Peter Reynolds

The life and times of Peter Reynolds

Reefer Madness 3.0 Is Here And It’s Being Promoted By Cannabis Law Reformers.

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Reefer Madness started in 1930s America with the propaganda film of the same name.

Reefer Madness 2.0 was promoted by the Daily Mail from 2003 onwards after cannabis was classified downwards to a class C drug.  It was strongly supported by the Labour Party through home secretaries Jacqui Smith, Alan Johnson and prime minister Gordon Brown.

Reefer Madness 3.0 is its latest incarnation but this time it’s promoted by reform groups Transform, which has been around as long as CLEAR and Volteface, which is a new group funded by Paul Birch’s personal fortune.  (Birch was also the founder of the now defunct Cannabis Is Safer Than Alcohol (CISTA) political party.)  Despite the overwhelming body of scientific evidence and the facts of healthcare records which show that cannabis is an insignificant health problem, both Transform and Volteface argue that ‘cannabis is dangerous so it must be regulated’.

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This is nonsense.  Cannabis is not dangerous, in fact for most people it’s beneficial.  It’s prohibition and enforcement of the law against cannabis that are dangerous.  Prohibition has caused far more harm than cannabis ever has or ever could.  Cannabis needs to be regulated because prohibition is dangerous.

I’m very disappointed by the new, much-hyped Volteface report ‘Street Lottery’. It offers nothing new, either in information or in proposed solutions. It takes us no further on from Transform’s work in 2009 or CLEAR’s proposals from 2011.  What it does is ramp up the unjustified scaremongering and panic about high THC and low CBD levels.  It panders slavishly to the exaggerated studies on psychosis from the Institute of Psychiatry and wildly overstates the health harms that, in fact, only occur in a very small number of people.

That’s not to say that we shouldn’t do all we can to protect those very few people for whom cannabis can be a problem and we should certainly educate about harm reduction.  The most important message is that the most dangerous thing about cannabis is mixing it with tobacco.

It’s worth saying that in my opinion, cannabis is a better product when it has higher levels of CBD than usually found in what’s generally available today.  When I say better, I mean more pleasant for recreational use and more effective for medicinal use and it is the ratio of THC:CBD that is more important than the absolute levels.  10:1 THC:CBD is plenty adequate enough to provide the benefits of CBD, any higher that 3:1 and it begins to wipe out the benefits of THC.  It certainly is true that younger people and novice users are best with higher levels of CBD.

Of course I understand that arguing for regulation as a means of reducing harm should encourage politicians towards reform.  I’m all for that but we don’t have to exaggerate the health harms and overlook the massive social harms in order to do that. However, it’s blindingly obvious that decisions on drugs policy are not made rationally, so what’s the point?  Our politicians have failed to act on cannabis law reform, despite the solution to the harms of the criminal market being obvious for more than 30 years. Ministers are completely disinterested in effective drugs policy. The truth about their attitude is best illustrated by the Psychoactive Substances Act. This disastrous legislation is regarded as a success because it has taken the sale of NPS off the high street and driven it underground. This is all that ministers care about. They have been seen to do something and these drugs are no longer so obviously available. They really don’t give a damn that use has increased, harms have multiplied and deaths are becoming increasingly common.

Where the Volteface report actually takes us backwards is its pandering to renewed reefer madness and vast exaggeration of the harms of cannabis.

Correct, cannabis can be harmful to a tiny minority of consumers. All the speculative studies from Robin Murray and his team at the Institute of Psychiatry, all the scaremongering hyperbole in what is presented as ‘scientific’ evidence, all the esoteric, statistical tricks that create alarming headlines – none of these can change the hard facts of how infinitesimal is the number of people whose health is genuinely impaired by cannabis.

It’s ‘young people’ that all the concern is about but in the last five years there has been an average of just 28 cases per year of cannabis-induced psychosis – a tragedy for the individuals but a problem that is irrelevant in public health terms:

For the entire population the total number of finished admission episodes (FAE) for ‘mental and behavioural problems due to use of cannabinoids’ in 2015 – 16 was 1606.  A very long way from a problem of huge significance and you don’t be have to be an expert to realise that a very large proportion of those are due to ‘Spice’, suynthtrci cannabinoids which can have severe health effects.

For GP and community health treatment, Public Health England’s own data shows that 89% of under-18s in treatment are coerced into it, only in 11% of cases does the patient themselves or their families believe they need it: See table 2.4.1

I welcome any new entrant to the drugs policy reform movement. We need all the help we can get but all Volteface has done since its inception is repeat the work already done by other groups. Now it is pursuing the same flawed and misguided route as Transform. It’s worth repeating – cannabis doesn’t need to be regulated because it is dangerous, it isn’t, cannabis needs to regulated because prohibition is dangerous.

US Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders

Note that this mythical ‘mental health crisis’ only seems to exist in the UK. It doesn’t exist in the rest of Europe, the USA, Israel or other jurisdictions where cannabis is legally avalable. Note also that former US Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders is published in the November edition of the American Journal of Public Health saying “The unjust prohibition of marijuana has done more damage to public health than has marijuana itself.”

The valuable contribution Volteface has made so far to cannabis law reform is the money it has spent on professional media relations. This has elevated the subject up the news agenda and that is a very good thing indeed. Everyone, cannabis consumers and those who don’t have the slightest interest, will benefit from legalisation. The sooner we get on with it the better.  A legal, regulated market will help protect the few dozen children and few hundred adults who are vulnerable to possible health harms.  Much, much more important it will halt the enormous harm that prohibition causes.


7 Responses

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  1. Excellent article. Prof Murray has been desperately trying to prove his theory since forever…I remember him wittering on when I was a Director at SLAM years ago…unfortunately the gutter press laps his ravings up and the IOP gets lots of lovely lolly……


    October 22, 2017 at 7:04 am

  2. The sad thing is that the “harms” from cannabis can be helped with other drugs that are also illegal! Those other drugs are not addictive but are banned under the same propaganda as weed, Ps your post as always informative and clear to the point!


    October 22, 2017 at 10:39 pm

  3. In some recent blogs on the clear site – you’ve described some cannabis risks/harms in quite a lot of detail (see below – and you sort of do it here) and make an argument for regulation of potency and age controls on this basis. Risk/harm are not significantly different concepts to danger. You seem to say its dangerous and then that it it isnt. But anyway I don’t see how your argument differs in any meaningful way from that of VF or Transform (who both seem to use all three terms re drug using behaviours fairly interchangably). No one is arguing prohibition isn’t dangerous; that why all campaigner want legalisation. You make the argument yourself that regulation reduces risks of use AND policy.

    from two recent blogs on Lord Monson, one on cannabis and the young

    “Just three months ago, Rupert, Nicholas Monson’s younger son, took his own life after a descent into depression and psychosis in which the excessive consumption of so-called ‘skunk’ was clearly a significant factor. Rupert himself said that he was addicted and there is good evidence to show that cannabis without CBD is more addictive. It is well established from research as far back as the early 1990s that approx 9% of regular users develop dependence which produces real physical withdrawal symptoms: insomnia, lack of appetite and irritability, sometimes a headache. For most people these are easily overcome within a week or so but not for everyone. Most importantly though, cannabis in the early 1990s contained, on average, half to a third as much THC as it does now and always a healthy buffer of CBD. The addictiveness of so-called ‘skunk’ with zero or very little CBD, is several times greater than the cannabis available 20 to 30 years ago.”

    “‘Skunk’ is a form of cannabis with zero or very little CBD that can be harmful to young people and the vulnerable. The criminal market has driven the production of ‘skunk’ with high levels of THC, the psychoactive compound and low levels of CBD, the protective, anti-psychotic compound.”

    “Nobody is suggesting that heavy use of cannabis by young people does not bear risks. Of course, it does but these are self-evident.”

    “we support the idea of legally available cannabis with a maximum THC:CBD ratio of 3:1. This could be the basis of a system that could work very successfully. The product would be available only through a limited number of licensed outlets to adults only. It would be supplied in appropriate packaging with detailed labelling of contents. Possession of any cannabis not in this packaging would be reasonable grounds for it to be seized and tested.”

    You have also torn strips off other campaigners for using the term skunk in the past – even if contextualised. You are now seemingly embracing it yourself. Again there seems some unjustifiable inconsistency here.

    I also dont understand what you hope to achieve through the highly personal nature of your critique.(more so in the later blog on North/Birch) seemingly because youdiffer on what – semantics of risk vs danger? the detail and nuance of a campaign strategy? The snarkiness only serves to undermine any useful points you might make. We are all adults here. Why not focus on the policy issue and leave the personal stuff for kids in the playground. It adds precisely nothing.


    December 7, 2017 at 10:38 pm

    • If you want me to take your comment seriously then why are you posting under some silly pseudonym? Don’t expect me to give my time to answer your quibbling and snide criticism unless you have the common courtesy to identify yourself. I’m afraid such conduct is all too common from those who want to pontificate on the cannabis campaign and I’ve had a belly full of it.

      Peter Reynolds

      December 8, 2017 at 4:47 pm

      • theres plenty of reasons why people might want to stay anonymous as cannabis campaigners/advocates. You should understand and respect that. What’s important is the issues at hand. Any response to the perfectly reasonable question posed?

        specifically – in the context of the quotes cited, how does your position differ from those you criticise (quite harshly!)? I not attacking you, I just don’t get it.

        the point on skunk was more of an observation but does speak to the thread of seemingly misplaced criticism. likewise the unnecessarily personal nature of your analysis.

        People arent beyond changing their views or position or strategies – as you have recently on ‘skunk’. So discussing it is useful – its not meant to be negative. I rate a lot of what you do – i just dont get this bit.


        December 8, 2017 at 6:18 pm

      • No, I don’t respect it at all. One of the saddest lessons of the last six years has been how many scumbag, two faced deceivers, troublemakers and lowlifes hide behind such pseudonyms – particularly in the cannabis campaign.

        Peter Reynolds

        December 8, 2017 at 8:46 pm

  4. I know this is an old article, but I too take issue with your criticism of the research being undertaken that links the use of skunk to schizophrenia/psychosis. Thank goodness someone is so that other young people can be informed and deterred from using it. I speak as a mother to a 21 year old who became schizophrenic after smoking skunk. He had been a fit and healthy young man who had played football since a young child and had many friends. Unfortunately, he began mixing with older boys in his plus 16 years football team (included those in their 20’s) and began smoking skunk with them. That changed everything about him. He stopped socialising with his regular friends and became withdrawn. It resulted in him being sectioned under the mental health act and he has still not recovered as he now refuses to take his medication. His life and our lives are destroyed because of it. He now smokes it more than ever and the change in his behaviour is evident shortly afterwards. It is a constant battle trying to stop him smoking it. We fear him harming himself or others constantly. I also know a 19 year old, again, full of fun and very sociable, who committed suicide – he had suffered mental health problems after smoking skunk. I know so many young people who smoke it and have no ambition or drive and are depressed. We need to stop playing Russian roulette with the minds of our young people and warn them of the dangers of high potency skunk. A young man in his early 20’s who was schizophrenic has recently murdered his own mother and another woman and it was no surprise to me that he smoked skunk. It is very irresponsible of you to disregard research like this. There has also been a recent study done in Australia confirming the findings that smoking cannabis, particularly skunk, under the age of 20, when the brain is still developing can result in psychosis/schizophrenia.
    You should pay a visit to your local mental health unit and see all the drug-induced psychotic patients in there.
    Incidently, it was not recorded that my son developed schizophrenia due to smoking skunk, as psychiatrists are not generally willing to state this as a reason – most are still referring to a person having to have a predisposition to developing it and are not blaming the skunk officially. So, my son will not be included in those figures and nor will many others. I know it was this that caused it as he was completely normal mentally prior to smoking it.


    March 15, 2019 at 4:09 pm

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