I have always loathed cannabis and what I’ve seen it does to people. From my very first encounter at university when I watched the making and the passing of the spliff ritual, I thought it was pathetic and that the people doing it were boring.
I avoided them and their singularly ‘funless’ parties. Stoned, introverted and unattractive young men became even less attractive as they became more introverted. Maybe it helped their relations with men, but not with women.
Nor, in my early days working in TV, was I impressed to find food laced at parties – to have a bit of a laugh with non-using guests. The choice was made clear – between being stoned or stuffy. I chose stuffy. Why you had to be drugged up to socialise escaped me. It seemed to have the very opposite effect – dulling, stupefying and rather unpleasant.
So when, as a mother, I encountered teenage boys using the evil weed I was alarmed. These were no ‘uni’ students but little more than children. It did not take great powers of observation to see how it affected their behaviour, their motivation and how addictive it was. Worse, noxious skunk was beginning to dominate the market
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. It was a revelation to find myself unpopular and on my own in daring to make my views public and clear.
Since then I have observed one tragedy after another: some in families anguished by their own naivety that they became aware of drug-taking or its risks too late; others distraught at the life-time sentences to which they and their sons had been condemned.
Their futures – with their sons’ lives suspended between secure mental units or so-called community care on compulsory injected anti-psychotics – were no future at all. Only the very brave shouted their plight from the rooftops to alert everyone else; for many the shame was too huge. And there was still denial too.
What is so shocking is that the science detailing these very real risks has been in the public domain for years, that resistance to acknowledging it goes back years and right to the top of our political establishment. For a historical account, Peter Hitchens’s book is a must read.
As a result of this liberal ‘cannabis conspiracy’, over the years ever younger children have begun taking the drug and in ever stronger doses.
The extent of this silent cultural revolution can be seen in a Conservative-led Coalition happy for children to be left to make their own ‘informed choices’ about cannabis use. Yes, the mantra of ‘informed choice’ is still official policy bleated out by every health minister since 2010.
What’s more, it is still based on outdated, inadequate (in places downright wrong) official information. This is despite the persistent representations of the campaigner Mary Brett of the charity Cannabis Skunk Sense.
The simple fact the Government ignores is that children aged 12, 14 or even 16, are not equipped to make such a choice. They are immature and their brains are still forming.
So the question is whether new research, published this week, will make a difference and act as a wake-up call. It is the work of a team of 23 scientists under the direction of the impressive and indefatigable Sir Robin Murray, Professor of Psychiatric Research at King’s College, London.
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.
It should, as Professor Murray says, see an end to the sceptics’ claim that cannabis use is not an important cause of schizophrenia-like psychosis. It should alert government to the fact that “we could prevent almost one quarter of cases of psychosis if no-one smoked high potency cannabis (saving) young patients a lot of suffering and the health services a lot of money.”
It should indeed. But the jury is out on whether it will change the UK’s persistent culture of denial about cannabis, which has peopled mental health units with psychotic young men and which is still priming a public health time-bomb.
Depressed motivation, significantly lowered IQ, impaired cognitive functioning, cancer and paranoia are all outcomes of early and regular cannabis use, details of which research can be found on the new Cannabis Skunk Sense website.
Will this new evidence stop in his tracks our arch drug-liberalising deputy PM Nick Clegg, desperate in his search of the youth vote? It ought to. That is why I will be watching carefully when he gives keynote speech to the Home Affairs Select Committee’s ‘International Conference on Drugs Policy’ on March 12th. Will he even refer to this latest and most comprehensive and irrefutable of research?
Or following HASC’s bizarre recommendation of two years ago to downgrade cannabis to Class C, will Clegg continue to bang the Lib Dem drum for outright legalisation?
That, sadly, is my bet.