By Darryl Mason
The reality has been set for millions of parents, by a steady stream of Reefer Madness-style tabloid headlines and talkback radio fearmongering, that their 15 year old kid occasionally sharing a joint with friends is running a very dangerous risk of triggering the onset of schizophrenia, suicidal downward spirals or an even worse range of psychoses that will inevitably, irrevocably, tear families and lives apart.
The Smoking Pot Leads To More Dangerous Drugs myth was dismissed years ago, but the Will My Cannabis Smoking Daughter Go Psycho? replacement has proven to be a very powerful PR tool for the cannabis prohibitionists.
But just how true are those original claims that cannabis = schizophrenia/psychosis?
A new study in the UK has cast doubt on the supposed link between cannabis use and schizophrenia.
But at least one Australian researcher says the study needs more evidence.
Professor Joseph Rey of the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Sydney, whose previous research has identified a link between cannabis and schizophrenia, is sceptical of the study's results.
"Not showing that there is a link does not mean there is no link," he says.
"...the evidence suggesting that cannabis use does increase the risk of schizophrenia is quite strong. We need more evidence to counteract what we already know."
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This latest study, led by Dr Martin Frisher of Keele University, examined the records of 600,000 patients aged between 16 and 44, but failed to find a similar link.
(The authors) point out that "although using cannabis is associated with a greater risk of developing psychosis, there is also evidence of increased cannabis use following psychosis onset."
According to the study, cannabis use in the UK between 1972 and 2002 has increased four-fold in the general population, and 18-fold among under-18s.
....the researchers found no increase in the rates of schizophrenia and psychosis diagnosis during that period. In fact, some of the data suggested the incidence of these conditions had decreased.
"This concurs with other reports indicating that increases in population cannabis use have not been followed by increases in psychotic incidence."
Alex Wodak, director of the Alcohol and Drug Service at St Vincent's Hospital, wrote in the Melbourne Age, that the 'War On Drugs' has, ultimately proved to be a failure, and a full and proper debate about drug prohibition in Australia is now overdue :
It is now clear that support for a drug policy heavily reliant on law enforcement is dwindling in Western Europe, the US and South America, while support for harm reduction and drug law reform is growing.
Wodak turns back to the century old origin of the 'War On Drugs' :
One hundred years ago, the US convened the International Opium Conference. This meeting of 13 nations in Shanghai was the beginning of global drug prohibition.
Prohibition slowly became one of the most universally applied policies in the world. But a century on, international support for this blanket drug policy is slowly but inexorably unravelling.
Wodak cites the rapidly changing attitudes across the world towards drug prohibition, as a new generation of leaders with less hysterical attitudes towards drug use, probably because so many have used them in the past with no lasting side effects, begin winding back the tired old propaganda.
In January, Barack Obama became the third US president in a row to admit to consumption of cannabis. Bill Clinton had admitted using cannabis but denied ever inhaling it. George Bush was taped saying in private he would never admit in public to having used cannabis. When Obama was asked whether he had inhaled cannabis, he said: ''Of course. That was the whole point.''
Obama has candidly discussed his drug use. ''Pot had helped, and booze; maybe a little blow [cocaine] when you could afford it.'' He has also admitted the ''war on drugs is an utter failure'' and called for more focus on a public health approach.
In February, a Latin American drug policy commission similarly concluded that the ''drug war is a failure''. It recommended breaking the ''taboo on open debate including about cannabis decriminalisation''. The same month, an American diplomat said the US supported needle-exchange programs to help reduce the transmission of HIV and other blood-borne diseases, and supported using medication to treat those addicted to opiates.
A few more example of the changing attitudes to drug prohibition, cited by Wodak :
The real debate will begin here, and soon, but we will first have to endure the blathering of the usual old cliche-spouting, fear-churning gatekeepers of drug prohibition in the Australian media, who will cite a handful of cases where drug use has destroyed lives while ignoring the many millions who have experimented with drugs of all kinds and suffered no long-lasting damage, to their health, their family lives, or their careers. Well, those who didn't get arrested anyway.
....a national Zogby poll in the US provided evidence of changing opinion on the legalisation of cannabis: 52 per cent supported cannabis becoming legal, taxed and regulated.
In Germany, the federal parliament voted 63 per cent in favour to allow heroin prescription treatment.
In July, the Economic and Social Council, a UN body more senior than the Commission on Narcotic Drugs, approved a resolution requiring national governments to provide ''services for injecting drug users in all settings, including prisons'' and harm reduction programs such as needle syringe programs and substitution treatment for heroin users. This month, Mexico removed criminal sanctions for possessing any illicit drug in small quantities while Argentina is making similar changes for cannabis.
Portugal, Spain and Italy had earlier dropped criminal sanctions for possessing small amounts of any illicit drug, while the Netherlands and Germany have achieved the same effect by changing policing policy.
It is now clear that support for a drug policy heavily reliant on law enforcement is dwindling in Western Europe, the US and South America, while support for harm reduction and drug law reform is growing. Sooner or later this debate will start again in Australia.
The winding back of drug prohibition in Australia is likely to be an occasionally ugly and misinformation-plagued debate, but a necessary, long-overdue one.
I'd imagine that cannabis, at least, will be all but legalised in Australia within a few years, if only because so many Baby Boomers already prefer it as an alternative to side effect-heavy pharmaceuticals when it comes to tamping down all those aches and pains of growing old, and vote-powerful Boomers simply won't tolerate being hassled, or fined, by the police for blowing scuds on the back lawn of their nursing homes.