Reefer Badness

March 24th, 2007 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, drurrrgs, references, statistics | 51 Comments »

Ben Goldacre
Saturday March 24, 2007
The Guardian

The more I see of the world [looks pensively out of window] the more it strikes me that people seem to want more science, rather than less, and to deploy it in odd ways: to abrogate responsibility; to validate a hunch; to render a political or cultural prejudice in deceptively objective terms. Because you can prove anything with science, as long as you cherry pick the data and keep one eye half closed.

The Independent last Sunday ran a front page splash: “Cannabis – An Apology” was the headline. “In 1997, this newspaper launched a campaign to decriminalise the drug. If only we had known then what we can reveal today…Record numbers of teenagers are requiring drug treatment as a result of smoking skunk, the highly potent cannabis strain that is 25 times stronger than resin sold a decade ago.” Twice, in this story, cannabis is 25 times stronger than it was a decade ago. For Rosie Boycott, in her melodramatic recantation, skunk is “30 times stronger“. In one inside feature the strength issue is briefly downgraded to a “can”. It’s even referenced. “The Forensic Science Service says that in the early Nineties cannabis would contain around 1 per cent tetrahydrocannabidinol (THC), the mind-altering compound, but can now have up to 25 per cent.”

Well I’ve got the Forensic Science Service data right here in front of me, and the earlier data from the Laboratory of the Government Chemist, the United Nations Drug Control Program, and the European Union’s Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction. I happen to think that people are very well able to make their own minds up about important social issues when given true facts.

The Laboratory of the Government Chemist data goes from 1975 to 1989. Resin pootles around between 6% and 10% THC, herbal between 4% and 6%, with no clear trend.

The Forensic Science Service data then takes over to produce the more modern figures, showing not much change in resin, and domestically produced indoor herbal cannabis doubling in potency to around 12% or 14%. (2003-5 data in table under references).

The rising trend of cannabis potency is gradual, fairly unspectacular, and driven largely by the increased availability of intensively UK grown indoor herbal cannabis.

If you were in the mood, you could argue that intensive indoor cultivation of a plant that is very easy to cultivate outdoors is the cannabis industry’s reaction to the illegality itself. It is dangerous to import in large amounts. It is dangerous to be caught growing a field of it. So perhaps it makes more sense to grow it intensively indoors, producing a more concentrated product. There is little incentive, on the other hand, to produce a perversely strong skunk product for the mass market, since most people tend not to pay any more for unusually strong skunk.

There is, of course, exceptionally strong cannabis to be found in some parts of the UK market today: but there always has been. The United Nations Drug Control Program has detailed vintage data for the UK online. In 1975 the LGC analysed 50 seized samples of herbal cannabis: 10 were from Thailand, with an average potency of 7.8%, and the highest was 17%. In 1975 they analysed 11 samples of seized cannabis resin, 6 from morocco, average strength 9%, with a range from 4% to 16%.

To get their scare figure, The Independent have compared the worst cannabis from the past with the best cannabis of today. But you could have cooked the books in exactly the same way 30 years ago if you’d wanted: in 1975 the weakest herbal cannabis analysed was 0.2%; in 1978 the strongest herbal cannabis was 12%. Oh my god: in just 3 years herbal cannabis has become 60 times stronger.

And in fact, what’s most amazing is that this scare isn’t new. In the US, in the mid 1980s, during Reagan’s “war on drugs”, it was claimed that cannabis was 14 times stronger than in 1970, which rather sets you thinking. If it was 14 times stronger in 1986 than in 1970, and it’s 25 times stronger today than the beginning of the 1990s, does that mean it is now, in fact, 350 times stronger than 1970?

That’s not even a crystal in a plant pot. That’s impossible. That would require more THC to be present in the plant than the total volume of space taken up by the plant itself. That would require matter to be condensed. If I was a physics-minded branding manager, I would suggest Quark Gluon Plasma as the most appropriate street name for this substance: and I look forward to reading about the scare in the Independent tomorrow.

References:

United Nations Drug Control Program (quoting Laboratory of the Govt Chemist):

www.unodc.org/unodc/bulletin/bulletin_1980-01-01_4_page006.html

European Union Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (quoting and graphing Forensic Science Service data):

www.emcdda.europa.eu/index.cfm?fuseaction=public.Content&nNodeID=429&sLanguageISO=EN

UK Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs Act 2005 Review of Cannabis for Home Office (more recent UK THC potency tabulated up to 2005) :

badscience.net/files/UK_ACMD_cannabis_reclass_2005.pdf

Also worth reading is the broader coverage of the issues around these figures from the excellent Transform Drug Policy Foundation Blog:

transform-drugs.blogspot.com/2007/03/how-independent-on-sunday-got-it.html


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51 Responses



  1. baz-jones said,

    March 24, 2007 at 1:49 am

    OK, that is a daft question as their X axis is simply stated as a mean, but that doesn’t make their graph meaningful.

  2. Ben Goldacre said,

    March 24, 2007 at 2:15 am

    looking at the old LGC data on the UN site linked above the range will be pretty huge.

  3. Gimpy said,

    March 24, 2007 at 8:24 am

    Is there any data on potency vs THC consumed? Presumably as cannabis gets stronger users smoke less of it to get the desired effect. Whiskey is 8-10 times stronger than lager but nobody goes around drinking pints of it.

  4. Darren said,

    March 24, 2007 at 8:30 am

    Yeah, but…..ummm. Dunno. All these figures are well, like…….Anyone fancy a Curley Wurley?

  5. jackpt said,

    March 24, 2007 at 9:51 am

    I love the way with drugs of all ilks, alcohol included, as a society we get to blame just the drugs and the drug users. Avoids any introspection at all. I’d like to see a Bad Science run down of more the more generally accepted issues of things like binge drinking because I’ve heard so many horror statistics, – empirical reasoning suggests it, but there’s so much politics involved I suspect there’s a huge amount of Bad Science too (plus, binge drinking/reefer madness headlines must scare granny).

  6. kingshiner said,

    March 24, 2007 at 10:08 am

    The figure in the Lancet paper that prompted the journalist to state that “cannabis is more dangerous than LSD and ecstasy” had no error bars (just the mean is shown), so we can’t even make a guess about how reliable that ranking is. Anyway once you’re read though all the fancy medical titles and such, it’s just a ranking of the opinions of a small group of people; to some extent they were self-selected (the response rate in the second group of experts wasn’t stated, in the first it was 38%). The Indie seem to have over-reacted to this feeble evidence. Maybe they just decided it’s time to scare people off drugs, but if so they’re not being very bright. A line like “cannabis is more dangerous than LSD and ecstasy” can be read two ways.

  7. stever said,

    March 24, 2007 at 11:40 am

    transform-drugs.blogspot.com/2007/03/how-independent-on-sunday-got-it.html

    *takes minimal amount of credit*

    I also briefly look at the concept of auto-titration – which Ben didnt have room for.

    (Its a shame they edited the print version down again -I like the quantum physics gag)

    The Independent, to their credit I suppose, asked me for a comment for tommorows edition. This is what I sent in, we will wait and see what they are going to publish:

    “The IOS makes the mistake of confusing their legitimate concern with the health impacts of cannabis misuse amongst a small group vulnerable young people, with support for the failed ideological policy of prohibition. Rather than supporting an evidence-led regulatory response based on public health and harm reduction principles, they advocate a policy that has not only failed to address the problems they describe (and has arguably created many of them), but also one that offers no prospect of sorting them out. The blanket criminalisation of millions of non-problematic occasional users that the IOS has now restated its support for, cannot be justified on the basis of a relatively tiny vulnerable population, especially of teenage heavy users, who have serious problems with the drug (even if this group has grown proportionally with the overall population of users over the last three decades). This is akin to prohibiting cars because of a small population of teenage joy-riders.

    Cannabis use undoubtedly involves risk, as does all drug use, legal or illegal. But these risks have been well documented and well understood for generations. The debate around our response to cannabis use is not well served by hype and misrepresentation of statistics on potency, impact on mental health, or treatment and addiction – all of which last week’s IOS coverage was guilty of. This was scaremongering in the cause of an attention grabbing headline, very much in the pattern of many previous cannabis scares and precisely the sort of moral-panic the recent RSA report criticised for historically distorting policy priorities. The IOS also perpetuate the misunderstanding that the cause of cannabis law reform is predicated on the fact that cannabis is harmless. On the contrary – the exact opposite is true: Is precisely because drugs are dangerous that the need to be appropriately regulated and controlled by the State rather than be left in the hands unregulated criminal profiteers. This remains true however harmful a particular drug is shown to be.”

  8. Deano said,

    March 24, 2007 at 12:54 pm

    Even if skunk is stronger – isn’t it likely that people smoke less to achieve the required level of intoxication?

  9. RedSevenOne said,

    March 24, 2007 at 4:56 pm

    Tis’ True, what is needed is more Science, in fact more literacy in Science. Information based on fact, not opinion or supposition [As is the Psych. Trades]. Bias, as always, Declared.
    redsevenone.wordpress.com

  10. Robert Carnegie said,

    March 24, 2007 at 4:58 pm

    Deano, #11. Since skunk is not stronger, it is meaningless to ask how people would use skunk differently if it were stronger. On the other hand, while anecdotal evidence is not worth very much, I think it could be relevant here, although apparently neither you nor I know any cannabis users to ask. There are some that I would suspect. For that matter, what people do when they -believe- they are handling a stronger product is relevant. (And I think you take your critical judgment off the hook when you light up, anyway. If you believe it’s wonderful stuff then you’ll believe that you had a wonderful time. this also is true of an alcohol binge.)

    I think Clive James in his latest instalment of memoir described a very bad trip after which he swore off the stuff. Or maybe it was Irvine Welsh. I don’t want to blacken anyone’s name unfairly. But that was a case of consuming a large amount of the stuff – returning to near normality – and then apparently one little dose more sent him into an internal hell. If it is Clive James, he sometimes exaggerates.

  11. stever said,

    March 24, 2007 at 7:12 pm

    deano – I look at that issue in my blog (linked above)

  12. tanveer said,

    March 24, 2007 at 9:52 pm

    Yes it is true that cannabis is probably not much stronger than it used to be but isn’t the main point that cannabis may be implicated in pyschosis and schizophrenia? I am not an expert in this area and it is not clear if cannabis is a direct causal factor but isn’t evidence emerging in the last few years that cannabis may be one of the many possible factors contributing to these serious and debilitating illnesses? If this is the case then cannabis may not be as harmless as once thought.

  13. thaumaturge said,

    March 24, 2007 at 11:39 pm

    Anyone who knows how to read critically should realize that the statement “cannabis is more dangerous than LSD and ecstasy” is completely meaningless unless you tell me how you quantify “danger.” And even with that, logic suggests that a mild sedative like THC would be far less dangerous than a powerful stimulant like MDMA…

  14. tanveer said,

    March 24, 2007 at 11:49 pm

    #10 ‘Cannabis use undoubtedly involves risk, as does all drug use, legal or illegal. But these risks have been well documented and well understood for generations.’

    Have these risk really been well understood for generations? Why are we only hearing about the link with schizophrenia in the last few years? Granted it may only be amongst a small proportion of heavy users but do we really know that? Have the studies been done? How much cannabis use is too much? Some individuals may be more susceptible to these problems – do we know who they are? There seem to me to be lots of unanswered questions on this issue and I haven’t seen the answers anywhere. I suspect that they do not exist and there is lots we don’t know about the effect of cannabis. For instance is it’s use a direct cause of schizophrenia or does it combine with other factors and if so how?

  15. Tony Jackson said,

    March 25, 2007 at 10:27 am

    Sorry to go on about this, but I see in today’s Independent on Sunday that Richard Branson repeats Rosie Boycott’s claim that modern strains of cannabis plants are ‘genetically engineered’. Although it’s possible that some strains have been selectively bred, that’s hardly new and clearly isn’t what Boycott and Branson are trying to imply.

    I find this sort of thing very irritating because as far as I can find out, their allegation is a blatant falsehood – but one that fits right in there with IOS prejudices and which is then fed by lazy and sloppy journalism.

  16. stever said,

    March 25, 2007 at 10:42 am

    if it has been bred i suppose you could argue it has been genetically engineered, but i know waht you mean – it suggests it is some kind of evil franken-drug.

    The IOS today is really something to behold. theyve pulled out all the stops (brain scans, antonia costa – prohibition’ s very own end of level boss, and even richard branson) and totally missed the point – again confusing the debate about drug harms with the debate about legal verses criminal regulation. Pathetic really. But if i think about it the last time i bought the paper was when they had the original camapign. so i suppose its working from a sales point of view.

    Oh, and the totally did not use the response i posted above. the one they rang up and asked for.

  17. pv said,

    March 25, 2007 at 1:46 pm

    All plant cross-breeding and selective breeding can be labelled as genetic engineering. And in that sense practically every biological product we consume today, whether it is consumed as food, medication or recreational drugs, has been genetically altered (or, in a sense, engineered). The environment created by single issue lobbyists and the news media, whereby the very act of appending the phrase “genetically modified” or “GM” to a product renders it “evil”, is, to put it bluntly, for morons – but it sells newsprint.

    As for recreational drugs being dangerous, does anyone know how many fatalities and serious injuries occur every year in the average British home in pursuit of domestic chores – particularly in the kitchen? If the hype about cannabis and other recreational drugs tells us anything, as it repeatedly does, it is that the press and public alike are terribly inept at assessing risk. I say ban kitchens!

  18. censored said,

    March 25, 2007 at 3:05 pm

    I think you need to get more space in the paper. To me your last paragraph, about how if every shock statement about this was true you’d have more THC than there is cannabis plant, is vital to the sort of argument Bad Science is all about. It’s a simple way for the layman to grasp that shock statistic after shock statistic adds up to nonsense not news.

  19. Ginger Yellow said,

    March 25, 2007 at 4:04 pm

    “Have these risk really been well understood for generations?”

    Well a simple PubMed search for cannabis and schizophrenia turns up 373 papers going back to 1962.

  20. stever said,

    March 25, 2007 at 8:25 pm

    Ive now blogged a response to this weeks IOS reefer madness ROUND TWO:

    transform-drugs.blogspot.com/2007/03/independents-born-again-drug-war-round.html

  21. Hempsci said,

    March 26, 2007 at 8:07 am

    What a load of lies the Independent has about Cannabis.
    So Skunk is genetically engineered? Lie. Richard Branson should be ashamed of his ignorance. “The arrival of genetically engineered skunk has merited a new look at the
    situation.” The truth is there is no GM Cannabis anywhere in the world.
    Ben tries to shine a light on the lies, but I don’t think it will help because the readers have already made their minds up. Another fact ignored is why haven’t schizophrenia rates increased in the UK and elsewhere from all the new nutters from smoking skunk? Because at the most skunk reveals pre-schizophrenia individuals but does not make normal people schizophrenic. If Skunk did then the schizophrenia rates would be much much higher then 20 years ago. But what the hell, truth is not as important as saving people from themselves, if they want it or not, if it is true or not, does not matter. Maybe alcohol should be prohibited? It did work so well in the USA, and I am sure it will save a few kids from alcohol poisoning, until a lot more start dying from the poorly made moonshine sold illegally. Wise up readers, prohibition of Cannabis does not help, in fact it causes much more damage to both the individual and society then Cannabis itself. Remember where Al Capone got his start? He thanked alcohol prohibition everyday.

  22. Delster said,

    March 26, 2007 at 10:29 am

    I’ve known a few people who would be occasional users of herbal and or resin and, to be honest, the worst thing i’ve seen them do is look at you and burst into giggles…. although they can do terrible things to a can of pringles when the munchies set in!

  23. manigen said,

    March 26, 2007 at 10:35 am

    “Try subsituting pints of dutch lager with special brew, drink for drink”

    I think this point was made earlier, but seriously, does anyone do this? Alcohol is available in a range of strengths and if you drink stronger stuff you drink less of it. Is there any evidence that, when confronted with stronger (and consequently more expensive) cannabis, users will respond by getting more stoned? Surely they’ll just smoke less?

    Also, I think MacAdder is confusing the point of Ben’s article. He isn’t arguing that the available or average strength hasn’t changed, just that the IOS’s claims are ridiculous. By misleading their readers in this way, the IOS is only contributing to hysteria in one part of the community (“Aaah! Drugs!”) and apathy in another (“It’s gotten that strong? I didn’t notice.”). That sort of thing ends with no-one doing anything useful or productive.

  24. CaptainSensible said,

    March 26, 2007 at 11:48 am

    I replied to that comment on the blog too (I’m Delphinidae on CiF). I didn’t think it was fair to accuse Ben of using the exaggerated claims of the IOS (and they is the main issue here) to somehow imply that nothing has changed in cannabis land during the last 30-40 years.

  25. CaptainSensible said,

    March 26, 2007 at 12:01 pm

    The Telegraph ran a feature on skunk today – www.telegraph.co.uk/health/main.jhtml?xml=/health/2007/03/26/hcannabis126.xml

  26. Ben Goldacre said,

    March 26, 2007 at 12:05 pm

    well to him the most important point is clearly whether cannabis is dangerous, or even more dangerous. that is an important issue, and he may feel its an important issue to him as a policeman, and the issue of whether cannabis causes schizophrenia is also interesting, important, and much written about, but neither of those subjects is what my short article was about.

    when a newspaper claims on its front page and in several other places that the potency of cannabis has increased by 25-30 times, when in reality it has at most trebled, i think it’s extremely legitimate to point that out. i dont think its acceptable to exaggerate and overstate to such a farcical extent, overestimate by 2500%, and it is intellectually very weakminded to suggest – as some have – that this was acceptable simply because their heart was in the right place.

    to an extent it is a bit wearying pointing this kind of thing out, and it rather gets in the way of thinking about interesting issues in misrepresentation of science and stats in the media, which is what really interests me.

    i have to say most people i chat to feel that the quality fo debate on CiF is rather poor compared to most blogs, not because there are lots of nasty people there – clearly there are lots of intelligent and interesting people there – but simply because the community is too wide and diverse, and i don’t think the social software of a single thread of comments translates well to such a large community. on CiF, in comparison with most smaller blogs, people don’t read each others posts, there’s little “discussion”, lots of extreme positions, anger and namecalling, people using any old article as an opportunity to say what they have always wanted to say – however tangential – on a given topic to what they perceive as an audience, etc. its something i worry about a little as more people come here, i wonder if threaded comments are an elegant solution, so that people who feel it is important that they are allowed to talk about a different but related topic don’t feel rejected or persecuted.

  27. stever said,

    March 26, 2007 at 12:27 pm

    But their central argument is that cannabis should be criminalised because its dangerous. Cannabis is dangerous (ignoring the debate about quite how dangerous for the moment) – and thats why it needs to be dealt with as a public health issue and appropriately regulated. The more dangerous the more urgent this need.

    As i have argued here and on the transform blog at length.

  28. Hempsci said,

    March 26, 2007 at 1:52 pm

    stever, should alcohol sales and use be criminalized? Alcohol has caused a lot of crime and death around the world, it certainly is dangerous. Is the cure to criminalize the use of alcohol? Do you really think the population would stop drinking if alcohol was prohibited? Or can you admit that alcohol prohibition would create a new set of problems for both the individual and society that I predict will be worse then alcohol itself. That is why the USA discarded alcohol prohibition, it did not work and caused more problems then it cured. I say the same situation exists with Cannabis today. The solution is to tax and regulate. The recent example in the press of how an experts panel felt drugs should be classified showed Cannabis at number 11 as less a problem then alcohol at number 5. Cannabis is illegal and yet alcohol is legal and taxed by the government, not a decision based in science I would say.

  29. stever said,

    March 26, 2007 at 2:22 pm

    haha – you really got the wrong person on that one.

  30. kim said,

    March 26, 2007 at 3:05 pm

    And yet Hempsci and stever, you could argue that the fact that alcohol is legal and regulated hasn’t brought a whole load of benefits. Rates of alcoholism and binge drinking are high, and casualty departments in hospitals spend a large proportion of their time dealing with injuries caused by excessive drinking.

    I’m not arguing for the prohibition of alcohol, incidentally. Just suggesting that the legalisation of cannabis won’t necessarily bring about a brave new world of moderate, sensible use. (Actually, on balance, I favour legalisation but I’m sceptical about whether it will really bring as many benefits as its advocates hope.)

  31. stever said,

    March 26, 2007 at 4:31 pm

    there’s an excellent blog post on thew IOS coverage on Clive Bates’ blog (formerly of ASH and the Number 10- strategy unit)

    baconbutty.blogspot.com/2007/03/cannabis-sorry-about-apology.html

    recommended.

    re #43 You’re absolutely right of course. legalisation only gets rid of problems to do with illegal markets, It doesnt get rid of all problems associated with drug use. you can get rid of prohibition but you still need a decent drugpolicy to replace it. I’d argue alcohol and tobacco are a special case because they are legal have been under-regulated. they are under regulated (although that is slowly being corrected with tobaccco anyway) whilst illegal drug are not regulated atall- we have abdicated all responsibilty to criminal markets.

  32. Ginger Yellow said,

    March 26, 2007 at 4:51 pm

    “Is there any evidence that, when confronted with stronger (and consequently more expensive) cannabis, users will respond by getting more stoned? Surely they’ll just smoke less?”

    To be fair, my personal experience has been the former. But as we all know anecdote is not the singular of data and anyway I’m far from typical in my peer group. I believe the studies indicate an autotitration effect applies to most people.

  33. stever said,

    March 26, 2007 at 11:25 pm

    Drugscope points out that the main risk is that: Skunk’s strength and speed can sometimes catch out inexperienced users. Like taking a swig from a pint pot only to find it is full of scotch.

  34. onlyhuman said,

    March 26, 2007 at 11:57 pm

    I cancelled the Independent today because of this and I will be getting the Guardian instead.

    The last straw was the column by the Sunday Independent’s so-called Readers’ Editor Michael Williams. Instead of putting forward any of the obvious criticisms of their disgraceful journalism he shamefully used his column for a purely rhetorical defence of the paper’s decision.

    I have been reading the Independent and the IOS for years, and I can’t remember another case anything like this. I mean I know they are not perfect, but I was startled that they would publish such transparent rubbish. And then to announce they are going to base a policy reversal on it! I can only conclude that the people responsible simply don’t understand the issue.

    They are in elevated company. When he was Home Secretary Charles Clarke asked his own Advisory Committe on the Misuse of Drugs to advise him about new “superskunk”: he had fallen for the same mythology as the Independent on Sunday.

    He then let it be known (through the Independent) that he was “minded” to reverse Blunkett’s reclassification whatever the ACMD recommended. He may have thought, like the Independent, that nobody can prove anything either way.

    But in fact there are lots of ways to prove there is no new superskunk, and the ACMD explored some of these ways, and showed the Home Secretary that cannabis has not changed and doesn’t present a new problem that wasn’t there before. Clarke was forced to accept that the reclassification was justified.

    It is puzzling that the Independent on Sunday seem unaware that this issue has only recently been decided.

  35. onlyhuman said,

    March 27, 2007 at 5:08 pm

    Hi steve,

    Ok, I’ve posted a version of message #49 on the Transform blog.

    “Charas” is the usual spelling I think.

  36. lepak said,

    March 27, 2007 at 6:07 pm

    Firstly, necessary pre-amble: I smoke, support legalisation, but don’t think it’s a ‘harmless’ drug, obviously. And I’m not a scientist and what follows is rather anecdotal, sorry…

    Regarding ‘auto-titration’ – no not everyone auto-titrates very well, the evidence I have for this is purely anecdotal, but involves myself – and I’ve been observing the effects of cannabis on me for quite some years now!

    I stick to hash. Not the horrible old soap-bar, stuff that’s a bit stronger (and less full of plastic) than that. I do find skunk is kinda too much for me, in the quanitities I smoke, even though it’s probably more the 10-15 per cent THC mentioned, rather than the 30% + that’s been claimed in the IOS and elsewhere.

    Why? Because I just have the kind of neurology/personality/whatever that means I’ll smoke N spliffs a day, regardless of the strength of what I’m smoking. That means, if the dope’s too strong, I’ll get too stoned. As to comments about beer and whisky – a better comparison is 3% ‘session lager’ vs 5 or 6% ‘strong lager’. People do tend to have their 3 pints, or 6 pints, or whatever is their habit – and if they switch to stronger beer, they still have 6 pints – and get more drunk. They don’t cut down to 3 just because it’s Export or whatever. Consider that in the UK, nearly everyone makes a spliff as follows – 1 large rizla, most of a cigarette, some dope. Now, if the dope’s stronger, users take a smaller rizla, use only half a ciggie and half the dope, yeah? Err, no. Not anyone I’ve ever known anyway.

    Another thing missing here is the balance of cannabinoids vs THC in various strains and preparations of cannabis. Now I realise this is a bit speculative but would anyone care to comment on this ‘thought’ – hash has more cannabinoids relative to THC, thus makes you more ‘dopey’ and sleepy. Skunk has more THC relative to cannibanoids, thus making you more ‘high’ and agitated. Thus hash is self-limiting, overuse leading to sleep. One of the worse things about skunk is you can smoke and smoke and get LESS sleepy. Extended, drugged-up insomnia accompanied by agitation and racing thoughts, is a really good way to bring on mental health problems.

    In summary, skunk is vodka Red Bull, hash is cask ale. But not mostly due to the total ‘strength’ per se, more due to the balance of THC and cannabinoids.

  37. Ijon Tichy said,

    March 27, 2007 at 6:25 pm

    The Clash had a song which went ‘I’ve seen talent thrown away’.

    I’d say one good reason for being opposed to cannabis consumption is the fact that while it doesn’t kill people, it does turn them into idiots who waste their lives in a haze of stoned befuddlement.

  38. vercingertorix said,

    March 27, 2007 at 6:58 pm

    Graphs and Politics go hand in hand and see the mess it has made. So many knowledgeable people with so much information and no real experience of what they are talking about.
    (What is an auto-titration effect? Or is it something one can catch only using cannabis?)

    However after using cannabis for some 45 years I can say without a doubt that it is not so dangerous as using alcohol or tobacco. Despite what the government of Britain or the USA would like us all to believe. The proof of the pudding is eating it. Here Mr Bush could help by being honest about his past life as a cocain user and there is not one yet that I have met that has not used cannabis as well, so what really is all this scare mongering about? Honesty?

    Its very naive to think that Britons did not smoke the hemp that made so many miles of rope for the navy or that Mrs Beaton did not have a recepy for hash cake in the original version of the cookbook. Cannabis has always been a poor mans relief (think about it) up untill recently, when the worm turned and is making some ‘poor’ extremely rich. It really has nothing to do with health but with taxes!

    This whole discussion should be about the politics behind the witch hunting of everyting that the governments can’t tax and the health aspects of the prescription drugs for depression or the Ritolin they push legally into young hyper active youngsters. The real health problems are caused by the big drug companys and the unhealthy ambitions of our political superiors!

    Bye the way smoking more does not increase the effects of cannabis, the effect is reduced, as there seems to be a sort of ceiling (no pun intended) to its ultimate effect. Less frequent use the stronger the effect despite the amounts of thc involved.

    As I live in the Netherlands where an enlightened government has seriously looked at the drug problem for many years now and are tolerant of Koffieshops where one may purchase up to 5 grams for personel use, the use of cannabis itself has FALLEN not risen.
    Special testing stations for xtc pills are to be found at most big ‘raves’ so the kids at least know what it is before they swallow the stuff and this is tolerated by the police for the simple reason that fueled up alcholic youths as seen on Britons streets cause more problems in the long run than sensible controls of less harmfull substances. The Dutch government has also a project for growing top quality ‘skunk’ for medical purposes and people suffering from MS can obtain this on a doctors precription at the local chemist.

    So the real dangers lay with the politic and the politicians, they know but will they ever admit to it!
    Viva Vanilla Sesimila

  39. stever said,

    March 27, 2007 at 7:31 pm

    gah – only human – I meant 48. no matter.

  40. CaptainKirkham said,

    March 28, 2007 at 2:29 pm

    I mostly agree with Lepak, although I think people do adjust how much they put in joints depending on what strength they have. This, alas, is the consequence of the illegality of the stuff. I’m pretty sure (anecdotally) that many people would not of choice buy and use skunk – it can be pretty mental stuff – but sometimes it is all that there is on the market. Unless you have your own home grown, or a reliable, long term dealer (something of a rare comodity, since they tend to come and go, simply because of their annoying propensity for getting done by the police) you buy what is available, and that isn’t always the nice stuff.

    Ironically, this can mean that the heavy skunk is being used because that’s all that is available because, say, the police had a big bust of a hash shipment that month. Another arse-about-face result of prohibition.

  41. el capitana said,

    March 28, 2007 at 3:13 pm

    Certain strains of Thai or SE asian weed available in the 70′s would probably be as strong as if not stronger than today’s commercial skunk. I think inflating the increase in THC content is the least of the bad science crimes being perpetrated in the current debate on cannabis use. What is more disturbing is the amount of commenators, mps, journalists etc who are publicly leaping to the conclusion that a) cannabis use causes schizophrenia and b) higher incedences of psychosis will therefore occur in years to come. THC may be seen, like LSD, as a psychotomimetic (in far higher doses than lsd obviously), but there is still no conclusive proof whatsoever that it can actually cause either schizophrenia / psychosis. The fact may be that cannabis merely reveals or heightens an already present mental health problem, or alternately, that already mentaly ill people are extremely likely to self medicate with cannabis (amongst others) and thus have their aflictions labelled as ‘drug induced’ when they are examined by a professional. Additonally, it is interesting to look at other countries such as the Netherlands or Belgium (with wholly and partially decriminalised cannabis policies respectively) and see that they do not have proportionally higher incedences of psychosis than the UK, and actually use less cannabis per capita than UK residents.

  42. jdc325 said,

    March 30, 2007 at 4:46 pm

    So, a few hours smoking cannabis can lead to psychosis – and could also lead to mental illness in your descendents? That seems to be your implication, unless I’ve misunderstood. (Apologies if that is the case).

  43. el capitana said,

    March 30, 2007 at 7:30 pm

    …..you’re misunderstanding me again
    Im not saying ‘there is no link between cannabis and schizophrenia / psychosis”,
    I’m saying its one thing to say ‘cannabis can severely worsen latent or underlying issues’
    (which I completely agree with) and another to say ‘cannabis causes schizophrenia’, especially given the fact that NO ONE actually knows what causes schizophrenia, or even understands it fully. Drug induced psychosis may mimic aspects of schizophrenia, but it is NOT the same thing. You seem to think I’m pro cannabis, I’m not, I don’t like it, I’m just saying people shouldn’t be bandying around statements about schizophrenia as if there fact, when there’s no proof behind them whatsoever. It’s like saying, if a car hits you at 80 MPH, you will die, therefore if you touch a stationary car you will also die.

  44. psychopharm said,

    April 14, 2007 at 12:38 pm

    I have had close contact with two mothers whose daughters smoked cannabis since their teenage years and now have untreatable psychotic/schizophrenic symptoms. One had a rope noose strung up in her back shed where she took her preschool children to see what would happen if they misbehaved. I find this frightening, to say the least. This concerned grandmother gets no help from the “state” for caring for these vulnerable kids!

  45. Anthony Nonny-Mousse said,

    June 5, 2007 at 8:14 pm

    I must wonder. Could these claims that “skunk”, i.e. pot grown with modern techniques, was 35 times stronger than pot of yore have come from taking the THC content per plant mass of an ye olde average cannabis plant of either sex, and comparing that to modern pot?

    My understanding is that pot growing in the sixties tended to be rather haphazard, with little attention given to e.g. removing male plants whose presence (causing pollination and therefore seed production) tends to diminish the quality of “bud” from the females. Today, cannabis strains are such that whereas fourty years ago a plant at harvest time might’ve been by weight 90% leaf and other even less desirable parts of the plant and less than 10% bud, a well-tended plant may end up looking like a thick wedge of buds. The main branches of such plants are sometimes termed “bats” as their shape resembles that of a piece of baseball equipment and some could conceivably be swung around without breaking.

    It would not surprise me if the difference in delta-9-THC (and its other active-ish friends) per total plant weight between the worst of mexican brick-schwag and the highest-quality modern Dutch skunk were indeed tenfold. The other 25 folds could be chalked up to media hyperbole; I’ve certainly seen the “order of magnitude” figure take many forms.

    This of course says more about the production margins per square meter of growing space between then and now, than of the relative quality of pot available to your ordinary consumer.

  46. Domain Rider said,

    February 24, 2009 at 11:22 pm

    I’m reluctant to revive this dead horse for more flogging, but ‘Reefer Madness’ is back again with the new ‘Talk To Frank’ adverts on TV.

    There’s not much more to say that hasn’t already been said too many times already, but the advertisers appear to have waited until the Government’s decision to ignore the Drugs Advisory Council recommendation to retain cannabis in category C was eclipsed by the Government’s refusal to follow their recommendation to degrade Ecstasy from category A to category B.

  47. minktoast said,

    March 15, 2009 at 10:35 am

    And The Guardian is at it now:

    www.guardian.co.uk/society/2009/mar/15/drugs-skunk-family

    No doubt prompted by the Myersons. Any plans to revisit the topic Ben?

    (Am tempted to tell an anecdote here about how I stopped working hard as teenager and how it was much more to do with my hormones than skunk which I’d never even heard of… but that would render the comment anecdotal!)

  48. iNotHere said,

    September 5, 2009 at 2:51 pm

    #63 “Clearly, there is an association (probably causal) between cannabis smoking and schizophrenia. I do not think that it can be shown definitively that this requires a pre-schizoid personality (whatever that is) for it to manifest. Were cannabis a prescription drug it would probably be banned because of this association”.

    There are a host of prescribed drugs on the market that have mental problems as a side effect. Prednisolone for example, used for the treatment of COPD, emphysema etc can cause psychotic episodes. Ventolin a very widely used asthma treatment can cause anxiety, which can sometimes lead to panic attacks, nervousness, most anti-psychotic drugs cause psychosis. Certain anti epilepsy mood stabilisers can cause depression. If these drugs can be controlled to the extent that they can be used safely then what’s wrong with cannabis use?

    If cannabis causes even a tenth of the problems that prescription drugs cause then it is definitely less harmful, and seeing as it has now been proven that schizophrenia rates have not raised as cannabis use has increased I think it’s about time it was legalised regulated and taxed. Oh and also I think alchohol should be regulated tighter than what it is now. Allowing it to be sold in the same manner as groceries was a ridiculously irresponsible thing for the government to do. It should not be sold in supermarkets but in pubs and off licenses only.

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