Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Cannabis is a Hard Drug Too! - More DFA Deceit

Here is just another in a long line of farcical positions held by Drug Free Australia (DFA). Their arguments are thin, their science is junk and their evidence is cherry picked from millions of pages of research. DFA are notorious for producing misinformation and twisting facts. This article is a another example.

CANNABIS is a Hard Drug Too! 
Spring 2008 

Why is cannabis still separated out from the so-called ‘hard drugs’ in Australian statistical data, given that we now have strong evidence of its devastating harms?

In countries such as Sweden, which has the lowest illicit drug use in the OECD, cannabis has NEVER been considered ‘soft’. In the UK it has just been re-classified up to a Class B drug – sending a strong message to their community that this drug is definitely NOT soft!

However, the situation may be about to change in Australia. The establishment of the innovative new cannabis research centre (NCPIC) is certainly a step in the right direction. Drug Free Australia welcomed the excellent address given by the Federal Minister for Health and Ageing, Nicola Roxon, when she opened the Centre earlier this year.

She, along with Professor Alan Budney, a specialist in the field, both emphasised the complexities and harms of cannabis. We were further heartened by meetings with two Federal Ministerial Advisers, both of whom assured us a preventative approach to illicit drug policy is being taken seriously by Labor.

The most recent, compelling evidence cannot be disregarded. For instance, the Australian Medical Association has issued warnings on the health risks associated with smoking marijuana. Risks of cannabis use include memory loss, psychosis, impaired driving, hallucinations, asthma, and even lung cancer. Moreover, warns the AMA, one third to one half of detained patients admitted to psychiatric units in Australia are there because marijuana use has precipitated their condition. A new scientific study conducted in New Zealand indicates that long term cannabis use increases the risk of lung cancer in young adults. The study recognised that cannabis smoke has been shown to have greater concentrations of carcinogenic hydrocarbons than tobacco.

Many national and international studies have found that drivers intoxicated with cannabis, pose a high risk of road accidents. For example a 10 year Victorian study found a 7 times greater risk of a fatal accident. Other studies clearly show that cannabis impairs vehicle control, including the ability to stay in one lane, as well as slowing reaction time. (ANCD Report, Dec 2004).

Highly respected medical practitioners in Australia and overseas have confirmed that cannabis use is linked to psychosis. Dr Brian Boettcher, Consulting Psychiatrist in the UK reports that ‘Cannabis is capable of precipitating psychosis, going on to the chronic cases in people who have had no family and personal history of psychiatric illness. There have been suggestions that such people may be the ones who have started cannabis in their teens’.

So far as cannabis use and birth defects is concerned, a Commonwealth Department of Health publication to medical practitioners warns of foetal brain development, relative prematurity, smaller length and head circumference, malformations, higher rate of miscarriage and perinatal death. A US study found a 10 times greater risk of non- lymphoblastic cancer to infants of marijuana- using mothers. Other effects in the new born are lethargy, slow to gain weight, increased startle reflexes, tremors and possible long- term developmental and behavioural effects. All of this clearly points to the fact that cannabis should be considered at least as serious as other ‘hard’ drugs such as heroin or methamphetamines.

I have watched almost daily as Jo Baxter and Gary Christian contribute their special brand of drug propaganda to the Australian National Council on Drugs (ANCD) email forums, DrugTalk and Update. I have also recently watched many members unsubscribe as the content quality is reduced by these people. 

Maybe it’s the posts from Jo Baxter using comments from the religious, anti-drug zealots, Drug Advisory Council of Australia Inc.(DACA) as some sort of authority or Gary Christian bombarding every topic with multiple emails and his never ending focus shifts when he hits a wall of expertise. 

Just today on the radio, I heard Jo Baxter suddenly switch topics from prescription heroin to openly legalising heroin in an attempt to mislead the listeners. She was defending her position on a possible heroin trial in Australia and when asked to respond to Dr. Alex Wodak’s suggestion for such a trial said that legalising heroin would be a mistake. Instead of responding to why prescription heroin wouldn’t work for long term addicts, she simply said legalising heroin sends the wrong message. 

This is standard stuff for DFA to change the focus of the debate with the intention to misrepresent what their opponents are really talking about. In their tiny little world there is no middle ground. Prescription heroin equals free for all drug legalisation, Harm Minimisation equals encouraging people to use drugs, decriminalisation equals legalisation, human rights for addicts equals moral decay. 

To be fair, I need to clarify my position first. I detest DFA and consider them probably the most dangerous organisation in Australia. Their polices are crude and harsh, cruel and non compassionate, unscientific and unrealistic, based on proven failures and unsuccessful strategies, full of religious rhetoric and fundamentalism, are founded on misapprehension and mythos, sly and disingenuous and basically unworkable. DFA tactics include misinformation and propaganda, arrogance and bullying, political manoeuvring and opportunity, exaggeration and guesswork, lies and deceit and especially misleading the public and government. 

Most of the DFA board/fellows are affiliated with religious groups. These include the Salvation Army and the Catholic Church and also radical evangelists like The Festival of Light, Seventh Day Adventists, Australian Family Association and even Scientology. 

Many have been part of abstinence only programs that reject Harm Minimisation like Tough Love, Drug Stop, Parents for Drug Free Youth. They have affiliation with shady groups like Southern Cross Bioethics Institute, Wilderness Therapy, Drug Free America Foundation and Knights of the Southern Cross. 

The patron is a TV evangelist who performs magic tricks on stage like curing the sick. She claims god works through her to heal the crippled or cancer sufferers. I have decided to dissect their article and seek out the actual facts. Not surprisingly it wasn’t hard. The content of the article is in red

CANNABIS is a Hard Drug Too! Why is cannabis still separated out from the so-called ‘hard drugs’ in Australian statistical data, given that we now have strong evidence of its devastating harms?

Because it’s not a hard drug. Don’t take my word for it, look to the world trend that is decriminalising cannabis at a rapid rate. 

The main reason given for decriminalisation is the separation of hard drugs from soft drugs. You are probably now asking yourself, isn’t this what the whole article is about? And you are dead right, which makes DFA dead wrong. The many countries who have or are considering classing cannabis as a soft drug have obviously researched the issue rigourously so why are DFA taking the opposite view? This is exactly my point and one of the clearest examples of why DFA has little or no credibility. Cannabis has never killed anyone, no-one has ever overdosed from it and it doesn’t cause devastating harm as DFA claims. This doesn’t mean it’s harmless but cannabis is many times safer than legal drugs like tobacco and alcohol. In moderation, there’s debate whether it’s even harmful at all but like any drug, excessive use may cause problems. 

In countries such as Sweden, which has the lowest illicit drug use in the OECD, cannabis has NEVER been considered ‘soft’. In the UK it has just been re-classified up to a Class B drug – sending a strong message to their community that this drug is definitely NOT soft!
Sweden is often used as the success story of a Zero Tolerance drug policy but there is a good reason for this. Other countries with Zero Tolerance policies like the US show that the policy has no effect whatsoever on rates of drug use. 

The US for example has the highest rate of drug use on the planet although it has similar strategies like Sweden including the classing of cannabis as a hard drug. Sweden is selectively singled out because it has always had a relatively low rate of drug use including alcohol. The Swedes are just not regular users of drugs in comparison to most countries. The statement from DFA that cannabis has been re-classified to a class B drug in the UK only claims it’s sending a message that cannabis is not a soft drug. This is not evidence that cannabis is a hard drug at all but merely political posturing. The UK government decided to raise the classification of cannabis against all recommendations from experts, the police, their own party and even a special enquiry commissioned by themselves. The enquiry report from a few years prior had suggested to lower the classification to the lowest class of C, which they did and cannabis use then dropped as a result. Move forward a few years to 2008 and the government has a new unpopular leader. In a politically motivated stunt, the lower use rates were somehow completely overlooked and cannabis was again raised to a class B drug. So much for evidence based policies when your popularity is at stake.

However, the situation may be about to change in Australia. The establishment of the innovative new cannabis research centre (NCPIC) is certainly a step in the right direction. Drug Free Australia welcomed the excellent address given by the Federal Minister for Health and Ageing, Nicola Roxon, when she opened the Centre earlier this year. She, along with Professor Alan Budney, a specialist in the field, both emphasised the complexities and harms of cannabis. We were further heartened by meetings with two Federal Ministerial Advisers, both of whom assured us a preventative approach to illicit drug policy is being taken seriously by Labor.

The National Cannabis Prevention and Information Centre (NCPIC) is being bandied about a lot by anti-drug groups. They are also receiving much criticism for being another propaganda machine. Michael Gormly, editor of Kings Cross Times gives an example in his article titled, NCPIC spouts more junk science

Funnily, Jan Copeland, the head of NCPIC recently slipped up and admitted publicly that most cannabis smokers DO NOT have problems. I wonder who the two Federal Ministerial Advisers were that met with DFA? Apparently DFA were not important enough to be welcomed by Nicola Roxon (Federal Minister for Health and Ageing), Jenny Macklin (the Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs) or Jan McLucas (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Health and Ageing). 

I did a search for DFA on the website for Health and Ageing and only found one reference to them in a one line comment regarding amphetamine-type stimulants (ATS). All other instances of DFA were for Direct Fluorescence Assay or diseases like Syphilis. So much for being noticed by the government. 

DFA do a good job of telling us they are a peak body NGO and often suggest they are part of the Australia’s strategy on illicit drugs. They make a lot of fuss about their influence on the government including their demand that Australia’s political parties come clean on their support of being “tough on drugs”. They were mostly ignored with their demand except by the Libs who coincidentally approved funding for DFA when in government. For a “Peak Body”, the have surprisingly little support from professionals. 

Looking through the websites of official organisations that deal with illicit drugs, I am yet to find support for DFA. The only links to DFA seem to be from similar groups who are also ignored by the professionals. 

Their biggest claim to fame and the source for much of their delusion is being prominent contributors to the The Bishop Report: “The Winnable War on Drugs”. This report was the result of the most loaded enquiry ever held in Australia and although it’s been written off by most experts worldwide and completely ignored by the current government, DFA still promote it as the answer to our drug problem. Apart from like minded groups, they are seen for what they are - a bunch of radical religious weirdoes who care not for addicts but their own personal ideology. 

The most recent, compelling evidence cannot be disregarded. For instance, the Australian Medical Association has issued warnings on the health risks associated with smoking marijuana. 
Risks of cannabis use include memory loss, psychosis, impaired driving, hallucinations, asthma, and even lung cancer. Moreover, warns the AMA, one third to one half of detained patients admitted to psychiatric units in Australia are there because marijuana use has precipitated their condition. 
A new scientific study conducted in New Zealand indicates that long term cannabis use increases the risk of lung cancer in young adults. The study recognised that cannabis smoke has been shown to have greater concentrations of carcinogenic hydrocarbons than tobacco.

The evidence might appear compelling but it is not fact. Only a tiny percentage ever have problems with cannabis and this is mostly confined to heavy users. Any sensible person would agree that abusing any drug increases the risks of harm. 

Most anti-drug campaigns including tobacco, focus on the extreme examples of what may occur if used excessively over many years. Nearly all illicit drugs have very little effect on the user unless abused. Heroin for example is basically non toxic and has almost no physical effects. The same is for cannabis. 

You may notice that half the list of possible harms are easily avoidable through common sense but they always seem to be included as additional scare tactics. For example, impaired driving is a no brainer. If drinkers can avoid driving when intoxicated why wouldn’t cannabis users do the same? Someone under the effects of cannabis is much more likely not to drive than alcohol affected persons but this is never mentioned. 

What about asthma or lung cancer? Do asthma sufferers smoke cigarettes? Do cigarette smokers continue if they start to get asthma? The difference with cannabis is that it can consumed by other methods apart from smoking. It seems that cannabis users again have been targeted as lacking common sense. Users with respiratory problems can include cannabis in food or use the many vaporisers available on the market. Cannabis may have greater concentrations of carcinogenic hydrocarbons than tobacco but the process of intake is completely different. Cigarette smokers inhale all day whilst cannabis users only take what they need to. Smoking 20 cigarettes a day with 10-20 puffs is vastly different to 1-4 puffs per day or week. Research on inhaling burnt plant matter shows that the body can natural accommodate a certain amount of fumes without any effect. It varies from person to person but if say 10% is harmless then 40 puffs on a cigarette being 10% of a daily total of 400 is significantly more than say 4 puffs for cannabis. It again comes down to use versus abuse. That being said, anyone who has 40 puffs of cannabis a day, every day probably needs help. 

On a side issue, since prohibition makes cannabis expensive, users often mix in tobacco to maximise their stash or control the intake potency. There is some suggestions now that a lot of craving to take cannabis is the really the desire for nicotine, not cannabis. Cannabis is classed as a very mildly dependant drug like caffeine but tobacco is classed as extremely addictive like heroin. 

Many national and international studies have found that drivers intoxicated with cannabis, pose a high risk of road accidents. For example a 10 year Victorian study found a 7 times greater risk of a fatal accident. Other studies clearly show that cannabis impairs vehicle control, including the ability to stay in one lane, as well as slowing reaction time. (ANCD Report, Dec 2004).

Ah, again the assumption that all cannabis users are completely irresponsible. No one should drive with any mind altering substance including alcohol or prescription drugs. Why would cannabis smokers be different from alcohol drinkers? You may start to see the tactics used by DFA a little clearer now.

Highly respected medical practitioners in Australia and overseas have confirmed that cannabis use is linked to psychosis. Dr Brian Boettcher, Consulting Psychiatrist in the UK reports that ‘Cannabis is capable of precipitating psychosis, going on to the chronic cases in people who have had no family and personal history of psychiatric illness. There have been suggestions that such people may be the ones who have started cannabis in their teens’.

The main medical argument by groups like DFA is the claim that it leads to psychosis. What is known is that people with a history of metal illness in their family may be prone to similar symptoms. The big question is whether those who smoke cannabis without a generic link to metal health have a greater chance of suffering psychosis than those who do not use cannabis. Again moderation is the key. Heavy use of cannabis may cause psychotic conditions but does moderate use? This has never been conclusive. DFA cite a quote from a report by Dr Brian Boettcher. What they leave out from his report is:

The drug induced psychosis seen when Cannabis is the main substance being abused is distinct phenomenologically from other psychosis. It is unusual for such a psychosis to occur without other drugs being involved to some extent and so it is difficult to tease out the differences between the effects of Cannabis and other drugs. -Dr Brian Boettcher
Then a few years later, Reuters wrote an article about a report from Dr. Mikkel Arendt of Aarhus University in Risskov, Denmark:
They found that individuals treated for post-pot smoking psychotic episodes had the same likelihood of having a mother, sister or other "first-degree" relative with schizophrenia as did the individuals who had actually been treated for schizophrenia themselves. This suggests that cannabis-induced psychosis and schizophrenia are one and the same, the researchers note. "These people would have developed schizophrenia whether or not they used cannabis" Based on the findings, the researcher says, "cannabis-induced psychosis is probably not a valid diagnosis. It should be considered schizophrenia." 

This brings up a very important point.
It's "very common" for people to have psychotic symptoms after using marijuana, such as hearing voices, feeling paranoid, or believing one has some type of special ability, Arendt said. But these symptoms typically last only an hour or two. "It's a very important distinction, this 48 hours criterion," he said. 

So it still seems there is still no conclusive link to psychosis from moderate cannabis use. The psychotic symptoms are just that, symptoms or psychotic conditions not psychosis itself. Like a drinker who becomes violent or depressed when drinking, a cannabis users who suffers adverse effects should probably abstain. DFA again assumes cannabis users are incapable of controlling their use. Any normal person who has negative effects like psychotic type symptoms from taking something will most probably avoid it. 

The very reason I don’t smoke cannabis is because it has an adverse effect on me. I get paranoid and stay extra quiet until the effect wears off. I know many people like this who simply don’t take alcohol or other drugs that have unpleasant effects. So why do DFA suggest cannabis users will continue down a self destructive path as opposed to most drinkers? 

Many of the reports that suggest cannabis does cause psychosis are statistical witch hunts that process millions of possibilities until they find a result they are looking for. This is known as junk science and is well known throughout the research world. The often used “gateway theory” where cannabis leads to harder drug use is an example of this. Because X once used Y and now has psychosis then X must be a precursor for psychosis. Using their logic, alcohol and tobacco have more chance of being a precursor for psychosis than cannabis. In other words, certain groups seek out particular results to add credibility to their often tenuous agenda. DFA is one of these groups.

Norman Swan: And how often, you talk about bias and statistical bias in the reporting, to what extent do you see the statistics manipulated in order to get a positive result? 
Dr. John Ioannidis: Well one does not necessarily need any manipulation. Let's say that someone does the perfect study, the perfect epidemiological study, the perfect exploratory analysis hunting for associations. However there are ten other teams that do equally perfect studies and only one is lucky just because of chance to find some particular association with some exposure or intervention of interest. Now if we had the benefit of reporting the results of all ten, or eleven investigations with equal weight and equally soon and in equal detail then we would not be misled, we would see that here are ten studies that find nothing, and there's one that's found something but if you pull them together you see that there's absolutely no effect, nothing to be seen, so it's just statistical rules that say if you run too many studies and too many analyses a few of them will show something that is just chance. However in the current publication environment researchers are really urged to report that they have made discoveries, competition is very fierce, they have to say that we have found something and they probably don't have much time or even willingness to report and comment on what 'negative results', even though these studies may be just as important and as well conducted. So what we end up seeing many times is just the tip of the significant results that appear due to chance. 

The facts are clear. 
  • Most users of cannabis will NOT become psychotic.
  • Those with a history of mental illness in their family including themselves have a greater chance of psychosis.
  • Some of the negative effects of cannabis abuse appear as symptoms of psychosis but only last for an hour or two.
  • Cannabis use may be damaging to the young brains of teenagers.
There’s a lot of maybes in cannabis research but the fact is most users have no problems whatsoever. The small group who are prone to abuse cannabis or have adverse effects should not use it. It's simple really and I fail to see why DFA do not ever mention this. Instead, DFA are well known to cherry pick their data and write their own biased conclusions. Paul Gallagher from DFA Watch gives an excellent example in the article, Drug Free Australia; telling you what you think.

So far as cannabis use and birth defects is concerned, a Commonwealth Department of Health publication to medical practitioners warns of foetal brain development, relative prematurity, smaller length and head circumference, malformations, higher rate of miscarriage and perinatal death. A US study found a 10 times greater risk of non- lymphoblastic cancer to infants of marijuana- using mothers. 
Other effects in the new born are lethargy, slow to gain weight, increased startle reflexes, tremors and possible long- term developmental and behavioural effects. All of this clearly points to the fact that cannabis should be considered at least as serious as other ‘hard’ drugs such as heroin or methamphetamines.

No one should take potentially harmful drugs whilst pregnant including alcohol, cannabis or prescription drugs! Again, a no brainer. I keep asking this question ... why do DFA assume cannabis users can’t control themselves? Any normal person would not risk hurting their unborn child and this includes cannabis users. There is a greater chance of a drinker risking the health of their child so why aren’t DFA promoting the more dangerous situation?  

But DFA leave the best to last. In the last paragraph, the last line is the all encompassing attitude and misleading tactics of DFA. Apart from the last line, the last paragraph explains about the possible effects of cannabis on pregnant mothers but is irrelevant if the mother doesn’t use cannabis. There’s lots of grisly descriptions and damning statistics but still has nothing to do with non users or anyone not pregnant. It only mentions medical conditions and statistics on the risk of non- lymphoblastic cancer to infants. But what seems to be the case of a lazy writer, they strangely throw in:

All of this clearly points to the fact that cannabis should be considered at least as serious as other ‘hard’ drugs such as heroin or methamphetamines.”

LOL. Did they forget a paragraph? Maybe they got confused with their own lies and deceit? The last line does though give an appropriate ending to their poor attempt at providing serious information. It is out of place, out of context, not relevant to the current subject, misleading, sensationalism, incorrect and a lie. 

8 comments:

David Raynes said...

You are wrong about what happenned in the UK cannabis debate. Cannabis was downgraded four years ago in what is now widely regarded as a serious mistake. (Blunkett's Blunder named after the Minister who did it). The reclassification is because of the clear & increasing impact of cannabis induced mental illness. Our prisons are full of the mentally ill. A key factor has been cannabis with increased THC and less CBD. (CBD may moderate the effects of THC). Reclassification was called for by the UK government's own Director of Mental Health AND by the Association of Chief Police Officers. There was a stupid attempt to rig the debate in the UK Advisory Council by wheeling out your pro cannabis legaliser Simon Lenton, to tell us how we have things wrong! Government did not fall for it. The differentiation between "hard" & "soft" drugs is an illusion, a planted meme. A teenage boy who is mentally ill and become beyond education because of cannabis use, is PERMANENTLY damaged-for life, unable to reach his human potential.

Terry Wright said...

Thanks David.
All of your points are disjointed with a mixture of truth and lies (isn't this the tactics of the devil?). Each topic you mention is a separate issue but lumping them all in together is just an attempt to push the message ... Drugs Are Bad...mmkay. The only really debatable issue from your comments is why was cannabis reclassified in the UK. Gordon Brown was the real voice behind the reclassification who incidentally accepted money from the Church of Scientology to promote their strict anti-cannabis programs.

Still, it doesn't matter as my first point in the article says it all - There is a worldwide government trend to decriminalise cannabis mainly to separate hard drugs from soft drugs. This leaves your opinions largely in the minority.


BTW, are you THE David Raynes?

The ex customs officer who bungled a multi million dollar cannabis investigation? The man in charge of an investigation that cost £1.5 million because the key information "was based on a hunch [...] rather than hard evidence" and was damned by the judge as:
“a catalogue of flawed proceedings, illegality and incompetence at a number of levels”
and
"This case has revealed a culture and climate of carelessness, recklessness and disregard for the rules, procedures and convention of Maltese law, British law and international law."

The vocal supporter of Scientology drug rehab programs?

The David Raynes who secretly taped Danny Kushlick, head of the drug reform organisation Transform, after giving him a lift to a conference.

The David Raynes who is a member of farcical, propaganda driven organisations like the International Task Force on Strategic Drug Policy, the National Drugs Prevention Alliance and the Foundation for a Drug Free Europe?

If you are, then I realise you are unable to accept the facts due to your own religious like agenda. Your links to Scientology might also be a factor.

Anonymous said...

good pickup terry.
David Raynes ravings can be found in several uk newspapers.
Always critical of harm reduction and anything that actual helps people. His principal whinge is marijuana through.

weez said...

Brilliantly written piece, Terry.

DFA are becoming widely recognised for spreading manure as thickly as possible.

Why won't Jo Baxter and David Raynes PUBLICLY STATE they are NOT paedophies? What have they got to hide? :lol:

Terry Wright said...

Thanks Anon & Weez.

Why are these people so determined to demonise cannabis and spend their whole lives fighting science and logic? It makes you wonder.

67 said...

"Why are these people so determined to demonise cannabis and spend their whole lives fighting science and logic? It makes you wonder."

I think you nailed it in your rebuttal of David Raynes comment, with..
"(isn't this the tactics of the devil?)"

Nice work on the dissection of DFA's bullshit. It's only people incapable of using google that could swallow their rubbish!

iamnotacop said...

Well done Terry, and keep up the good work. As a Christian and a human being, I truly believe that making drugs illegal is a cruel and callous act. The only way to understand and help drug addicts is to listen to them, and you can't do that when you vilify and condemn them. (I am an alcoholic and a cannabis user and I wish I could stop using alcohol).

Please Mate, keep up the good work, and don't let anyone stand in your way. You are saying what many of us are too scared to say. I beg you to please keep using logic and truth in your arguments and never shut up. There are many of us out there that depend on people like you to tell the truth.

You are absolutely and completely right and it is simple as that. Nothing else needs to be said.

Terry Wright said...

Thanks 67
It is really amazing in this modern world that liars like DFA can fool so many suckers. even more amazing is that some of the government listen to them.

Iamnotacop
Thanks for your kind words.
I appreciate the positive feedback and I hope everything turns out OK for you.