by the Prohibition law. For nothing is more destructive of respect for the
government and the law of the land than passing laws which cannot be
enforced." — Albert Einstein
Headlines about the “devout Christian mother of three” who died from “cannabis poisoning” have circulated far and wide this week after a coroner confirmed that the autopsy found no natural cause for her death and it is “more likely than not that she died from the effects of cannabis.”
Gemma Moss, 31, who died with “moderate to heavy levels” of cannabinoids in her blood according to pathologist Dr. Kudair Hussein, was a frequent marijuana user before quitting two years before her death last October. She had started using marijuana again to help her sleep after becoming depressed from a recent breakup. Moss is known to have suffered from depression and was on prescription drugs, though according to the coroner, it did not appear she was taking them at the time of her death. Half a joint was found underneath her body when the ambulance arrived on the night of her death.
The reason why every major media outlet from BBC News to the International Business Times has picked up this story is, obviously, because death by marijuana hasn’t come around since Reefer Madness. It’s shocking because it just doesn’t happen.
“From half a joint? That’s ridiculous,” professor of psychiatry at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Dr. Yasmin Hurd told the Daily News. Dr. Bradley Flansbaum, a hospitalist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York, said it would be “very, very, very unlikely to get a lethal dose of marijuana if it wasn’t adulterated with something.” Both said that a marijuana death is only possible if it has been laced with another, harder drug, or if an underlying heart condition or similar ailment were exacerbated by the rush or anxiety from toking up.
Moss’ story flies in the face of decades of medical research. According to a report on the toxicity of recreational drugs published by the American Scientist, a person would need to consume more than 1,000 times the effective dose in order to die from marijuana. The report found no published cases that document deaths from smoking marijuana, which it said is safer than getting drunk. It would take just 10 times the amount (of enough alcohol to get buzzed) in order to die from alcohol poisoning.
Stories like these play on the fears of marijuana prohibitionists who cling to whatever evidence they can find that marijuana is harmful. But tell that to Colorado and Washington, where voters (including Bill Gates) legalized recreational marijuana in 2012, and the 20 U.S. states that have approved medical marijuana, with more states in the process of passing similar legislation. And let’s not forget to mention Uruguay, the first country to legalize marijuana across the board. Even President Obama, a well-documented former pot smoker, said pot is less dangerous than alcohol.
So let the prohibitionists ride out this sensationalist blip of a story. It’s all they’ve got, since it’s pretty clear what we know about marijuana in this day and age, and it’s definitely not that it’s going to kill you. Just ask the reddittors over at r/trees.
Police in England are distributing “scratch and sniff” cards to help members of the public detect the telltale aroma of illicit cannabis farms.
The cards, which replicate the distinct smell of growing marijuana, will be mailed to homes in 13 areas throughout the country, in the hope that they will help people to identify cannabis factories in their communities.
[…] Crimestoppers offers a list of clues for spotting cannabis cultivation, including a “strong and sickly sweet smell; visitors at unsociable hours; strong and constant lighting day and night and lots of cables.”
The U.K. saw a 15% growth in cannabis production in 2011-12, according to Crimestoppers, which the group claimed has led to an increase in theft, violence and the use of firearms, as well as an increased risk of fire in residential areas where growers have tampered with electrical supplies. Supplying cannabis in the U.K. can lead to a 14-year prison sentence.
Research by Professor David Nutt [professor of neuropsychopharmacology at Imperial College London] has found that psilocybin switches off part of the brain called the anterior cingulate cortex. It was known that this area is overactive in individuals suffering from depression. In his tests on healthy individuals, it was found that psilocybin had a profound effect on making these volunteers feel happier weeks after they had taken the drug, said Nutt – who was sacked as the chairman of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs in 2009 after repeatedly clashing with government ministers about the dangers and classification of illicit drugs.
Nutt’s team also discovered that another section of the brain known as the default mode network was also influenced by psilocybin. “People with depression have overactive default mode networks and so ruminate on themselves, on their inadequacies, on their badness, that they are worthless, that they have failed – to an extent that is sometimes delusional. Again psilo-cybin appears to block that activity and stops this obsessive rumination.”
The Conservative MP Priti Patel told the Daily Mail: “These people are not just dealing drugs – they are destroying people’s lives.” Patel should have a word with some of her colleagues. Louise Mensch admits that it is “highly probable” she took drugs in the 1990s, and she’s done all right. Or perhaps it is the tragic case of Barack Obama that Patel has in mind? As a teenager, he made the fatal error of experimenting with marijuana, which led on to cocaine and then – with sad inevitability – to a legal career, and the presidency of his nation.
To be fair to Patel, if you don’t take this “destroying lives” line, you’ll be forever labelled “soft on drugs” (as even the sentencing council are in the Mail). “Drugs are illegal because they are harmful – they destroy lives and cause untold misery,” said a Home Office statement in response to demands for decriminalisation from a group including three chief constables and a former drugs minister last year.
Poor Ed Miliband could only agree, using another favourite formulation. “I worry about the effects on young people,” he said, “the message that we would be sending out.” When a politician says their policy is based on “sending out a message” you can be sure that what they really mean is that it’s wrong, but politically necessary.
Which, of course, has always been the problem with drugs. There are risks associated with their use; but there are very serious risks associated with alcohol, serving in the army or eating badly that we accept. And when the former government adviser Professor David Nutt, pointed out – accurately, in a scientific paper – that alcohol and tobacco were in many ways more harmful than LSD or ecstasy, he was sacked by Alan Johnson because his comments might “damage efforts to give the public clear messages about the dangers of drugs”.
As a country, we look back in horror now at the delusions of other eras – when it was illegal to be gay, for instance, or when women could not vote. Yet we do not stop and see that we are living through another one. Decriminalisation would end the violent illegal drug trade; drug treatment and prescription for addicts would prevent them from committing crime. Both measures would make gigantic savings on the cost of policing and imprisoning offenders, and on clearing up the consequences of their actions. They would also end the outrage of people being locked up for the crime of seeking mostly harmless fun. It’s our laws that are destroying lives. +
The first international drug treaty was signed a century ago this week. So what was the war on drugs like in 1912?
"Victorian Britain had been awash with opium but you wouldn’t smoke it in a den, you’d get it from the chemist as a gloopy liquid. The opium dens were largely fictional constructs encouraged by stories like Sherlock Holmes and the writings of Oscar Wilde," [Mike Jay, author of Emperors of Dreams: Drugs in the Nineteenth Century] notes.
Today, when the efficacy of anti-drug measures is constantly debated, it seems curious that the 1912 treaty was an effective measure. Domestically, in the UK, the police had the upper hand.
The big changes in the West’s attitude to drugs came after World War II, Jay argues.
"The baby boomers were the first generation in history to become real global consumers. People were suddenly going to Morocco to smoke hash, or hitching with lorry drivers who were using amphetamines."
So the floodgates opened. Where once the authorities were fighting relatively small groups of offenders in a tiny drugs subculture, now they must fight millions of users and powerful international cartels. +
Middle-aged adults whose memories have grown hazy can’t blame occasional pot smoking or other light illicit drug use for their forgetfulness, according to a British study, although experts warn heavy, prolonged use could harm mental functions. +
The following is the abstract of a new review published online in the Journal of Psychopharmacology titled "Popular intoxicants: what lessons can be learned from the last 40 years of alcohol and cannabis regulation?"
In this paper we discuss the relative physical, psychological and social harms of the two most frequently used intoxicant drugs in the UK, namely cannabis and alcohol. Over the past 40 years, the use of both drugs has risen significantly with differential consequences. It is argued that increased policing of cannabis use under the current drug classification system will lead to increased criminalization of young people, but is unlikely to significantly reduce the rates of schizophrenia and psychosis. In comparison, increases in alcohol drinking are related to significant increases in liver cirrhosis hospital admissions and mortality, at a time when mortality rates from other major causes are on the decline. A recent expert-led comparison of the health and social harms to the user and to others caused by the most commonly used drugs in the UK showed alcohol to be more than twice as harmful as cannabis to users, and five times as harmful as cannabis to others. The findings underline the need for a coherent, evidence-based drugs policy that enables individuals to make informed decisions about the consequences of their drug use.
London, UK / September 16-17
This is a conference on drug and criminal justice policy in which policy analysts, activists, film-maker, academics and an MP come together, for an exploration of what a post-prohibition society could look like, and how we might get there in our lifetime. This event is hosted by openDemocracy and Know Drugs.
Officials monitoring the European drugs market identified 20 new synthetic psychoactive substances in the first four months of this year, according to Paolo Deluca, co-principal investigator at the Psychonaut Research Project, an EU-funded organisation based at King’s College London, which studies trends in drug use. He said officials at the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA), an early-warning unit, had detected 20 new substances for sale by May this year. In 2010 the agency had noted 41 new psychoactive substances, a record number, many of which were synthetic cathinone derivatives that can imitate the effects of cocaine, ecstasy or amphetamines.
[…] Steve Rolles, senior policy analyst at TDPF, said attempts to ban one new substance after another was “like a cat chasing its tail”. He added: "Each time they ban one, another emerges. It seems to show a blindness to the basic market dynamic, effectively creating a void for backstreet chemists to create another product." The group is one of many urging the government to adopt a regulatory position between total prohibition or an “internet-free-for all”. +
Mitch Winehouse, father of the singer Amy who died last month, has urged politicians to do more to help young people with drug and alcohol problems, at a Westminster meeting.
[…] Sarah Graham, an addiction expert, who went to the meeting with Mr Winehouse, said: “We are looking at how we can fund a rehab in Amy’s name but we don’t think the foundation should pay for it. If we build something, we need the Government to commit to pay for the beds long-term.” +