Home Affairs Committee - Drugs: Breaking the CycleWritten evidence submitted by Mary Brett (DP021)

Mary Brett, Former biology teacher (30 years—grammar school for boys), Trustee of CanSS (Cannabis Skunk Sense), Member of PandA (Centre for Policy Studies) and former Vice President of Eurad.

The Independence and quality of expert advice which is being given to the government.

Executive Summary

Prevention is the policy of this Government but harm-reduction organisations are being consulted for information and evidence—the Advisory Council on Misuse of Drugs (ACMD), Drugscope and the John Moores University Liverpool.

Information on cannabis from these sources is out-of-date, misleading, inaccurate, has huge omissions and is sometimes wrong. It does not stand comparison with current scientific evidence.

Children do not want to take drugs. They want reliable information to be able to refuse them.

Tips on safer usage and “informed choice” have no place in the classroom.

Prevention works.

1. Current information about drugs being given to this government comes mainly, if not entirely, from harm-reduction organisations. I find this astonishing. The policy of this Coalition Government is prevention.

2. I had long suspected, and had it confirmed by BBC’s Mark Easton’s blog 20 January 2011, that “Existing members of the council (ACMD) are avowed “harm-reductionists”. Drugscope, a drugs information charity paid for entirely by the taxpayer, has always had a harm reduction policy. We find statements like, “prevention strategies are not able to prevent experimental use” and “harm minimisation reflects the reality that many young people use both legal and illegal substances”. And the John Moores University in Liverpool has been at the forefront of the harm reduction movement since the eighties. Pat O’Hare, President of the International Harm Reduction Association (IHRA), said: “As founder of the first IHRA conference, which took place in Liverpool in 1990, it gives me a great sense of pride to see it coming “home” after being held all over the world in the intervening 20 years”.

3. FRANK is the official government website providing information to the public, especially children 11–15. I have learned that the information for the recently re-launched FRANK website came from The John Moores University. A member of the FRANK team, Dr Mark Prunty was involved in a commissioned report, “Summary of Health Harms of Drugs” published in August 2011.

4. Harm reduction has its place in the treatment of addiction, eg reducing the dose till abstinence is attained. But no place in the classroom where well over 90% of children have no intention of ever taking drugs. Harm reduction can and does sometimes act as a green light.

5. This government says it wants to stop young people from ever starting to use drugs, but that’s not the aim of harm reductionists. They assume children will take drugs anyway, so give them “tips” on taking them more safely, and offer them “informed choice”. And for some reason I have never understood, they always downplay the harmful effects of cannabis—information is vague, inadequate, misleading, out-of-date and sometimes completely wrong.

6. Brains are not fully developed till the 20s, the risk-taking part developing before the inhibitory area. Children from seven upwards are simply incapable of making the right decision. They need to be protected, not abandoned to make critical life choices. Only 30–40% will ever try drugs—a world away from regular use. What other illegal activities do we invite them to choose—pilfering, graffiti-spraying? Harm reduction advocates are so wrong. Children don’t actually want to take drugs. They want sound, reliable and full information to help them refuse drugs from peer group users who are pressuring them. I know—they’ve told me. Harm reduction policies are tantamount to condoning drug use.

7. Prevention works. The prevention campaign in USA 1979–1991 saw illicit drug users drop from 23 to 14 million. Cannabis and cocaine use halved. Over 70% abstained from cannabis use because of concern over physical and/or psychological harm (P.R.I.D.E. survey USA 1983). In Sweden, 2010 “last month use” of cannabis was 0.5% (ages15 to 64), European average—3.7%.

8. Overall, drug use may have fallen in the last 10 years but the last BCS reported that there had been a 1% increase in the “last year” use of cannabis among 16 to 24 year olds in the UK. This amounts to around 55,000 people—no room for complacency.

9. At a meeting of the FRANK team, Dr Mark Prunty, asked me to send my large scientific report on cannabis (“Cannabis—A general view of its harmful effects”, written for The Social Justice Policy Group, in 2006, fully endorsed by eminent scientists, and regularly updated), and all new research papers that I received. He also had the two books I have written (“Drug Prevention Education” and “Drugs—it’s just not worth it”1). I wasted my time. Why is there no scientific researcher on the FRANK team or at least temporarily co-opted?

10. One of the John Moore’s staff members, Dr Russell Newcombe helped to pioneer the harm-reduction movement in Merseyside from the mid-1980s and was Senior Researcher for Lifeline Publications & Research (Manchester, 2005–10). Lifeline literature on drugs, used in some schools, is hugely harm reduction based. Several leaflets and DVDs on “How to inject” are freely advertised on the Internet and can be easily accessed, as are needles, by children. Children are scared of injecting—now they needn’t worry!

11. The last paragraph in Lifeline’s Big Blue Book of Cannabis says, “If we look at our crystal ball at the world of tomorrow what can we expect to see? More medical uses for cannabis; stronger types of weed appearing on the streets; more laws; more fiendish ways of catching users and the same old hysterical reactions to people smoking a plant”—That says it all!

12. My analysis of the cannabis information in the “Summary of Health Harms of Drugs” pages 31–33 follows:

13. “No cases of fatal overdose have been reported”. Isn’t it the same with tobacco? “No confirmed cases of human death”. “Stoned” drivers kill themselves/others. Cancers recorded, especially head and neck at young age (Donald 1993, Zang 1999). Serotonin, “happiness” neurotransmitter depleted (Gobbi 2009) causing depression—can lead to suicides (Fugelstad (Sweden) 1995). Violence from psychosis or during withdrawal, murders documented in the press and coroners’ reports. Teenagers have had strokes and died after bingeing (Geller 2004).

14. Strength: No figures are given for Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) content. Skunk now averages 16.2% but can range up to 46% THC, old herbal 1–2%, Hash 5.9% (Home Office Report 2008). No warning that skunk occupies 80% of the UK market, hash 20%. FRANK says that skunk is 2–4 times stronger than old herbal cannabis—wrong! They mislead the public by comparing it with hash. The enlightened Dutch, who know about drugs, have now banned any skunk with a THC content over 15%, equating it with cocaine and heroin. The vast bulk of our young users are smoking what amounts to a class “A” drug!

15. 50% of THC will remain in cells for a week, 10% for a month. The John Moores report makes no mention of its persistence. Numerous studies show the adverse effects of this on academic results (Grade D student four times more likely to use cannabis than one with A grades, USA 2002) and personality. Users become inflexible, can’t plan their days, can’t find words or solve problems, development stalls, they remain childish. At the same time they feel lonely, miserable and misunderstood (Lundqvist 1995).

16. Psychosis: Not reported is that anyone (with/without family history) taking cannabis can develop psychosis if they take enough THC (Morrison, Robin Murray team 2009). D’Souza (2007) had also shown this. Cannabis increases dopamine (pleasure neurotransmitter) in the brain. Excess dopamine is found in brains of schizophrenics. The first paper linking psychosis and cannabis was published in 1845! The report says: “Health effects of increases in the potency of cannabis products are not clear”. Skunk users have been found to be seven times more likely to develop psychosis than hash users ( Di Forte, Murray’s team 2009).

17. No mention of absence of Cannabidiol (CBD) (anti-psychotic) in skunk, so psychotic THC is not counteracted! Old herbal cannabis had equal amounts CBD and THC. (McGuire 2008 and 2009, Morgan (2010), Demirakca (2011) etc. Dependence risks and psychotic symptoms are blamed on bingeing—regular use is enough! It is suggested that psychotic or schizophrenic patients may be self-medicating negative symptoms—disproved in several papers (Degenhardt 2007, Van Os 2005).

18. They say that likelihood of progressing to other drugs is more to do with personality, lifestyle and accessibility than a gateway effect. Swedish research (Hurd 2006, Ellgren 2007) on animals finds THC primes the brain for use of others, and Fergusson (2006 and 2008) in a 25 year NZ study from birth found cannabis to be the single most significant factor for progressing.

19. It is claimed that there is “no conclusive evidence that cannabis causes lung cancer” We don’t have conclusive proof for cigarettes and lung cancer! “Evidence for the effects on the immune system is limited”—over 60 references in my report! No warning that people should not drive within 24 hours of consumption (Leirer 1991).

20. Children born to cannabis-using mothers may have “mild developmental problems”. Fried has followed child development since 1987. He has found cognitive impairment, behaviour and attention problems, babies twice as likely to use the drug at adolescence. Goldschmidt (2002) found delinquent behaviour, Bluhm (2006) warned of an increased risk of neuroblastoma, a childhood cancer.

21. Now several recent papers demonstrate structural brain damage eg Welch (September 2011) loss of volume in thalamus, Solowij 2011 smaller cerebellum white matter volume, Ashtari (2011) loss in hippocampus volume, (Yucel 2008, Rais 2008).

22. I have cited only a few references, there are well over 600 in my report.

23. At least one piece of information in FRANK’s magic mushroom (Psilocybe—Liberty Caps) section is not in the Moore’s report, so where did it come from? The extremely poisonous familiar red/white spotted fungus, the Fly Agaric, is included. This is serious—it should not be there. Its inclusion is even more alarming as the amount used (1–5g) and the fact that it should not be eaten raw are given—blatant harm reduction advice! A child could die!

24. New posters from FRANK:




My pupils would have used words like: pathetic, patronising, trite, useless and positively encouraging drug use—and so would I.

25. I repeat—children don’t want to take drugs. They want a sound education and good grades, free from hassle and the pressure to take drugs.

26. Drugscope’s cannabis information updated 2011 is even less reliable than FRANK’s. They continue to deny that cannabis can cause physical addiction, say “There are suggestions that the drug can in rare cases trigger psychosis, a factor that led to the government in 2009 to reclassify cannabis” (Drugscope disagreed with the reclassification), state that the strength of skunk is 12–14% THC when in 2008 it averaged 16.2%, and completely ignore all the Swedish and New Zealand evidence for the “Gateway Theory”. Professor Murray’s 2009 papers are not mentioned, and in a reply to me, the writer of Drugscope’s literature, seemed to think it was the THC that caused cancers, not the smoke.

27. In 2006, Professor David Nutt said that LSD and Ecstasy probably shouldn’t be class A. In May 2008 I attended an open meeting of the ACMD at which a presentation (by Pentag) on ecstasy was given—a meta-analysis commissioned by the ACMD. I was concerned about their conclusions so contacted the foremost ecstasy researcher in Britain, Professor Andrew Parrott of Swansea University.

28. Incredibly Professor Parrott knew nothing about the proposed down-grading of ecstasy by the ACMD until I alerted him. He was leaving for Australia to Chair an International Conference on Ecstasy and sent me his numerous publications. I passed them to the ACMD. When he returned, having missed the evidence—gathering meeting in September, I alerted him to the open meeting in November. He had to send three e-mails before they answered and allowed his presentation to go ahead. He was given a mere 20 minutes.

In an open letter to the ACMD on November 13 he wrote:

29. I cannot believe that I have spent the past 14 years undertaking numerous scientific studies into Ecstasy/MDMA in humans, then for the ACMD to propose downgrading MDMA without a full and very detailed consideration of the extensive scientific evidence on its damaging effects. My research has been published in numerous top quality journals, and can be accessed via my Swansea University web-page.

30. Professor Nutt, who was Chairing the ACMD meeting on November 25 2008 for the first time was severely criticized by Professor Parrott. He said that Nutt made numerous factual errors, eg that there were zero dangers from injection of MDMA. Parrott said it was probably safer to inject heroin. Nutt said that ecstasy was not addictive, involved no interpersonal violence, was not responsible for road deaths, did not cause liver cirrhosis or damage the heart. Scientific work demonstrates that users show compulsive and escalating use, midweek aggression, that driving under its influence is extremely dangerous, that it is hepatotoxic—liver transplants have been needed in young people under 30, and profound cardiovascular effects. Professor Nutt did not defend himself in our presence. Nor to my knowledge has he since!

31. Answers from Anne Milton, Minister for Public Health given to Parliamentary Questions from Charles Walker MP, October 2011 include:

32. The Medical Research Council (MRC), funded by The Department of Business, Innovation and Skills, is supporting Professor Glyn Lewis in his research on adolescence and psychosis and Professor Val Curran’s research into the vulnerability of people to the harmful effects of cannabis.

33. Professor Lewis, widely quoted on the Web by Peter Reynolds (CLEAR—Cannabis Law Reform) said that, “there is no certainty of a causal relationship between cannabis use and psychosis”, and announced that the risk of psychosis from cannabis use is at worst 0.013% and perhaps as little as 0.0030%. Professor Curran is a member of Professor Nutt’s Independent Scientific Committee on Drugs (ISCD).

34. I find it incredible that there is essential sound accurate up-to-date scientific information about the effects of cannabis available in scientific journals and publicised in the press and the public is not being made aware of it by FRANK, the official Government website. Why has FRANK not been taken to task?

35. While the harm reduction lobby are being consulted, persisting with their own agendas, and the preventionists supporting the Government’s New Strategy not listened to, nothing will change.

36. Prevention is better than cure. Prevention is what every parent wants for their children. Prevention is common sense and it works.

37. Meanwhile, while we wait for common sense to prevail, some children will become psychotic, addicted, move on to other drugs, drop out of education or even die. And the parents I work with will be left picking up the pieces.

January 2012

1 All available on www.cannabisskunksense.co.uk

Prepared 8th December 2012