The passing week saw the cross-hairs of Britain’s mainstream media outlets align themselves with the controversial topic of cannabis, which is a class B controlled substance there. UK Prime Minister David Cameron recently defended this classification by saying, “If you actually look at the sort of marijuana that is on sale today, it is actually incredibly damaging, very, very toxic and leads to, in many cases, huge mental health problems.”
To support this position, the BBC posted an article on February 16th, 2015 centered around a recent study involving 780 subjects conducted at King’s College London’s Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience. The article stated that “smoking potent cannabis was linked to 24% of new psychosis cases analyzed in a study by King’s College London.” It also noted that a “Home Office spokesperson said the report underlines the reasons why cannabis is illegal.”
The study featured in this report based its findings upon experimentation with strains of cannabis that are known within the UK as “skunk” — a term which refers to varieties of the plant that have been selectively bred to yield an unnaturally high amount of the psychoactive ingredient THC. It is not invalid to claim that skunk has a tendency to contribute to psychosis based upon this research. However, it would be invalid to claim that cannabis use in general may lead to the development of mental health issues. The article itself, amongst its paragraphs of anecdotes, claims in regards to the study that “they also concluded the use of hash, a milder form of the drug, was not associated with increased risk of psychosis.”
Perhaps without intention, the writer raises a very important point with that last quote. Cannabis use within the UK is completely void of any regulation due to its legal status. Therefore, those who choose to use cannabis must rely on street dealers to obtain it, often with absolutely no idea of what strength the herb is or what strain of cannabis it belongs to. As mentioned, there is no evidence stating that plants containing lower THC thresholds are a danger. This is a prime reason why cannabis needs to be legalized within the UK, so it can be regulated for public safety. If people were given the opportunity to purchase premium quality cannabis, with information on the strength and THC content made available to the buyer, customers could make the conscious and sovereign decision to choose and discover which strength works for their personal needs and, if symptoms developed, to lower their doses or switch to a strain with a different cannabinoid balance in accordance.
Cannabis received another lashing from the media’s whip on the February 22nd, 2015 at the hand of The Mail On Sunday‘s Peter Hitchens. Departing from both logic and science, Hitchens makes the brave, sensational and simply untrue claim that “the real terror threat in our midst is cannabis.” He then proceeds to bolster his evidence-void rhetoric by connecting the acts of Omar El-Hussein, the man responsible for the recent shootings in Copenhagen, and his two prior arrests for cannabis possession. There is a firm difference between reporting facts for progression and truth, and producing opinion in order to further an agenda. These over-simplified cause-and-effect claims fall firmly into the boundary of the latter.
If the “terror threat in our midst” is the result of inanimate substance, upon analyzing the data, cannabis would be last in the line of suspects. Alcohol, a legal substance in the UK available to anybody over the age of 18, would most certainly be near the front of the queue. Alcohol was responsible for 8,367 deaths in the UK during 2012, 63% of which were from liver disease. The British government’s own website also notes that 230 people were killed and 1,200 people were injured as a result of drink-driving in the UK in the year 2012.
Let us now turn our attention to tobacco, also available for legal purchase for British citizens who are 18 and over. Evidence presented by the website Action on Smoking and Health shows that “smoking is the primary cause of preventable illness and premature death” and is responsible for approximately 100,000 deaths per year in the UK.
Both of the aforementioned substances are responsible for far more deaths than cannabis, yet Hitchens chooses to single out the plant as a “terrorism” threat. I am not attempting to hide the potential hazards of cannabis behind that of other, more harmful substances. What I am trying to do is shame large media outlets, who are showing their clear intentions to pick and choose what they deem to be a legitimate threat to public health. This bias also happens to be conveniently against a substance that is illegal — and that’s consequently not a source of advertising revenue, unlike cigarettes and alcohol. The recreational drugs that are available for purchase in the UK hold next to no beneficial health qualities at all. Although cannabis is stigmatized and marginalized often, it clearly offers vast medicinal and therapeutic promise, hence its legalization in many U.S. states where it is available to the public both medicinally (in 23 states plus D.C.) and for recreational use (in 4 states), providing both medicine, high profit margins and large tax revenues. The latter was gloriously demonstrated by Colorado during its first week of recreational sales, which by topped $5 million in the first week of legalization, as documented by the Huffington Post.
Far from being a catalyst for terrorism, compounds within the cannabis plant have actually proven to offer potent healing and nurturing potential. Cancer.gov, an American government website, hosts studies proving the anti-tumor actions of cannabinoids, the active compounds found within the cannabis plant.
Another report that left the British public with what could be considered an unfairly negative view of cannabis was one by Jon Snow, which was broadcast by the UK’s Channel 4 news on February 17th, 2015. For the report, Snow inhaled two large vapor bags of high grade skunk fumes and was then cramped in the robotic environment of an MRI machine. Several moments into this he requested to be removed after he experienced the symptoms of a straight up panic attack. Once out of the claustrophobic confines of the MRI machine, he was seen wrapping his arms around a nearby nurse for comfort and support.
He said, when under influence, “I felt my soul had been wrenched from my body” and “I never want to do that again.” Considering all of the variables at play here, it is unfortunate that a large amount of people exposed to this report will have their opinions swayed and set in stone by what can only be described as a negative subjective experience.
Famed psychedelic pioneer and author Timothy Leary coined the term “Set and Setting” — which refers to an array of variables one should take into consideration upon intentionally altering consciousness using either a synthetic or naturally occurring chemical. The phrase and procedure it summarizes prompts the individual to approach an altered state of consciousness in somewhat of a sacred and ritualistic fashion, focused around healing and conscious expansion, as opposed to haphazardly ingesting powerful compounds randomly, unintentionally and often dangerously.
Clearly in Jon Snow’s case, the panic-inducing environment and stressful atmosphere — and the dosage — were completely unconsidered and ultimately contributed towards, what was for him, a drastically negative experience. Had Snow been outdoors in a natural setting, perhaps with a friend, some pleasurable music, all experienced with a smaller and more responsible dose, he may well have been in for a transformative and leisurely state of mind.
With this recent anti-cannabis dialog occurring with such strength and hysteria in the UK’s mainstream media with often lopsided arguments, it is worth considering looking elsewhere for facts and evidence. Not to expose oneself to ideas and opinions of equally extreme and fundamental agendas, but to take on the responsibility as an individual to seek, gather and compile the evidence that is available to form an independent and well informed opinion on the matter.
The UK General Elections are just over 70 days away, and with a Conservative government with strong anti-cannabis views currently still in power, it is likely that more stories of equal magnitude will come to the attention of the British population in the coming weeks.
Luke Sumpter is a 21-year-old holistic health enthusiast and writer from the United Kingdom. Several prime events in his life have sparked a conscious awakening from which a wide perspective of the world and the evolutionary challenges of existence have been formed. He hopes to spread messages of body-mind healing and lucid living via his work. You can find his videos and posts at his page The Art of Wellness. You can follow him on Twitter @Luke_A_Sumpter.