Wednesday, June 04, 2008

ABC joins uncritical panic over cannabis

"Psychiatrists have known for years that there is nothing soft about the drug cannabis," gushed the reporter headlining her story on the ABC's AM program this morning.

She was talking about a study of 15 men who had smoked at least five joints a day for ten years. The men showed a shrinkage of certain parts of their brains and, not surprisingly, had reduced memory performance. The results were compared to minor brain injury trauma (like boxers get, legally, all the time).

This seems typical of recent output from the prohibition industry – reductive research setting out to find harm (otherwise they don't get funded), using a tiny sample and guaranteeing headlines from uncritical media, resulting in professional kudos. It creates alarm in the uninformed public and is used by prohibitionists to justify their position, no-one apparently noticing that all this drug abuse demonstrates that prohibition is not working.

Five joints a day for ten years might be similar to drinking two bottles of vodka a day or perhaps eating ten carrots a day, both of which would probably cause harm to the abuser. This does not justify gushing headlines that carrots 'are not a soft drug'.

And where would they find 15 guys who consumed that much pot? They must be very unusual people, almost certainly among the 4.5% of the population who are unemployed. I'll bet they also smoke tobacco and drink, although the researchers say they matched the control group for other factors. I would guess they have other precursor problems, and I'll bet this minor study had not scanned their brains before the ten-year period, either. And how did they conclude, from this atypical sample, that 'any amount' of smoking put the person at risk?

As I write the researcher, Marat Yucel from Melbourne University, is on 702's Morning Show trotting out a lone 20-year-old ex-smoker, who was not even in the study but is part of a tiny minority who had a bad time on it. Standard tactics. But it will look good on Yucel's CV.

At least AM quoted Gino Vumbaca from ADCA who cautioned about the small sample used in the study.

Ah, Yucel just admitted that all the smokers in the sample were unemployed and the control group wasn't. So the study could equally have concluded that unemployment shrinks your brain. And now as I listen he's COMPLETELY lost it, comparing drug law reformers to people who say tobacco is harmless because a tiny number of smokers live for a hundred years, while 90% plus of cannabis smokers never experience significant problems, the complete reverse evidence base. Host Deborah Cameron missed that glaring fallacy, though.

Meanwhile the potentially $120 million worth of ice lost by police (see previous post) remains out there on the black market and the media are ignoring this massive failure of prohibition. Their news sense is definitely lost in the moral panic.

PS: A kind commenter posted this link from a New Scientist blog which largely reinforces the analysis above.

PPS: Here's a concise piece discrediting many of the prohibition myths peddled by the media.


Terry Wright said...

The research is what, Jack Marx calls 'Junk Science'. I will be surprised if any reputable researcher or scientist gives it any credit at all.

If this is the type of evidence that the Zero Tolerance nutters use to back their ludicrous arguments then it should be a cakewalk for the drug law reformists. Sadly though, it's not only the MSM who take this junk science on board as legitimate but our cowardly politicians who curtail to pressure from the religious right, new age conservatives and the misinformed public.

You're also spot on about the media, Michael. The MSM had to choose between senior police corruption worth $120 million vs. hard core stoners having some sort of health issue as the major story but chose the latter. Disgraceful.

The Editor said...

Compounding their ignorance, ABC radio is now spruiking their usually excellent 'World Today' at midday claiming that this research 'finally puts to rest any idea that cannabis is a soft drug'.

Since when did journalists become scientific peer-reviewers? I note Gino Vumbaca's caution seems to have dropped off the story, too.

What's MSM???

Terry Wright said...

The term "MSM" or "mainstream media" has been widely used in the blogosphere in discussion of the mass media and media bias. ...

Anonymous said...

So is the meaning to smoke dope because it shrinks the brain ?

The Editor said...

The link in the above comment is interesting. I love it when qualified scientists back up my purely logical analysis of studies that approach 'junk science'. That piece underlines the complete inappropriateness of the ABC's tabloid headlines. Even the original paper pointed out these cautions but both the ABC and the scientist appeared to ignore them in the heady flush of national publicity. Unless of course the journos simply edited out any such comments.

I think 'dope' refers to the generic term for narcotics, or perhaps the shitfaced grins many smokers wear after imbibing.

If it referred to this observed brain shrinkage after long-term abuse you would have to also apply it to alcohol which has the same effect.

Don't forget the dangers of carrots, the abuse of which will give you vitamin A poisoning.

Anonymous said...

Good example of vitamin A poisoning showing pupil dilation.

Anonymous said...

Not just Pot- mate !

Anonymous said...

Dope potency doubles

Research says baby boomer parents have misguided notions that the drug contains the weaker potency levels of the 1970

Anonymous said...


'Dope potency doubles'

There is something deeply wrong with that report. It's another prohibitionist stitch-up! In the 1970s highly potent pot was available although in the early 70s the average bag was a mix of head, leaf, stalk, males and seeds because it came from broadacre farms and was just harvested, dried and bagged. And indeed, people smoked more to get stoned.

Then the Yanks launched a satellite that could photograph crops and the growers all got out of the business, creating a dope drought that went on for several years. The price went up from as low as $20 per oz to $500 per oz. As boutique growers gradually started supplying the market it became normal for bags to be 100% heads, seedless sinsemilla.

So if you compare a $20 bag with a $500 bag you are going to see increased potency. However in the 1970s smokers could still get hash, hash oil and Buddha sticks from Thailand, sometimes opiated. All these were usually highly potent. Then there were legendary golden Queensland heads, one toke of which would knock you onto your butt.

How do I know all this? Well, I went to Sydney Uni during the protest days and it was a countercultural hotbed and student colonies in Glebe lived the life to the full.

Anonymous said...

This report is from the USA. Do you suggest that your experience here in Australia was duplicated somehow in the USA?

The Editor said...

I have no knowledge of the US scene but the same satellites would have been doing the same job.

I have put out a request for commentary on this study. The more expert analysis I see of these studies the more cynical I become. Issues around this one could be: How well were the 1970s samples stored? How representative were they?

I find it difficult to believe that hash oil, an ultra-concentrated essence of cannabis flowers, was twice as weak then than now. I recall Paul Dillon from NDARC recently stating that the increase in potency these days was only 4%. Someone's way off the mark.

Terry Wright said...

Anon: "Research says baby boomer parents have misguided notions that the drug contains the weaker potency levels of the 1970"

Read the article. It's actually about the fact that the above statement is pointless. The stronger it is, the less you use. The article is really important because it puts an end to the myth that stronger dope means more problems. It dispels all those ridiculous views that smokers somehow always have the same number of bongs or joints regardless of how strong it is. It's sort of like if there is no beer ... instead of drinking a dozen cans of VB, he will then drink a dozen bottles of whisky instead.

It's the end of the argument from Zero Tolerance fuckwits about increased potency. Another myth gone.

Drug Potency Myths & the ABC ... Again!

The Editor said...

Here's another article critical of the potency myth that the US government is flogging.

The Editor said...

Quote: "Another myth gone," saysTerry Wright. Unfortunately that's not true. DFA and other prohibitionist evangelists will continue ignoring the mass of evidence that contradicts their ideology. This makes them fundamentally dishonest which is ironic as they profess to be Christians, usually of the fundamentalist variety.

Here's another link
showing prescription drugs cause far more damage than illicit. Note the zero death rate from cannabis.

And the junk study showing cannabis shrinks the hippocampus could equally conclude that unemployment shrinks your brain. The tiny and extremely atypical sample they used for the study was unemployed whereas the control group was employed.