Peter Reynolds

The life and times of Peter Reynolds

The Times Picks up the Reefer Madness Baton from the Daily Mail

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Stigmatising cannabis consumers and patients with one-sided and biased reporting is irresponsible misinformation, not journalism

It’s that time of year, King’s College Institute of Psychiatry has started its fundraising round so it’s time for the annual cannabis and psychosis scare story.

Over the past 10 years, in January or February each year, a press release goes out with its lead researchers, Professor Sir Robin Murray and Dr Marta di Forti, pushing another set of extremely scary statistics about how cannabis is driving consumers insane.

This year, two things are different, Firstly, there’s no new study, just repetition of previous claims.  Secondly, instead of being led by the Daily Mail, it’s The Times that has taken up the role of terrifying parents and this year there’s also a new story about over-55s who are ‘addicted’ to cannabis.

The Times’ reputation as the newspaper of record and the supreme example of English-language journalism has been faltering for some time. The decline started, inevitably, when Rupert Murdoch bought the newspaper in 1981.  It’s now tabloid-sized and, surprisingly often, tabloid in its style and disdain for the truth. In the main it is still a good source of news reporting and has an honourable record in covering the increasing acceptance of and value in the medical use of cannabis.

However, starting in September 2021 with a major feature in the Sunday magazine by Megan Agnew,‘Cannabis psychosis: how super-powered skunk blew our minds’, it has become an uncritical promoter and advocate for everything that comes out of King’s College about cannabis.

Ms Agnew interviewed me at length several months before her piece was published and I dare say she spoke to other people on the reform side of the debate as well.  Certainly not one word of what I said made it into print.  It might as well be a paid-for advertorial for Marta di Forti and Robin Murray’s work.

I’ve met Robin Murray several times. In fact, I once sat next to him for two days in a conference held in the House of Lords. In person he’s nowhere near the anti-cannabis zealot he’s portrayed as in the press and there are other people in his team who I have worked with on research projects who I think, although they wouldn’t say it, are actually on my side!  Nevertheless, the message about their research that is portrayed in the media is clearly deliberate and it is wildly misleading.

This is best demonstrated by going to the Lancet website, where all the Murray/di Forti papers are published and reading the other scientists who debunk both the results and the methodology that Murray/di Forti use.  Of course, this never gets mentioned in the press. The Times has completely excluded it from all its coverage.  Go to https://www.thelancet.com/ and search for ‘High-potency cannabis and incident psychosis: correcting the causal assumption’. You’ll see a whole new perspective on King’s College and its scientists.

This obsession with demonising cannabis is centred on the UK, precisely because of the endlessly repetitive work carried out at King’s College and the appetite that British press has for sensationalising it.  Australia also suffers from it to some degree but nowhere else in the world experiences the same systematic, ludicrous scaremongering.  That’s not to say that the potential dangers of cannabis as a psychoactive substance are ignored, they’re simply given proportionate recognition.  Clearly anything that affects the mind can, potentially, cause harm and needs consideration, just as we do with alcohol, coffee, energy drinks and many medicines. Sadly there will always be casualties but provided we do all we can to minimise them, they do not justify prohibition.  The evidence is clear that always causes more harm than good and it is self-evident that harm is better controlled and casualties more effectively prevented in a legal environment, not in a market run by gangsters and organised crime.

 

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