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Pontifications on Poison

Being some ramblings on events associated with poisonous plants.

 Sunday 22nd February 2015

I don’t use cookies on this website so the information I can get about site visitors is limited to anonymous figures for visits to individual pages and the like. On Friday morning I noticed from my website statistics that this page had suddenly jumped to be the third highest visited on the previous day. It was the same again this morning so I decided to see if I could find out why.

If you haven’t clicked through to see what it was about I’ll tell you; it discusses Kathy Gyngell’s reaction to a poll showing support for an examination of the effectiveness of the Misuse of Drugs Act.

When I went looking for ‘Kathy Gyngell’ on Google I found that she’d been at it again; this time with a piece for ‘Conservative Woman’* about the article in Lancet Psychiatry that was widely distorted by the media after the Mail apparently broke the embargo on it last weekend.

*It would be easy to let myself be distracted by a consideration of why there is such a thing as ‘The Conservative Woman’. But I’ll leave the reader to think about that.

I’ll try and not repeat what I wrote two years ago and this time, instead of taking one paragraph and analysing it in detail, I will go to the core flaws in Gyngell’s piece.

That means I can jump over all the early stuff about how nobody liked her at university and how she makes her refusal to use cannabis the reason for that dislike. For the record, I’m one month older than Ms Gyngell and I never used cannabis at university but still had plenty of friends.

It’s is just as well that I can make that jump because it takes her until the thirteenth paragraph to get to the reason for writing her piece; that article in the Lancet offshoot.
But the good stuff comes in paragraph fourteen;

‘It shows that cannabis use triples psychosis risk and that use of high potency strains is responsible for 24 per cent of new cases of psychotic mental illness.’

Of course, Prof Murray’s colleagues say nothing of the sort. What the actual piece says is;

‘…if a causal role for cannabis is assumed (emphasis added), skunk use alone was responsible for 24% of those adults presenting with first-episode psychosis to the psychiatric services in south London.’

The authors are very clear that they cannot say that there is a causal link, that they are referring to high-THC low CBD cannabis* and that they are referring to a particular area of the country and not to the general population.

*There’s been a lot of discussion of the vocabulary used and whether it is meaningful. What one person calls ‘skunk’ is not necessarily what the hearer understands ‘skunk’ to be. As so often with cannabis research most of the evaluation of dose and strength is highly subjective. I tweeted that the methods used to determine cannabis use are like measuring alcohol consumption by looking at the size of the glasses in the drinks’ cabinet.

Gyngell chooses to ignore those qualifications and pretend that the study refers to cannabis in all its forms and is applicable everywhere.

Given that Prof Murray has been working in this area for many years you might expect that a causal link would have been established if it were that distinct. To understand more about what Murray actually has to say I recommend listening to his 2012 interview with Jim al-Khalili on the Radio4 programme ‘The Life Scientific’ Listening to the whole programme is best but, if you’re in a hurry, start at 18 minutes in.

It is very clear that Murray thinks cannabis is a factor in psychosis so his predisposition is to find reasons to blame it but even he says;

‘I’m not saying a couple of puffs at week end are going to send you mad. You have to try quite hard. But if you’re smoking four or five joints a day for five years then you certainly do increase your risk of psychosis…If you start smoking cannabis by 15 then 95% of people will be OK but 5% would have a psychotic reaction. Now, that’s not to say that they would go on to severe schizophrenia.’

‘95% of people will be OK’ and not all of the remaining 5% will suffer severe problems.

Gyngell takes her false representation of what the article says and adds to it all her other previous falsehoods about the effects of cannabis.

What Gyngell cannot see is that, like Peter Hitchens, her approach increases the harm caused by cannabis. With Hitchens, his claim that cannabis is in the same league as heroin when it comes to causing harm is a positive encouragement for anyone who has used cannabis without problems to move on to heroin. With Gyngell, her suppression of any openness about drug use (‘I came down like a ton of bricks – boys who ‘did drugs’ were absolutely not welcome in my home.  I ‘banned’, as far as I could, all social contact with families where the parents had a liberal attitude to drugs’) is the perfect way to create barriers in family relationships potentially leading to harmful breakdowns.

I wonder if anyone has ever looked at the harm resulting from family breakups caused not by cannabis itself but by the attitude of ill-informed parents towards the whole subject of substance use.


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