Peter Reynolds

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Channel 4 Drugs Live. How To Cause Confusion About Cannabis.

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Hash

Hash

What is this ‘hash’ that looks like weed and this ‘skunk’ that isn’t cannabis?

Channel 4’s ‘Drugs Live:Cannabis On Trial‘ played fast and loose with facts, terminology and ethical considerations.

Cannabis

Cannabis

To be fair, I greatly enjoyed the programme (well I would wouldn’t I) and there was some fascinating science. Particularly about how the brain responds to music when you’re high and about how CBD protects the ‘salience network’, the key to motivation.  This gives weight to the theory of an ‘amotivational syndrome’.

In a week’s time though, all that most of the public will remember is Jon Snow saying that using ‘skunk’ was more terrifying than being in a war zone and his distorted reporting of the recent study by which he implied that 25% of people who use ‘skunk’ will become psychotic.

So I am left with very mixed feelings.  The pre-publicity was a disgrace: inaccurate, misleading, unethical  – words I have already published and I stand by them.

The brazen misuse of the terms ‘skunk’ and ‘hash’ is an appalling error of judgement by Channel 4, Renegade Pictures and yes, sadly, by two scientists for whom I have the greatest  of respect: Professors Val Curran and David Nutt.

Why would you choose to use the same word as the gutter press chooses to demonise cannabis? ‘Skunk’ is a scary word and what it really means is a sativa dominant strain with a modest THC content of 8% and only traces of CBD.

As for hash, it also has a specific meaning: the compressed resin, derived from the plant by sieving or by hand rubbing.  By definition a more concentrated form of cannabis, yet the programme claimed exactly the opposite.

A far better, more accurate, more scientific and informative shorthand would have been to describe the cannabis as low CBD, high CBD and placebo.

Surely, whether we agree or disagree with their evidence, we are entitled to expect precision and accuracy from scientists?

The fundamental problem with this programme was that there were no cannabis experts present, only detached academics and scientists or cannabis users who were hardly well informed or articulate.  I did of course volunteer but for some reason the producers saw fit to exclude anyone from the cannabis campaign or anyone who has both in depth knowledge and real experience.

Unfortunately, this programme will go the same way as all those other earnest endeavours, ‘The Union’, ‘The Culture High’, ‘In Pot We Trust’, etc – all very enjoyable, self-affirming and satisfying but all preaching to the choir. I’ll be interested to see what the viewing figures were for last night’s programme.

Professor David Nutt and his Harm Index.

Professor David Nutt and his Harm Index.

The best bit was David Nutt’s final conclusion. On his scale of harms, even low CBD cannabis (the demon ‘SKUNK’)  is less harmful than alcohol, heroin, crack, meth, cocaine, tobacco and speed.  After the study he concludes that high CBD cannabis is the least harmful drug of all.

The Truth About Sativex

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Sativex is super strong, concentrated cannabis.  Nothing more, nothing less.

GW Pharmaceuticals would have you believe that it’s a “pharmaceutical” product because according to its research that’s what patients prefer.  As the GW spokesman puts it, “It’s a pharmaceutical solution, formulated with the ability to deliver a precise dose and with stringent standards of quality, safety and efficacy”.

In fact, what GW does is grow high quality cannabis under pretty much the same conditions as most illegal growers.   It uses clonal propagation to ensure consistent levels of cannabinoids.  Lighting and hydroponic nutrition is computer controlled with automatic ventilation. It really is no different from the most sophisticated and efficent illegal cannabis farms.  It’s a recognised and proven technology now also used by Bedrocan in Holland, the Dutch government’s exclusive medicinal cannabis grower and Gropech in California which is building a new 60,000 sq ft facility in Oakland for a crop worth $50 million per year.

Bedrocan Grow

The difference between these crops from legal and illegal growers is insignificant.  It’s similar to buying your tomatoes from the supermarket or the farm shop.

GW Grow

GW takes its high quality cannabis, chops it up and makes a tincture by heating it under pressure with CO2 and then adding ethanol to precipitate an oil. Then, with the addition of a little peppermint oil to mask the taste and some preservative, the filtered liquid is packaged into tiny little aerosol bottles.  Each spray delivers 2.7mg of THC and 2.5mg of CBD.  What GW doesn’t tell you that it also contains all the other 100+  cannabinoids found in the plant, each of which has its own mechanism of action and effect.  It also contains flavonoids, terpines and other compounds.  Everything that is found in the plant.

Illegal Grow

I applaud GW Pharmaceuticals for bringing the enormous benefits of cannabinoid therapy into the 21st century. It’s nothing new though. The medicinal value of the plant has been known and widely used for thousands of years.  Only in the last century has it been demonised by lies and propaganda.  It would be a mistake though to think that Sativex is anything different from the plant itself.  It’s just been wrapped up in a marketing and physical package which has enabled stupid and cowardly politicians to accept it.

In fact, Sativex remains just as illegal in Britain as herbal cannabis.  Even though it has received MHRA approval for use in the treatment of MS spasticity and may be prescribed by a doctor, it remains a schedule 1 drug under the Misuse Of Drugs Act.  The Home Office has indicated that it intends to amend the law but has not yet done so.  This means that any pharmacist who dispenses Sativex at present is guilty of exactly the same criminal offence as any street dealer in weed or hash.

The Home Office will, of course, turn a blind eye to this but not to medicinal herbal cannabis even though, in every sense, it is identical to Sativex (except that Sativex also contains alcohol and peppermint oil).  The stark idiocy of British law is revealed.

Never before has there been a better example of the how the law is an ass and so are the spineless politicians who support it.

Cannabis

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God's Herb

God's Herb

I have smoked cannabis since I was 14.  There have been a few breaks, some of a few months, some of a year or two but those apart, I have smoked cannabis every day of my life for nearly 40 years.

I have come to regard weed or hash, in all seriousness, as the Rastafarians do, as “God’s herb”.  It is a sacrament, a truly positive, honourable and precious thing in my life.  Something that I thank God, I did not miss.

I grew up with smokin’ dope.  It was a fundamental part of my adolescent culture with the Rolling Stones, the Grateful Dead, with a heady summer living the love and peace dream in Amsterdam.  LSD blew my mind in those days but a joint was always a sustaining experience.  Something I held onto.

As I grew up and got interested in business, I relished the delicious and maverick escape that I enjoyed.  I took it seriously and wrote a 40 page report for the Home Affairs Committee entitled “An Unaffordable Prejudice”.

The prejudice, misinformation and sheer nonsense has continued throughout my life.  The idiocy of downgrading cannabis to a Class C drug and then, just two years later, back up to Class B is only outdone by the crass stupidity of  failing to decriminalise it completely.  Prohibition has proved time after time to be an ineffective solution.  Worse than that, the law makes a complete ass of itself by sustaining the criminal supply and distribution of a product that is never going to go away.

Regulation is the only viable solution and would provide the framework to care for those very few who may suffer from cannabis use.

What are the dangers?  Clearly any intoxicant offers more potential for harm when used by the young, when the brain is still developing.  Despite my own experience, cannabis use should be for adults only.  In adults it has been proved to be one of the least harmful substances known to man time and time again – despite the fact that most have actually set out to prove the opposite.

Recently the popular argument has been against skunk, a strain of cannabis that can be up to 20 times stronger than that previously known.

To claim this is a recent development is simply wrong.  For at least 20 years it has been difficult to buy anything but skunk and other F1/F2 hybrids of the plant.  There are many others: Northern Lights, Haze, Blueberry, etc.  In my teens it was difficult to buy anything but Lebanese or Moroccan hashish.  In Holland where the market is partly regulated there has always been a wide choice of grass or hash from all parts of the world grown and/or processed in many different ways.

The latest suggestion is that skunk is causing psychoses in adolescents – yet the incidence of psychoses in adolescents has remained constant since records began.  This is just the lastest scaremongering.  60 years ago it was said that cannabis caused young women to be promiscuous with black men.  The standard of the argument has not improved.

It really is time that this hopeless policy against a benign, natural herbal product was stopped.  Hemp is one of the most ecologically friendly, sustainable crops in the world.  As regulated cannabis it would pull the rug from underneath a great swathe of criminality and produce billions in additional tax income.  As biofuel, building materials, fabrics and cattle feed it could help to revitalise agriculture and many other businesses.