Thursday, August 05, 2010

Glimmer of hope in media drugs discourse

Yesterday a psychiatrist moderated his claims that cannabis causes schizophrenia with an encouraging side-comment that the War on Drugs was ineffective. But he got quite a few other things wrong.

Dr Neil Phillips, who is a practising psychiatrist but not a drug specialist or researcher,  appeared on Richard Glover's ABC 702 radio show rounding up the research linking cannabis and mental illness as discussed in the previous post.

Richard Glover had been lobbied earlier in the day by an interested colleague who referred him to the Time article  discussed in the post below, pointing out that schizophrenia has not increased over the decades during which cannabis use expanded many many times over since the 1960s. This is a real thorn in the side for those who claim cannabis causes schizophrenia.

Richard Glover did ask that question but the Doctor dodged it, simply referring back to the research he was quoting. Hmmn.

While the Doctor's message was reasonable and thought-out, he still maintained that cannabis was addictive. I believe this is a misuse of the word as commonly applied to substances which are unquestionably addictive such as heroin or tobacco. But if someone can smoke cannabis regularly for 40 years and give up without a single problem, the substance is clearly different from those two drugs. While some abusers do become psychologically addicted, a better word might be 'preoccupation' or 'obsession'. It's still a problem, but use of the term 'addiction' does little except abuse the English language and alarm people.

Dr Phillips also ran the popular line that cannabis isn't what it used to be, saying that back in the 1970s the active ingredient THC ran at about 4%, while today's highly bred hothouse pot reaches 14%.

I have data from 1972 showing cannabis from the Hunter Valley clocked in at 11%, so Dr Phillips' claim is tenuous.

But he did point out that in those days hashish and hash oil were commonly available [as well as potent Thai buddha sticks - ed] all of which are highly concentrated and potent.

So why would today's cannabis be so mentally toxic?

He surmised that modern hothouse pot had been so manipulated by breeders that perhaps the balance of THC (associated with schizophrenia) and cannabidiol (CBD -- which seemingly protects the brain) had been altered in favour of the former -- hence the recent links to mental illness.

IF this was so (and the doctor quoted no evidence), legal, regulated, taxed production could mandate breeds that restore this balance and reduce the problem that now exists under prohibition.

The usual shower of listeners phoned in, convinced that cannabis had sent their child insane. One listener, Adam, said he smoked pot regularly, and although he had a good job and was functional, could not give up the drug which sometimes made him lethargic and caused temporary memory problems.

But he, too, said that the War on Drugs was a mistake. If it worked, he wouldn't have a habit, would he?

No comments: