Pubdate: Wed, 26 Mar 2008
Source: Daily Mail (UK)
Copyright: 2008 Associated Newspapers Ltd
Author: Natasha Courtenay-Smith
Bookmark: (Cannabis - United Kingdom)


What Happened When One Woman Smoked Dope Daily for a Month for a BBC 

Just a few puffs on a rolled-up cigarette containing "skunk" - a 
strong form of cannabis - was all it took to strip Nicky Taylor of 
all her capabilities and to induce a terrifying combination of 
paranoia, fear and anxiety.

As the drug took effect, she was rendered incapable of doing anything 
save look anxiously around her and try to calm her trembling hands.

But Nicky is not just another of the millions of Britons who smoke 
cannabis regularly. She chose to experiment with the drug as part of 
a BBC documentary in which she investigated just how damaging smoking 
different forms of the drug can be - with herself as a guinea pig.

"I felt absolutely terrified," recalls Nicky, a divorced 
mother-of-three, thinking back to her first experience just over a month ago.

"Paranoia set in, and I felt as if I was having a panic attack. At 
one point, I was simply too frightened to get out of my chair.

"I had a feeling the drug had unlocked some sort of paranoia in my 
head that would never go away again - I suddenly felt everyone hated 
me. Without doubt, that was one of the worst moments of my life."

It has been well over 20 years since Nicky first smoked cannabis, 
which she tried as a student.

But for this investigation she has spent the past month in Amsterdam, 
where she smoked around a joint of cannabis - which two years ago was 
downgraded from a class B to a class C drug in Britain - every day.

Controversially, she also allowed herself to be injected with pure 
THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), the active ingredient in cannabis.

Her aim was to discover the true effect cannabis had on her mind and 
body - and conversely on the millions of Britons who now smoke it regularly.

While some will question Nicky's wisdom in committing herself to such 
an experiment when she is a mother of three young children, there is 
little doubt that her experiences are both enlightening and 
cautionary to anyone who might think cannabis is harmless.

At one point during her investigation, scientific tests proved that, 
thanks to the drug, she had developed a level of psychosis well above 
that seen in individuals with schizophrenia.

It is estimated that 15 million people in the UK have tried cannabis, 
and up to 5 million smoke it on a regular basis.

In the UK, cannabis use has increased 1,000 per cent since the 
Seventies, and according to a recent Unicef report, the UK has the 
third highest rate of young people smoking cannabis in the Western world.

Yet there is now considerable medical evidence that cannabis causes 
psychosis. It has also been linked to schizophrenia, and is believed 
to be behind a string of violent murders.

Even mild short-term use can result in depression and sleep disturbances.

"As a mother, I wanted to find out what is in store for my children 
if they ever try cannabis," says Nicky, who lives in Kidderminster 
with her children Freya, nine, Millie, eight, and Harry, six.

"Also, there is no doubt that cannabis has got stronger - over the 
past few years, home-grown cannabis has been genetically altered so 
that it contains 10 to 15 per cent THC, whereas naturally-grown 
cannabis contains only 3 to 5 per cent.

"I wanted to know whether there is any truth to the claim made by 
dope smokers that you can smoke cannabis and carry on with life as 
normal. And I wanted to find out if the drug really does drive you 
into madness."

To conduct her investigation, Nicky spent a month in Amsterdam, 
working part-time at a coffee shop that sells the drug.

Although she would not be allowed to smoke during her shift, she lit 
up every day after work.

"The first time I smoked cannabis in Amsterdam it contained one of 
the strongest forms of 'skunk' on sale, and the result was absolutely 
horrendous," says Nicky.

"At that moment, I felt like pulling the plug on the investigation, 
packing my bags and heading home to my children, who'd stayed in the 
UK with my mother. I ended up having a row with my cameraman, too, 
because I was so irrational and paranoid.

"It all felt a world away from the feeling of harmless giddiness I'd 
remembered having from smoking it a little as a student. It hit me 
that I could be risking my sanity - and it didn't feel worth it."

However, waking the next morning, Nicky's paranoia had dissipated and 
she decided to carry on. That is not to say she didn't feel any 
physical and mental after-effects of the drug.

"Although the paranoia had gone, I was left dazed and my mind seemed 
to be operating much more slowly than it usually does," says Nicky. 
"I had no motivation and just wanted to go back to bed. I had no idea 
how anyone could get stoned at night and then function properly the next day."

Over the following week, Nicky smoked different varieties of cannabis 
on a daily basis. While she did not encounter the same level of 
paranoia again, her ability to work was nonetheless compromised by 
the drug's effects.

"At one point, I went to interview the man who runs Amsterdam's hemp 
museum after smoking cannabis," says Nicky. "I wanted to appear 
professional - as any reporter from the BBC would. But this proved to 
be next to impossible. I was giggly and could hardly keep my mind on 
what he was saying.

"Embarrassingly, my attention suddenly wandered to a pile of guinea 
pig bedding which was sitting in the corner of his office, clearly 
intended for someone's pet.

"I rushed over to it and kept picking it up. I felt as if I'd just 
discovered the Holy Grail, but the poor man clearly thought I was 
incredibly odd. He was obviously uncomfortable in my presence, and I 
was clearly unable to be professional while on the drug."

To find out how much her concentration had been compromised, Nicky 
set herself the task of assembling a flat pack cabinet, first free 
from and then under the influence of cannabis.

Without having smoked the drug, she found the job straightforward. 
While stoned however, it was a different matter.

"I took only two puffs of cannabis, but was totally hopeless when it 
came to assembling the cabinet," she says. I felt so spaced out that 
I ended up passing out on the sofa with the cabinet still in bits 
around me. The drug totally destroyed my ability to think."

Over the course of the four-week investigation, this "mental 
oblivion", as Nicky describes it, was to become a familiar feeling.

On a daily basis, depending on the strength of cannabis she had 
smoked, she either spiralled into depression and paranoia or simply 
passed out and had to go to bed.

"I noticed very quickly that the stronger the variety of cannabis, 
the more paranoia and depression I experienced," she says.

"Some nights, particularly after smoking 'skunk', which is high in 
THC, I couldn't sleep at all and would be pacing my room, becoming 
more and more paranoid and thinking everyone I'd met at the cafe, as 
well as the BBC crew, was talking about me.

"But even the weaker varieties rendered me completely useless. I'd 
often go to bed at 8pm and be totally crashed out until morning. I 
felt constantly groggy and unmotivated, I couldn't wake up in the 
mornings and I'd find myself longing to go back to bed all day.

"My motivation was reduced to zero and I felt totally slowed down.

"I'm a very active person, with a mind that normally works at a 
million miles an hour. I thrive on multi-tasking and getting through 
my daily 'To do' lists. Yet, with cannabis in my life, I reached the 
end of every day feeling frustrated that I'd achieved so little.

"By the end of a month of smoking cannabis every day, I felt as if my 
mind had been turned into treacle and nothing made much sense to me any more.

"Even basic things like trying to send emails or talk to people on 
the phone became a real effort of will and brain power. There is no 
way I could carry on with the life I lead now, looking after my 
children, at the same time as smoking cannabis, even if it was just 

If Nicky's mind seemed to be getting smaller, her waistline was 
expanding. Over the course of her investigation, she gained half a 
stone, due to the drug's tendency to bring on cravings for junk food.

"Cannabis triggers a chemical surge in the brain which stimulates the 
appetite, and in particular makes you crave sweet and salty snacks 
while you are stoned," says Nicky.

"I could easily get through a couple of packets of biscuits and a 
huge bag of crisps, and the result was I quickly gained weight.

"I usually go running every day, but the effect of the drug on my 
lungs meant this was no longer possible either, because cannabis 
compromises lung function three times as much as ordinary cigarettes.

"And I not only felt groggy - I looked groggy, too. I woke up every 
morning with puffy eyes and sallow skin. It was as though the drug 
had destroyed my ability to refresh my body as well as my mind."

Once back in the UK, Nicky visited the Institute of Psychiatry, 
where, for the final stage of her investigation, she took part in a 
unique experiment.

Scientists there are interested in the effect of the ratio between 
the drug's two main components - THC and cannabanoid - and the levels 
of psychosis induced in the user, and are undertaking trials in which 
volunteers are injected with both pure THC and THC mixed with cannabanoid.

Nicky agreed to do this, too, and following each injection, she 
underwent a series of psychological tests designed to assess her state of mind.

Even though injecting the drug means it reaches the bloodstream more 
quickly than if it's smoked, the results were shocking.

"With the mixture of THC and cannabanoid - which is roughly 
equivalent to the sort of 'grass' people smoked in the Sixties, I 
felt very giggly and silly," says Nicky.

"I felt groggy afterwards and wouldn't want to feel that way all the 
time, but there wasn't anything too troubling about the experience.

"The psychological tests indicated that while I was flippant and had 
lost any sense of care and responsibility, I had not become psychotic."

However, Nicky's experience with pure THC - more akin to the strong 
"skunk" favoured by cannabis users today - was far more sinister.

Within minutes of receiving the injection, she was overcome by morbid thoughts.

"I was suddenly gripped by the idea that the scientists conducting 
the experiment were characters from a horror film who were somehow 
out to get me," she says.

"I later found myself fantasising about jumping out of a window and 
crawling away somewhere that I would never be found. I was 
increasingly agitated and convinced they were trying to trick me in 
everything they said to me."

Most alarmingly, she also took a test, in the form of a series of 
questions about her state of mind, in which a score of four points 
and above indicates significant psychosis of the level seen in people 
with schizophrenia - she scored 14.

"I couldn't believe it when I saw my result - it was terrifying to 
think I was experiencing greater psychosis than someone with 
schizophrenia," says Nicky.

"It proved without doubt that the drug was playing havoc with my 
mind, and inducing a psychotic state that I would never have reached 
without it.

"I was reassured that once the effect of the drug had worn off after 
a few hours, I would return to normal, but it might be a different 
case for individuals with a family history of mental illness."

With her investigation now behind her, Nicky is adamant that she will 
never touch cannabis again. Thankfully, she appears not to have 
experienced any long-term effects from using the drug.

"I do feel extremely worried for my children's future and will 
certainly do all I can to ensure that they stay away from the drug," 
says Nicky.

"Until now, I hadn't really considered cannabis had that much more 
effect than a bottle of wine might do, but now I know that's far from 
the truth.

"The drug took me to some dark and frightening places, to which I 
hope I never return."


Nicky's investigation: Should I Smoke Dope? can be seen in full on 
BBC3 tonight at 10pm. 
- ---
MAP posted-by: Richard Lake