said,

    August 7, 2006 at 9:13 pm

    hatter wrote:

    > superburger mixing tobacco and cannabis is a bizarre UK practice. It is the only place I’ve encountered people doing it.

    FYI, this practice is also common here in Denmark (and has been for the last 15 years at least).

  41. Melissa said,

    August 8, 2006 at 4:16 am

    Mmmm. Could be leaf cannabis is so common here in the States is that it’s a major (illegal) cash-crop ’round these parts.

  42. Dr* T said,

    August 8, 2006 at 9:10 am

    Just as an aside on crazy drugs policy, on a recent trip (like every other late twenty-something in the Western world) to Australia, we spent a few months working on an orchard in Western Australia. The chat amongst the workers there was that marijauna was illegal, although you had to have more than 2 bushes to be prosecuted. If you hjad only two bushes, they would chop them down and take them away, but with no consequence.

    A relative of mine (who lives about 3 hours north of Perth in the middle of nowhere) had a small garden out back. We enjoyed our relaxing stay there.

  43. hatter said,

    August 8, 2006 at 9:45 am

    “I can only assume that on average, weed in the US is significantly less intoxicating that the strains we get over here”

    You’d be wrong. Todays allegedly superstrong cannabis is no stronger than the cannabis commonly available 40 years ago. In fact some of the world’s top varieties come from the US and Mexico.

    “most of the weed you get is ’skunk’, which is a darned sight stronger than weed used to be. Smoking a pure skunk joint is simply not feasible for all but the most hardened smokers – you’d get too stoned too quick.”

    It isn’t. I’ve never actually heard this excuse before. When is used to be? This practice dates back at least a couple of decades. In fact it appears to date back to the days when smoking tobacco was pretty much the norm and so using it to pad out relatively expensive weed was seen as no big deal. The two main reasons I’ve encountered are to get a more even burn and to minimise wastage. Of course carrying a simple pipe would eliminate wastage.

    There was a lot of harassment of seller’s of paraphenalia when I lived in the UK. Things may well have changed.

    Nowhere else I visited in Europe, the Americas, Africa or Austrlasia did I encounter this practice.

  44. hatter said,

    August 8, 2006 at 9:56 am

    CriticalScientist the threat of lung cancer is a central in arguments used to attempt to discourage people from using recreational drugs. It is therefore appropriate to counter that.

    No-one ever said cannabis was harmless. What is harmless? The only way to be safe from harm is to be dead. Is cannabis excessively harmful or dangerous? No. Nor are drugs like LSD, psilocybin, MDMA and pretty much every related hallucinogenic substance.

    “Just as an example, do you want your children to “spend each evening intoxicated”

    What is intoxicated? It is considered perfectly reasonable, even encourage to have a beer when getting home from work, a couple of glasses of wine with dinner. Then you’re intoxicated. I’m happy with my children doing that. It does them no harm and is probably even good for their well-being. Would I want them blind drunk every day of the week? No. If someone instead chooses to have a little cannabis when they get home that is no business of mine, or yours.

    “If this is already possible from a few inhalations each day, as hatter said, then this is enough reason for me to restrict drug access.”

    How many inhalations is acceptable? How many sips of wine is OK?

    In the end other people’s drug use is not your or my business. If they cause trouble we already have laws to deal with it. If you think otherwise then I’ll come over to your house, go over your lifestyle with a fine toothcomb and choose a few inappropriate, harmful things to ban. Then I’ll have to tossed in jail for ten years for enjoying something I deem wrong.

  45. hatter said,

    August 8, 2006 at 9:57 am

    Dr* T in spite of having many truly crazy laws some areas of Australia have taken a very sane attitude to cannabis. They’re not the only ones.

  46. hatter said,

    August 8, 2006 at 10:03 am

    “In any case, drug X, could have risk A,B,C but the fact that the rewards D,E,F exist, will mean there are always people prepared to used that drug.”

    All activities have risks associated with them and they also have rewards. We each have our own levels of risk which we are willing to accept. I loved full contact martial arts and motorcycle racing. I find rock climbing too risky – I really don’t see the fun in it. On the other hand I am perfectly willing to jump out of an aircraft at 3000m with only a small piece of material to keep me from being splatted on the ground. I have friends who think all these activities are completely insane and can’t understand why anyone would do any of them. Should these activities be banned because they’re dangerous and could me crippled or killed?

  47. hatter said,

    August 8, 2006 at 10:10 am

    I am not pro-drugs, I am pro-freedom, pro-choice, pro-adults being given and taking personal responsibility.

    And I don’t care what my neighbours get up to on their property or at the local hangout as long as they are not directly hurting me. And being a minor nuisance might be annoying, but it hurts no-one.

  48. Robert Carnegie said,

    August 8, 2006 at 11:54 am

    IIRC, which is doubtful, an argument was made once upon a time that cannabis smoke was a very strong carcinogen and that the cancer risk of tobacco was being very significantly exaggerated because many of the tobacco cancer cases were secretly cannabis cancer cases instead.

    This seems to have gone away, and to speculate about where it might have come from doesn’t take long.

    So if cannabis was even just as dangerous per gramme or per day as tobacco, that would be much less than what was once alleged.

    I am still worried about publication, but only because I don’t know how to find out whether Tashkin did or did not “publish” this particular thing and no one else has told me.

  49. Tim Wogan said,

    August 8, 2006 at 12:46 pm

    To get away from these deep moral arguments for a sec, does anyone find it odd that no newspapers, even the ones that are in favour of legalisation of pot, such as Ben’s own Guardian or The Independent on Sunday, which, under Boycott, ran a campaign for just that, picked up on this?

  50. Ben Goldacre said,

    August 8, 2006 at 12:49 pm

    it is odd, especially given that the US newspapers and television were all over it like a rash. i wonder if british news media is particularly biased towards negative health news? perhaps it reflects our “aint it awful” national character rather than any anti-cannabis sentiment. that and many other media studies PhDs i will be generously giving away over the coming weeks.

  51. Melissa said,

    August 8, 2006 at 3:18 pm

    “that and many other media studies PhDs i will be generously giving away over the coming weeks.”

    OOooh! I want one! I don’t have any qualifications, but I’ve read twelve books!

  52. j said,

    August 8, 2006 at 4:28 pm

    “There was a lot of harassment of seller’s of paraphenalia when I lived in the UK. Things may well have changed.”

    I’d think most decent sized UK towns (certainly, all the ones I’ve lived in) would have a shop or two selling pipes etc; there’s also lots of stuff on e-bay/the web nowadays. Not sure if there’s still harrassment – but if there is it’s not terribly effective ;)

  53. superburger said,

    August 8, 2006 at 7:08 pm

    “that and many other media studies PhDs”

    Any subject with “studies” in its title isn’t worth studying
    Any science with “science” it its title isn’t one.

    Disccuss.

  54. Ben Goldacre said,

    August 8, 2006 at 7:40 pm

    Any subject with “studies” in its title isn’t worth studying

    Any science with “science” it its title isn’t one.

    Disccuss.

    we could keep an entire department going here.

  55. Janet W said,

    August 9, 2006 at 8:37 am

    glad I didn’t go for one of those poxy Natural Sciences degrees they dish out in the fens, then…

  56. Ben Goldacre said,

    August 9, 2006 at 9:08 am

    i can say for definite that those are well dodgy.

  57. Robert Carnegie said,

    August 9, 2006 at 10:19 am

    If the American press were all over it, was that this year or last, telling broadly the same story?

    If only this year, I think you just conclude that journalism works at random. Fox News Web site, for instance, seemed to have picked up the American Thoracic Society, 2006, version of the story, straight from WebMD I think. Now would they do so without referring toda previous story of their own… well, why not I guess, no one takes this very seriously.

    At the same time, in the other week’s rerun of “[u]Have I Got News For You[/u]“, Danny Kelly (I think) claimed to have seen a headline on Fox News TV that went like “Fox News confirms Pope John Paul II is dead”, implying very specific diligence. (I don’t mean that they went in and finished him off.)

  58. coracle said,

    August 9, 2006 at 12:58 pm

    Any science with “science” it its title isn’t one.

    Disccuss.

    Certainly don’t agree with this bit.

    Neuroscience? Biomedical Science? Bioscience?

  59. jonman said,

    August 9, 2006 at 3:09 pm

    replying to hatter
    “most of the weed you get is ’skunk’, which is a darned sight stronger than weed used to be. Smoking a pure skunk joint is simply not feasible for all but the most hardened smokers – you’d get too stoned too quick.”
    “t isn’t. I’ve never actually heard this excuse before. When is used to be?”

    Dunno about ‘excuse’ but there you go. Also not sure when ‘used to be’ is – whenever it is that people used to smoke all-weed joints. I’ve never come across it in 15ish years, but I’ve heard american folk talk about it. To be perfectly honest, I see smoking a pure-weed joint as in the same league of endurance as necking a bottle of vodka in one go – not very pleasant, and liable to end in tears. But not impossible for a hardened drinker…

  60. superburger said,

    August 9, 2006 at 3:44 pm

    biosciecne? That’ll be biology then?

    Neuroscience? Colud be anything, from psychology to medicine to biochemistry

    BMS? All the ones i know it’s just a brew of biology, molecular biology, physiology, genetics, biochemistry.

  61. superburger said,

    August 9, 2006 at 3:49 pm

    ps all of which are very wothwhile endeavours…..

  62. superburger said,

    August 9, 2006 at 4:14 pm

    “i can say for definite that those are well dodgy.”

    Anyone who thinks they can spend three years acting like a daft punt in East Anglia, waltz out with some poxy first in ‘natural sciences” , then expect to be taken seriously has clearly taken leave of their senses.

  63. hatter said,

    August 10, 2006 at 6:04 am

    “how very cutlurally aware of you”

    Very culturally aware. But it doesn’t make the practice any less stupid. In South Africa you’ll find the even more bizarre practice of mixing Mandrax (Methaqualone) with cannabis. Presumably completely wipes out the effects of THC sought by normal cannabis users.

    “it’s pretty common throught europe to mix cannabis with tobbaco”

    I’d hope that the sensible people in The Netherlands are not quite so silly.

    A practice you will see in the US is sprinkling some crushed resin onto leaf.

    “Could be leaf cannabis is so common here in the States is that it’s a major (illegal) cash-crop ’round these parts”

    To some extent yes. Although the British weather is not suitable for this plant it can be easily grown indoors with minimal equipment or skill. Growing top quality cannabis is not particularly difficult.

    And resin is common in the US.

    The modern weed is stronger myth is largely a result of comparing the poorest quality material of the 60s/70s with the best quality of today, and deliberately so. It is just a myth.

  64. Dr Nicholas said,

    August 10, 2006 at 2:16 pm

    “Anyone who thinks they can spend three years acting like a daft punt in East Anglia, waltz out with some poxy first in ‘natural sciences” , then expect to be taken seriously has clearly taken leave of their senses.”

    Being a UCL (and RFUCMS) boy through and through, I’ve taken to pronouncing it “Nazi” instead of their way (gnat-ski). It does a good job of winding up my tab friends, especially if you place the “bio” in front, conjuring up images of cruel and twisted experimentation, which they are guilty of anyway.

  65. andyl said,

    August 10, 2006 at 4:59 pm

    So what’s the current consensus on cannabis and schizophrenia?

    The alarmists are always telling us that drug use has mushroomed over the past 20 years. Home Office research suggests that 4 million (or so) adults have used cannabis (the News Of The World suggests there are 3.5 million regular users) which is approximately 1/10th of the entire adult population. If one studied the numbers of recorded schizophrenic sufferers one might expect some quite significant jump in the schizophrenia rates corresponding to the jump in cannabis usage. Indeed research in to that very issue has been done (using 8 cohorts spanning 40 years) which found no link [Testing hypotheses about the relationship between cannabis use and psychosis by Degenhardt L, Hall W, Lynskey M.]

    Also in 1968, the Wootton Report, a Home Office investigation into the effects of cannabis, concluded: “There is no evidence that this activity is causing violent crime or aggression, anti-social behaviour, or is producing in otherwise normal people conditions of dependence or psychosis requiring medical treatment.”.

    However the problem space is muddied somewhat as many people who suffer from pre- or mild schizophrenia tend to self-medicate by smoking cannabis before coming into contact with the mental health service. Which many studies of people presenting with schizophrenia fail to take into account.

  66. Robert Carnegie said,

    August 10, 2006 at 11:42 pm

    “The modern weed is stronger myth is largely a result of comparing the poorest quality material of the 60s/70s with the best quality of today, and deliberately so. It is just a myth.”

    That would be not a myth, but a lie, surely?

  67. Kyle2008 said,

    November 12, 2008 at 5:35 am

    The gold standard is a monetary system in which a region’s common media of exchange are paper notes that are normally freely convertible into pre-set, fixed quantities of gold.
    ==================
    Kyle
    newfoundland drug rehab

  68. jiangjiang said,

    December 8, 2009 at 2:45 am

    ed hardy ed hardy
    ed hardy clothing ed hardy clothing
    ed hardy shop ed hardy shop
    christian audigier christian audigier
    ed hardy cheap ed hardy cheap
    ed hardy outlet ed hardy outlet
    ed hardy sale ed hardy sale
    ed hardy store ed hardy store
    ed hardy mens ed hardy mens
    ed hardy womens ed hardy womens
    ed hardy kids ed hardy kids ed hardy kids