HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html on The Lancet Editorial on Cannabis
Pubdate: Nov 17, 1998 
Source: Le Monde (France) 
Page: p32 
Copyright: Le Monde 1998 
Author: Laurence Follea (with acute accent on the "e") 
Translation: Boris Ryser & Peter Webster

[Note: Ms. Follea seems to be the principal reporter with LeMonde writing
on drug issues, and her articles are usually excellent. At the least
excuse, activists and letter writers are encouraged to contact her with
encouragement and helpful contacts. Not only the contact address above may
be tried but also  and for Ms. Follea: Laurence Follea,
fax (33) 01 4065 0325, tel (33) 01 4065 2788]


Research leads the British weekly to pronounce the drug less dangerous than
alcohol or tobacco. A committee of the House of Lords supports its use for
persons at the end of life.

"IT would be reasonable to think that the cannabis is less a threat for
health that alcohol and tobacco." The prestigious weekly scientific
magazine The Lancet published in its last issue, dated of the 14th of
November, an editorial that proposes a new approach on the debate on the
legal status of this drug.

Drawing on a survey by Australian professors Wayne Hall and Nadia Solowij
(University of Southern New-Wales, Sydney) on "the most likely undesirable
effects of cannabis" published in that same issue, In order to moderate
that Australian survey, The Lancet recalls its position of Nov 1995:
"Smoking cannabis, even as a long term habit, is not dangerous for health."
Three years later, the Lancet's editorialist wishes to qualify his
statement. He explains, "the desire to take substances that modify
consciousness is a human universal, and even the most severe laws have
failed to eradicate that desire".

Admitting the necessity to define "acceptable social limits" on individual
behavior, the author of the editorial stresses that "people have the right
to know the risks for themselves and for others." But "since the debate on
the use of cannabis provokes strong emotions," there is "no consensus on
the information that health professionals could give to their patients who
use or would use cannbis.

According to the Australian researchers, reviewing the whole of the
Scientific literature published on the question, the most important
side-effects of an intensive use of cannabis are respiratory complications
(notably bronchitis), and highway accidents (a risk which increases with
the use of alcohol). Chronic cannabis use can on the other hand be
associated in the long term with "subtle" alterations of cognitive
functions (memory, attention, comprehension) and a risk of "dependence."
The researchers note that nobody knows if these effects remain after a long
period of abstinence.

The role of the cannabis as a cause of mental illness, (schizophrenia for
instance) seems doubtful or rare and might at most only constitute an
"acceleration" of the illness for vulnerable individuals having personal or
familial psychotic dispositions. Finally, effects on sexual reproduction
are judged "uncertain" and the scientific evidence "weak and inconsistent."

In view of available scientific evidence, the editorial concludes that
"moderate indulgence in cannabis use has little danger for health" and that
"decisions to forbid or to legalize the cannabis should be based on other

This position will certainly augment the debate on the legalization of
cannabis that has just been re-opened in United Kingdom. A report written
by a scientific commission of the House of Lords, published on Wednesday 11
November, calls for "partial legalization" of cannabis for medical use. The
"compassionate" use of the cannabis for patients at the end of life or for
those afflicted with multiple sclerosis should be allowed, the committee
pleaded, even in the absense of final proof of its therapeutic virtues.

Laurence Follea 
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Checked-by: Richard Lake