Pubdate: Tue, 07 Oct 2014
Source: Daily Mail (UK)
Copyright: 2014 Associated Newspapers Ltd
Author: Ben Spencer, Science Reporter
Page: 1

British Expert's Devastating 20-Year Study Finally Demolishes Claims 
That Smoking Pot Is Harmless


A definitive 20-year study into the effects of long-term cannabis use 
has demolished the argument that the drug is safe.

Cannabis is highly addictive, causes mental health problems and opens 
the door to hard drugs, the study found.

The paper by Professor Wayne Hall, a drugs advisor to the World 
Health Organisation, builds a compelling case against those who deny 
the devastation cannabis wreaks on the brain. Professor Hall found:

One in six teenagers who regularly smoke the drug become dependent on it,

Cannabis doubles the risk of developing psychotic disorders, 
including schizophrenia,

Cannabis users do worse at school. Heavy use in adolescence appears 
to impair intellectual development,

One in ten adults who regularly smoke the drug become dependent on it 
and those who use it are more likely to go on to use harder drugs,

Driving after smoking cannabis doubles the risk of a car crash, a 
risk which increases substantially if the driver has also had a drink,

Smoking it while pregnant reduces the baby's birth weight,

Last night Professor Hall, a professor of addiction policy at King's 
College London, dismissed the views of those who say that cannabis is harmless.

'If cannabis is not addictive then neither is heroin or alcohol,' he said.

'It is often harder to get people who are dependent on cannabis 
through withdrawal than for heroin - we just don't know how to do 
it.' Those who try to stop taking cannabis often suffer anxiety, 
insomnia, appetite disturbance and depression, he found. Even after 
treatment, less than half can stay off the drug for six months.

The paper states that teenagers and young adults are now as likely to 
take cannabis as they are to smoke cigarettes.

Professor Hall writes that it is impossible to take a fatal overdose 
of cannabis, making it less dangerous at first glance than heroin or 
cocaine. He also states that taking the drug while pregnant can 
reduce the weight of a baby, and long-term use raises the risk of 
cancer, bronchitis and heart attack.

But his main finding is that regular use, especially among teenagers, 
leads to long-term mental health problems and addiction.

'The important point I am trying to make is that people can get into 
difficulties with cannabis use, particularly if they get into daily 
use over a longer period,' he said. 'There is no doubt that heavy 
users experience a withdrawal syndrome as with alcohol and heroin.

'Rates of recovery from cannabis dependence among those seeking 
treatment are similar to those for alcohol.'

Mark Winstanley, of the charity Rethink Mental Illness, said: 'Too 
often cannabis is wrongly seen as a safe drug, but as this review 
shows, there is a clear link with psychosis and schizophrenia, 
especially for teenagers.

'The common view that smoking cannabis is nothing to get worked up 
about needs to be challenged more effectively. Instead of classifying 
and re-classifying, government time and money would be much better 
spent on educating young people about how smoking cannabis is 
essentially playing a very real game of Russian roulette with your 
mental health.'

Cannabis was given a Class B rating when the classification system 
for illegal drugs was set up in 1971, putting it below Class A 
substances heroin and cocaine in seriousness but above Class C drugs 
such as steroids.

The Labour government downgraded the drug to Class C in 2004 - 
meaning officers did not normally arrest those caught with it - but 
reversed its decision within five years. Other failed attempts to 
liberalise the approach to cannabis include that of former 
Metropolitan Police chief Brian Paddick, who spearheaded a ' softly, 
softly' scheme while borough commander in Lambeth in 2001.

His party leader, Nick Clegg, has previously backed moves to 
partially decriminalise the sale of cannabis. At the Liberal Democrat 
conference yesterday, he called for people to be spared jail if they 
are caught with small amounts of drugs.

In 2005, David Cameron, when he ran for the Tory leadership, said it 
would be 'disappointing' if radical options on the law on cannabis 
were not looked at. He said he favoured 'fresh thinking and a new 
approach' towards drugs policy.

Mr Cameron also voted, when he was a member of the Home Affairs 
Select Committee, for the UN body on drugs policy to look at whether 
to legalise and regulate the drugs trade. Today, he no longer 
supports decriminalisation.

Professor Hall last night declined to comment on the decriminalisation debate.

But in his paper, published in the journal Addiction, he wrote that 
the rise of medical treatment for cannabis 'dependence syndrome' had 
not been stopped by legalisation. The number of cannabis users 
seeking help to quit or control their cannabis use has increased 
during the past two decades in the United States, Europe and 
Australia,' he wrote. 'The same increase has occurred in the 
Netherlands, where cannabis use was decriminalised more than 40 years ago.'

David Raynes, of the National Drug Prevention Alliance, added: 'There 
is no case for legalisation and we hope that this puts an end to the 
matter. The two main parties agree that cannabis needs to remain 
illegal - we hope the Liberal Democrats see this research and 
re-examine their policies.'


The celebrities and campaigners who claimed cannabis was safe

FOR years, activists and celebrities trying to decriminalise cannabis 
have campaigned on the claim that the real health damage to users is 
done by the legal ban on drugs. They have dismissed the growing 
evidence that smoking cannabis is a serious risk to mental health.

Prominent supporters of decriminalisation have included comedian 
Russell Brand, singer Sting, writer Will Self and left-wing barrister 
Michael Mansfield.

A key figure has been David Nutt, who was chairman of the Home Office 
Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, until sacked for his 
campaigning five years ago. The professor said the risk of lung 
cancer from smoking was vastly greater than the risk of psychosis 
from cannabis.

He gave a lecture in 2009 in which he said: 'The analysis we came up 
with was that smokers of cannabis are about 2. times more likely to 
have a psychotic-like experience than non-smokers. To put that figure 
in proportion, you are 20 times more likely to get lung cancer if you 
smoke tobacco than if you don't.

'The other paradox is that schizophrenia seems to be disappearing 
from the general population, even though cannabis use has increased 
markedly in the last 30 years.

'So, even though skunk has been around now for ten years, there has 
been no upswing in schizophrenia. Where people have looked, they 
haven't found any evidence linking cannabis use in a population and 

The claim that cannabis is harmless is repeated in a documentary 
shortly to be released in Britain called The Culture High, which 
features interviews with Sir Richard Branson and Mike Trace, 
Britain's deputy drugs czar under Tony Blair. He was sacked after the 
Mail revealed he was planning to launch a decriminalisation pressure group.

The film contains an interview with an academic who states that 
'marijuana is the most non-toxic medicine I have ever come across' 
and maintains, according to reports, that 'scientific evidence 
overwhelmingly shows it has medical benefits'.

Sir Richard's appearance in the film is part of a long-running 
personal campaign against the legal ban on drugs. Sir Richard is also 
part of the Global Commission on Drug Policy, a pressure group which 
says legalisation would 'safeguard the health and security of citizens'.
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