Experts React to King’s College New Study On High Potency Cannabis

by Pierre-Yves Galléty

Following the publication of a new study done by King’s College researchers revealing the cannabis consumed in the UK is highly potent, many experts expressed their views on the issue. One thing is clear: the debate around cannabis and what the government should do about it is involves very different, sometimes conflicting views.

Marjorie Wallace from the mental health charity SANE, Lord Monson and Bill Blair – Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Justice and Ministry of Health, the man in charge of the regulation of cannabis in Canada, were invited on BBC Newsnight last night to discuss the study.

Wallace expressed her worry regarding the availability of cannabis to young people: “Right now it’s too dangerous to gamble with young minds. Over 25 years i have been a help line, i’ve seen so many people destroyed by taking what seems harmless” and stated that “it’s too early to dilute the message that [cannabis] is dangerous”.

Lord Monson, whose son took his own life after suffering from psychosis linked to cannabis, shared the story of his son and warned it should be taken away from young people’s reach: “If you are over 25 and have psychosis from a cannabis habit, you can get over it – many people under 22 can’t.”

Bill Blair, who led the task force in charge of establishing a framework for the legalisation and regulation of cannabis in Canada, explained that Canada is the country with the highest rates of cannabis use among young people of any country in the developed world and that “Canada’s approach is entirely based on a public health model (…) in order to ensure that we can do a better job at protecting our youth.”

In the Independent, Vice’s drugs expert Max Daly explained that:

“Many teenagers have grown up on diet of very strong skunk type cannabis, and it’s caused rising problems with mental health among young cannabis users in the UK. All the evidence I’ve seen is that very strong cannabis is, of course, impacting some young people more in terms of their mental health than less strong hash. But also there has been gradual fall in cannabis use in the UK – some say this is due to lack of choice eg skunk or skunk so puts many off smoking it.”

However he nuanced his declaration by pointing out that “I’ve heard that there is a return in some circles – mainly buying over the web – of hash by adults and that this is filtering down to young people.”

For Clark French, Director of the United Patients Alliance, high-potency cannabis is a medicine he needs access to: “I find that high THC cannabis aka ‘skunk’ is the only medicine that allows me function due to debilitating pain and spasms from MS. If a doctor can prescribe me this elsewhere in the world why are patients criminalised and demonised in the UK? Skunk is medicine too.”

Ian Hamilton from the University of York, was interviewed by Metro and emphasised on the impact for drug treatment services: “Demand for treatment from specialist drug treatment for problems due to cannabis have increased significantly over the last decade.” Between 2012/13-2016/17, there has been a 42.7% increase in the number of 10-18 year olds hospitalised with a diagnosis of mental and behavioural disorder due to use of cannabinoids. “More experienced users will know how to adjust the amount of cannabis they ingest but naive or younger users may not, so they will be particularly at risk of having an unpleasant experience or in extreme cases developing psychosis”, said Hamilton.

He also reported that “if the cannabis market is saturated with higher potency cannabis this increases the risk of younger and more naive users developing problems as they are less likely to adjust the amount of cannabis they ingest than more experienced users.” Whether or not a reform to legalise cannabis should be considered, this suggests that there is urgent need for drug education in UK schools to warn them from the impact cannabis can have on their mental health. Right now, students receive less than one hour of drugs education per year.

In, Tom Chivers makes the case for regulation, pointing the finger at the government for its passive attitude towards this issue: “the government’s approach cannot fail, because the government has no approach. It has no goals, it has no aims, it has no policies”, and denounces a “public health catastrophe”.

Clamping down harder on cannabis is not the answer according to him, and “the goal should be to take this lucrative business out of the hands of criminals and reduce the undoubted health and societal impacts of cannabis”. This would allow to prevent young people from accessing the drug, which is “easily available – probably more so than alcohol” explains Tom Chivers.

Pierre-Yves is Communications Officer at Volteface. Tweets @PYGallety

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