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Pontifications on Poison

Being some ramblings on events associated with poisonous plants.

Tuesday 7th January 2014

As well as asking what is on TV, I sometimes ask why a particular programme or item is being broadcast. It’s happened twice in two days both times involving psychoactive substances though the first time the question was actually ‘Why isn’t this on?’

According to my hard copy TV listings magazine (presumably compiled before the Christmas break), BBC Three was showing a programme called ‘The Truth about Skunk’ at 2100 on Monday 6th January. When I went looking for the online listing so I could Tweet about it, I found an entirely different programme in the schedule. Further searching of other listings only produced results like ‘not scheduled within next 30 days’ or ‘no broadcast date available’.

Programme information is available on the BBC website though it says nothing about when it was to have been broadcast or whether it has been rescheduled. Reading the detail (click the ‘SHOW MORE’ button in the linked page) makes me hope that the BBC editorial process has for once worked as it supposed to. If this is to be shown at all, one has to hope that it is being retitled ‘Lies About Skunk’.

Let’s look at a few;

‘…skunk has transformed the world of cannabis, turning a drug which (although illegal) has long been regarded as relatively harmless into a serious threat to mental health…’

Both the available research and the experience of health services show that the ‘threat to mental health’ is not a certainty for the majority of users.

‘Skunk - a cannabis hybrid which was created in the 80s…’

Here’s what I said about that in ‘Is That Cat Dead?’;

‘It is often said that sinsemilla is a recent development but this way of growing cannabis was described at least one thousand years ago in India though the people who discovered it are not recorded as having used cannabis for anything other than fibre.’

The increase in production of higher strength cannabis results from the need for growing to be hidden from site and the fact that a smaller volume product is easier to conceal. It is the drug laws that have driven the trend to higher strength products.

‘[Skunk] is now effectively a super-powerful highly-addictive (emphasis added), market-leading superbrand.’

‘Highly addictive’ is the sort of thing that used to be said about crack cocaine where the media talked about one use being enough to cause addiction. The mechanisms of dependence/addiction on Cannabis sativa, marijuana, are not fully understood but even the most extreme drug aunts would not claim that it is ‘highly addictive’.

‘…cannabis-induced psychosis is particularly harmful to skunk users…’

There has been no demonstration that cannabis induces psychosis. There are some who think it can bring on symptoms in people who are susceptible to mental health problems but there is no truth to the claim that cannabis induces psychosis in a person who would not experience it if they never used cannabis.

‘The most recent research, published by Dr Marta Di Forti at the Institute of Psychiatry in London, suggests that while regular cannabis use doubles the risk of psychosis, heavy skunk users increase their risk by up to seven-fold.’

I’m not going to get into the detailed consideration of the issue itself. But you only have to do a very simple search to find that Dr Di Forti’s ‘most recent [published] research’ dates from 2012 and that there have been more recent publications on the subject. ‘The most recent research’ is, therefore, a lie.

Further searching shows that the working title for this programme was ‘Does Skunk Make You Crazy?’ I don’t know who decided on the title change. A better choice would be ‘One Man’s Personal Experience of Cannabis and his Assumptions about it’ because that is what this programme is. It will be bad enough if the BBC broadcasts yet another programme of anecdote masquerading as science. If it does so under the title ‘The Truth about Skunk’ I shall make a formal complaint.

The second ‘Why?’ is asked following a ‘news’ item on Channel4. I’ll return to my reasons for putting quote marks around ‘news’. This was an eleven minute report about the use of Catha edulis, khat, in the UK and the effect of the Home Office’s proposed scheduling on growers in Kenya.

In some ways it is quite an amusing item. The in studio presenter handed over live to a reporter in ‘a Somali café in north-west London’. Channel 4 News is broadcast from 1900 each evening so, to fit the stereotype, this place should have been full of people who had spent the afternoon chewing khat. Instead, behind the reporter were six people none of them chewing anything and none of them showing any sign of intoxication of any sort.

Then there was a clear demonstration of the sort of creep we expect to see. When Theresa May ignored the ACMD’s recommendation she claimed that her concern was that the UK could become a hub for trafficking to countries that have already outlawed it. The Channel 4 reporter, Jamal Osman, replace ‘could’ with ‘has’ to suggest that Ms May is attempting to deal with an actual problem rather than trying to create the spectre of some future problem to justify a decision based entirely on political dogma.

Whilst that produced a little wry smile the start of the dropped in filmed item was laugh out loud funny. It showed British Somalis celebrating the decision to schedule the plant and the voiceover claimed that Theresa May had become the unlikely hero of the Somali community. Not that the film showed ‘the Somali community’. It showed no more than a dozen Somalis bunched together to look like a crowd. It reminded me of the sort of ultra-low budget movies you used to see before CGI made it possible to create a crowd without needing real people in it.

Of course, Abukar Awale was there though not the one with the microphone and, of course, at the end of the filmed item shot in the miraa growing region of Kenya, he was one of the participants in the debate in the café.

Awale has, in the past, accused those opposed to changing the legal status of khat of racism on the basis that action would have been taken much earlier if white people had been involved but his tone, this time, was much more moderate. He even seemed to show respect for the ACMD whilst arguing it had reached the wrong conclusion. I can’t help thinking that he may be moderating his rhetoric because he has realised how isolated he is with his extreme views.

But, I said I asked the question ‘Why?’  In November 2012, the Delegated Legislation Committee cancelled the meeting it was supposed to have to consider the wording of the order that would schedule khat under the Misuse of Drugs Act. Though that committee cannot amend or overrule the change it does have to meet before the schedule can be revised. To date, no new date has been set for that meeting and the position of khat remains in limbo.

Nor has the Home Office given any response to the Home Affairs Select Committee report that recommended regulation rather than the use of the MDA 1971.

So, why on 6th January 2013 did Channel 4 News decide that khat was a current issue justifying around one fifth of the total programme length?   

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