LAST month, cannabis was re-graded from a Class C drug to a Class B.
Since the drug’s ‘demotion’ in 2004 in the opposite direction, from Class B to Class C, there has been a campaign to suggest that cannabis is a much more dangerous drug than its users and advocates care to imagine.
This is the view held by former West Yorkshire Chief Constable and Huddersfield man Keith Hellawell, appointed by the Labour Government as a ‘drugs czar’, a top level adviser.
Some of his advice was taken – a lot wasn’t. In exasperation over Home Secretary Davids Blunkett’s insistence the drug be declassified, downgraded, he resigned.
Most medical authorities back him. They say it is a serious mistake to label cannabis ‘soft’, especially now that the much stronger range of cannabis known as ‘skunk’ is widely available.
Doctors have noted that adolescent dependence on cannabis appears to lead in some cases to permanent cognitive impairment.
Frequent use often precipitates psychosis, schizophrenia, they say.
It is marked by a steady deterioration of social skills, memory, concentration, and can lead to depression, paranoia and suicide.
But Mike Linnell, of Lifeline Kirklees, a voluntary organisation that deals with the effects of drug dependence, says the evidence for all these horrors is minimal.
He described reclassification as ‘awful’.
“We believe the Drugs Advisory Council’s advice was wrong for a whole number of reasons,” he said.
“Reclassification is not ‘fit for purpose,’ it is no deterrent. There are no precise figures, but every survey shows that the use of cannabis has been coming down since 2002 and continues to drop.
“However, the number of incidents recorded by the police involving cannabis have rocketed, largely because of the use of sniffer dogs and the police’s policy of stopping people in the street.”
“There has been no rise in recorded figures for psychotic symptoms, or specifically, schizophrenia.”
But there is no firm evidence that cannabis triggers mental illness on its own.”
Much has been made of the fact that ‘skunk’ cannabis is stronger. it has been bred to have higher levels of THC, which is likely to pro-psychotic. But it also contains levels of two other chemicals – CBD and CBN – which are anti-psychotic, and which probably cancel the effect of the THC.
“There is no evidence that cannabis kills anyone. On the other hand, it’s estimated that 40,000 youngsters die each year directly or indirectly from alcohol abuse,” said Mike.
“In terms of all the drugs available to young people, cannabis is the least dangerous. I’m not lobbying for the legalisation of cannabis. But I do want us to keep the drug’s dangers in perspective.”