Cannabis is, and for some time has been, a class B drug; very illegal, for those who wonder what that means. But the government is in a long-standing argument with its former drugs advisor professor David Nutt and his research team, The Independent Scientific Committee on Drugs (ISCD). The ISCD’s research suggests that if we rank drugs according to a harm-scale the way the government has chosen to regulate drugs is arbitrary; harm, the thing we think regulation is set up to prevent, doesn’t seem related to the real regulations.
There are, admittedly, some links between cannabis and mental illness. But a review of that literature shows that it is only really fair to say that ‘cannabis exaggerates existing mental conditions’; the risks are, for the most part, only for those who are already at risk. But the same can be said for alcohol and personality disorders; prescription drugs and liver problems; Chantix and mental health. So why isn’t cannabis legal?
Or at least medical cannabis. In terms of long-term pain management cannabis is less troublesome than over the counter aspirin (which thins the blood and has links to colorectal cancer) and ibuprofen (which increases risks of renal and gastrointestinal damage and diabetes). Cannabis is essentially benign compared to some prescription drugs (antidepressants can cause delusions, anti-nausea medication can cause psychotic symptoms, as can depressants and ADHD medications). Heath ledger should always serve as a reminder that prescription drugs can be overdosed on, and be fatal.
Not cannabis, though. People with chronic pain conditions, like Multiple sclerosis (MS) and fibromyalgia (FM), can use cannabis to manage their symptoms. It is safe to self-medicate, it relieves symptoms of depressions and stimulates appetite. When you consider that decreased appetite and depression are side effects of chronic pain, this is important. It can help the sleeping patterns of insomniacs and chronic pain sufferers alike.
There is some debate, even within areas where councils and government allow medical cannabis, whether patients would be better off smoking it, or taking synthesised derivatives. The problem is that when you smoke cannabis it is very difficult to get an exact dose. But, at the same time, you can’t over dose. So what’s the issue with inconsistent doses? Also, there are at least 40 medicinally useful chemicals in cannabis but only 1 of these are synthesised. Smoking is more efficient and cheaper than synthesised options.
The synthesised version is pure THC, and is an active ingredient in cannabis. This is the chemical linked to psychosis. But other chemicals in leaf-form cannabis, particularly cannabidiol, actually mitigate this effect; smoking cannabis reduces the risk of psychosis compared to its synthesised counterpart. Use of smoked cannabis as a drug is 5,000 years old, which means that it pre-dates Jesus by 3,000 years, and pre-dates cattle by 1,000 years.
So, should it be legalised recreationally? My opinion is worthless in this argument, because I believe all narcotics should be legalised, regulated and taxed. I believe this because I don’t take any illegal drugs and the legality of those drugs is not the issue. The leading reasons I don’t do it are health concerns, cost and that it doesn’t really interest me. But it also worth pointing out that if I change my mind I have to find a drug dealer that I trust to give me the drugs without impurities like rat poison, and I don’t trust people that much.
But what would a rational person conclude without this complete liberalisation of drugs? Using existing guidelines, remembering that alcohol and tobacco are age-restricted but still very much legal, what would one conclude?
The NHS LiveWell page cites the side effects of long-term use of alcohol to be:
- 2 to 5 times the chances of mouth, neck or throat cancer
- Up to 10 times the chances to develop liver cirrhosis
- 2 to 4 times the likelihood of high blood pressure (leading to heart attacks and strokes)
- Twice the likelihood of having an irregular heart beat
- 50% increase in the chances of breast cancer in women
In summary, a lot of cancer and death.
Other sources indicate a risk of “korsakoff’s psychosis”, hepatic encephalopathy (alters mood and personality; causes psychiatric conditions like depression and anxiety and in extreme cases can cause a hepatic coma which is potentially fatal).
The Independent Scientific Committee on Drugs (ISCD) cites the main risks of cannabis as:
- Temporary psychotic symptoms
- More apparent in clinical trials with synthesised THC, less apparent in observational trials with smoked cannabis
- Links with poor academic achievement (the cause-effect relationship is unknown)
- Lessens schizophrenia treatment
- 2 to 5 times the chances of throat cancer (when smoked)
It should also be noted that there is no known case of an overdose on cannabis, in all practical senses cannabis is non-addictive and is much more euphoric than alcohol.
The ISCD also investigated the social and personal effects of a number of drugs; to cut a long story short The Guardian ran with the headline “Alcohol more harmful than heroine or crack”. In fact, the drugs listed in descending order of danger were: alcohol (at the number one spot), heroine, crack, crystal meth, cocaine, tobacco (also higher than cannabis, I’m sure you’ve noted), amphetamines, cannabis, GHB, benzodiazepines, ketamine, methadone, butane, qat, ecstasy, anabolic steroids, LSD, buprenorphine and magic mushrooms.
Now, I don’t smoke and I barely drink, so it is probably obvious that I also don’t take cannabis. So don’t take this as some attempt at justifying my own actions.