Monday, 5 April 2010

Fairfax Misleads Public About Cannabis Study

Ho ho ho. Read the article below and ask yourself, would you admit to penning this crap? No wonder there’s no author’s name attached.

I might often target the media outlets under the control of Rupert Murdoch’s News Ltd but there’s usually a good reason ... they are atrocious and deserve the scorn they get. Fairfax newspapers though have traditionally kept their standards much higher than trashy media like The Daily Telegraph, The CourierMail, The HeraldSun etc. The Age, Sydney Morning Herald and The Brisbane Times from Fairfax are definitely several pegs above the competition but that seems to be changing. Their latest foray into the realm of trash media involves that old favourite of Murdoch’s journalists ... drug hysteria!

Cannabis 'Leads To Drink, Hard Drugs'
Sydney Morning Herald
April 2010

Parents have been warned to take a tough line on teenagers who smoke cannabis, with research showing even occasional use can lead to alcoholism and harder drugs.

Fairfax newspapers say about 2000 Australian schoolchildren were tracked over a decade in a study that found those who had used cannabis occasionally at age 13 and 14 were more likely to be taking ecstasy, cocaine or amphetamines at 24. They were also more at risk of addiction to cannabis, with one in 10 occasional teenage users hooked as adults.

Almost one-third of occasional cannabis users were taking harder drugs in their early 20s compared with 11 per cent of those who had not earlier used the substance.

The study, published in the British Journal of Psychiatry, linked higher levels of alcoholism to cannabis use. It said 15 per cent of occasional cannabis smokers were addicted to alcohol in early adulthood, compared with only nine per cent of those who had not smoked dope.

The study contradicts previous research that suggested regularly smoking the drug could lead to adult substance abuse but was less harmful if used infrequently.

Lead author Louisa Degenhardt, from the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre at the University of NSW, said the study highlighted the need for early intervention to stop children taking up the habit.

"What it definitely says is that early onset occasional cannabis use is a marker for being more likely to be engaging in a whole range of drug use behaviours in young adulthood."

Australian Childhood Foundation chief executive Joe Tucci urged parents not to allow their children to experiment with cannabis.

"Patterns of behaviour start early in children, so these habits can be very hard to break. Cannabis can cause lots of detrimental impacts all the way through to psychosis as you get older, so the perception of cannabis as a softer, harmless drug is not right."

The article opens with, “Parents have been warned to take a tough line on teenagers who smoke cannabis, with research showing even occasional use can lead to alcoholism and harder drugs”. It’s the use of the word, “lead” that completely changes the findings of the study. The report from The Royal College of Psychiatrists does not claim this at all but instead says it’s an indicator of future behaviour.

Conclusion: Occasional adolescent cannabis use predicts later drug use and educational problems.

Not only is the reader disingenuously led to believe that these future problems are actually caused by early cannabis use but over half of the article highlights the scary outcome of what may happen to those young users. These tactics are downright misleading and reminiscent of Murdoch’s tabloid journalism. 

Even more worrying is the supposed response by Dr. Louisa Degenhardt, who headed up the study. 

Lead author Louisa Degenhardt, from the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre at the University of NSW, said the study highlighted the need for early intervention to stop children taking up the habit.
Sydney Morning Herald - Cannabis 'Leads To Drink, Hard Drugs'

This is what she actually said:

The reason why this is important is because most young people only ever engage in occasional cannabis use. What it definitely says is that early onset occasional cannabis use is a marker for being more likely to be engaging in a whole range of drug use behaviours in young adulthood. 'Where you're talking about drugs that are not legal, if you're using one illegal drug you're probably going to have greater opportunity to use and know more people who are using other illicit drugs as well.
The reasons for this association between occasional adolescent cannabis use and higher levels of drug use in young adulthood are unclear. Considerable debate is ongoing about the reasons why this is the case. It seems clear that in countries such as Australia, where cannabis use is the norm among young people, even infrequent cannabis use is related to later levels of drug use of all kinds. Whether this is due to learning processes, the influence of social networks or other factors, it is still the case that early onset occasional cannabis use is a marker for later drug use and drug problems.
--Prof. Louisa Degenhardt - Study Author

And this from The Age:

Professor Degenhardt called for caution in interpreting the study's results, saying it was unclear if cannabis was a ''gateway'' drug.

Mmm. A few issues here. Firstly, why does Fairfax dish up a casuistic, misleading article in the Sydney Morning Herald but print a slightly more balanced version in The Age? Secondly, the study revealed that cannabis use in early teens is a “marker” not a cause for risky behaviour in later years. Even Dr. Louisa Degenhardt herself warned of misinterpreting the results as a possible “gateway” to harder drugs and other associated problems. This was completely missing from the Sydney Morning Herald article.

Parents need to realise that even occasional use of so-called recreational drugs is really the first step in a slippery slope. Patterns of behaviour start early in children, so these habits can be very hard to break. '[Parents] need to monitor their children's behaviour and monitor whether they're using even so-called 'soft' drugs. Cannabis can cause lots of detrimental impacts all the way through to psychosis as you get older, so the perception of cannabis as a softer, harmless drug is not right.
-- Joe Tucci - Chief Executive of the Australian Childhood Foundation

I am wondering what the purpose was of including the generic, anti-drug comment from the Australian Childhood Foundation? I’m sure the comment, “Cannabis can cause lots of detrimental impacts all the way through to psychosis as you get older, so the perception of cannabis as a softer, harmless drug is not right” has been uttered several times previously and will be re-quoted several more times, regardless of the NDARC study. The comments from Joe Tucci might be irrelevant to the article and just fluff to flesh out the story but that’s not how Kate Devlin, the Medical Correspondent at The Telegraph saw it. Not only did her article include the same misleading interpretation of the study but included Joe Tucci’s “slippery slope” comment in quotation marks as if it was part of an official response.

Occasional Cannabis Use 'Can Lead Teenagers To Become Addicted To Harder Drugs'
By Kate Devlin - Medical Correspondent 

They found that the drug could be a “slippery slope” to using other illicit substances.

Although frequent cannabis users were the most likely to go on to try other drugs, youngsters were at increased risk even if they used the drug only occasionally. The 10 year study followed 2,000 secondary school students, who were all aged either 13 or 14 at the start of the research. Professor Louisa Degenhardt, from New South Wales University, who led the research team, said: "Our study found a dose-response relationship where those students who used cannabis regularly when they were teenagers were most likely to have adverse outcomes in early adulthood.

"However, even those students who only used cannabis occasionally in their teenage years faced a higher risk of drug problems in adulthood too."

The findings, published in the British Journal of Psychology, show that infrequent users were three times more likely to have tried harder drugs by the time they were in their 20s. But teens who used the drug on a weekly basis were 12 times more likely. One in three of the youngsters admitted that they used cannabis regularly.

Trash journalism and drug hysteria must be catchy

6 comments:

zoot said...

I'm concerned about this:
The study, published in the British Journal of Psychiatry, linked higher levels of alcoholism to cannabis use. It said 15 per cent of occasional cannabis smokers were addicted to alcohol in early adulthood, compared with only nine per cent of those who had not smoked dope.
Nine percent of all people (except dope smokers) become alcoholics in early adulthood? That's appalling. Why aren't we getting shock horror stories about it?

Kat D said...

So. Over. It.

(the hyperbole - not your blog, of course)

Terry Wright said...

Thanks for your comments Zoot and Kat.

Michael Slezak said...

Terry - great post. It's a terrible beat up.

A few comments about the Fairfax criticisms...

"Firstly, why does Fairfax dish up a casuistic, misleading article in the Sydney Morning Herald but print a slightly more balanced version in The Age?"

It's worth nothing that the SMH.com.au story is an AAP story and, although I'm not sure, I'd be surprised if it made in the paper. The smh.com.au site puts a lot of AAP copy up that never makes it into the paper. I think they should be reminded at every opportunity when the AAP copy they use is sub standard.

It's also worth noting that the smh.com.au website is a separate entity from the paper and is much more "tabloid".

On the other hand, the Age story was written by a staff health reporter and so we should expect it to be much better (better even, than it was).

"These tactics are downright misleading and reminiscent of Murdoch’s tabloid journalism."

That might be because Murdoch owns 45% of AAP.

Keep up the good work - your blog is a great source of alternative commentary.

Anonymous said...

Hi,

I think you will find that the publicity put out by the national drug and alcohol research centre kind of pushed this line that was taken up in the AAP story. I was sent info about it and was surprised they would do that. Perhaps there is some political/funding reason?

Terry Wright said...

Howdy Michael & Anon.

It's interesting that it originated from NDARC. Since the formation of NCPIC, NDARC has been swept up in the anti-drug agenda and are more willing to act inappropriately for a research group. NCPIC is nothing more than a glorified anti-drug messenger for the government. Most surprising is that Paul Dillion works there. He has lost a lot of credibility since being on the payroll for NCPIC.

I did not known that Murdoch owns 45% of AAP. That man would be close to the most dangerous person on earth. His quest to make himself rich has cost thousands of lives through his right wing trash media outlets - FOX, Daily Terror, HUN, British tabloids etc.

The Age article by so called health reporter, Jill Stark was not much better than the AAP/SMH version.

Thanks for your great comments and I appreciate the positive response.