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.