Sunday, January 08, 2006

Turning back the clock, Ch. 23,947




Cannabis: Can it really drive you mad?


It is the world's oldest euphoric drug, long viewed by any liberal worth their salt as a victim of unfair drug laws. The notion that a spliff is a safer, sweeter means of relaxing than a pint has over the years spread way beyond its traditional student constituency to every corner of society. But two years after the Government listened to these voices and the law was relaxed, its safety is under question as never before. A report to be published within the next few weeks is expected to confirm what some psychiatrists have been warning for years. That cannabis, reputedly taken by Queen Victoria to banish her period pains, may be driving its users - many of them children - insane.

Charles Clarke, the Home Secretary, indicated last week that following the report from the the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, he is planning a U-turn on David Blunkett's reclassification of cannabis in 2004. Clarke is expected to take cannabis from Class C back to Class B status, with tougher penalties for possession. But is cannabis really so dangerous?

...

Robin Murray, professor of psychiatry at the Institute of Psychiatry, has sounded the loudest warnings about cannabis, but even he says: "It is obviously ridiculous to say everyone who smokes cannabis is going to become psychotic. Even in our studies of adolescents, 90 per cent of those who smoked cannabis did not go on to develop psychosis."

...

Professor Murray says that overall, results from a number of studies suggest that smoking cannabis raises risk of psychosis by two to four times - increasing the incidence from one in 100 to up to four in 100. In south London, where he works, the incidence of schizophrenia has doubled since 1964. Although this is partly accounted for by immigration - schizophrenia is higher among Afro-Caribbeans - the rate is also up within the white population.

...

Trevor Turner, consultant psychiatrist at St Bartholomew's Hospital, London, and vice president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said there were three reasons why the case against cannabis remains to be proved: "First, there has been no increase in schizophrenia in this country despite a massive increase in cannabis smoking. Second, there is no evidence that cannabis-growing populations such as Jamaica have a higher incidence of psychosis. Third, you can show an association [between the drug and the illness] but you can't show a cause."

Patients with schizophrenia often have long-standing prior problems of depression, withdrawal, school refusal and behavioural difficulties before they are diagnosed.

Once the Home Secretary addresses the dangers of tobacco, alcohol and the typical British diet with proper vigor, this will be a fine issue for him to focus on.

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