Is there any hope ..

.. for sanity? BBC Radio 4 today (4th August) broadcast a discussion of sorts on the famous advert in The Times 50 years ago in the form of an open letter to demand the decriminalisation of cannabis. The programme was devised and presented by Peter Hitchens, a Tory and so-called journalist for that arseswipe called The Daily Mail. In it he interviewed a number of the signatories to that letter to see if they still agreed with it. All of them did, despite Hitchens’ attempts to get them to revise their position by repeating the lies about skunk being the ‘stronger cannabis’ now commonly available. Sadly, though some of them talked about their objection to prohibition, no-one made the point that it was precisely prohibition that led to skunk, to the spread of addiction to heroin and crack, to the creation of dodgy ‘designer’ drugs and all the criminal cartels and gangs, whose bloody trade wars fill the front pages of the tabloid press and their cousins in other media.

Should I write to the Beeb to request something to ‘balance’ that broadcast? Experience tells me not to waste the stamp. So, if there’s anyone out there reading this, here’s my reply to it.

Part One – Chemistry
Firstly skunk is not stronger than the weed we used to get hold of, it’s just been bred by dope farmers in Northern California to have a much higher content of THC than it normally had. Does that make it stronger? No, it just throws the balance of psycho-active chemicals out of kilter. What difference does that make? Well I’m a smoker not a neurologist and wasn’t aware of that modification when I first tried it, but I didn’t like the hammer blow it seemed to deliver to my brain and I quickly decided to avoid it. Forty years ago BBC’s ‘Panorama’ did an investigation into the current state of research. The reason for it was that the government had just imposed a tax on synthetic tobacco. You can be forgiven for never having heard of that as it soon died a death because it had no hit to it at all. Its development was clearly for a purpose and that was as the vehicle for mass-produced joints of fake baccy laced with THC. This is what the tobacco industry had lined up for us, if dope was legalised and a very good reason for preferring decriminalisation to legalisation. Only the well-off would be able to afford the real thing. The Panorama team interviewed a number of researchers into cannabis and they fell into two camps – those who claimed it was addictive and those who said it wasn’t. Sadly I didn’t get hold of a recording but came away with the distinct impression that the ‘addictive’ trials were using synthetic THC not herbal cannabis.

We’ve been here before – it’s called the search for the active principle. As chemistry became a science during the 18th and 19th centuries, it became clear that what made herbal remedies work were the chemicals they contained. So chemists went looking for them and the pharmaceutical industry was born. They had another idea, however, to remove the ‘impurities’ that caused problems like addiction. Opium was an obvious target, so they refined it and produced morphine (1804) – much stronger than the plant resin or tinctures and … more addictive. So they had another go and produced heroin (1874) and still the penny didn’t drop. This mindset has yet to change. Whatever they’ve evolved to do for the plants (mostly defence mechanisms against pests and diseases), in humans the effects of the chemicals associated with those ‘active principles’ may be good or bad. In the latter case practitioners have learned over centuries how to deal with them. In the case of hemp, on the other hand, there are a number of cannabinoid alkaloids that buffer the effect of THC and make it a much more benign drug. This has been realised by a number of researchers but ignored by law-makers and moralists who hate us having fun. As for tabloid journalists .. forget it, too complicated for their tiny brains.

Whatever the truth is for THC, traditional cannabis, herb or resin, is completely non-addictive and I speak from personal experience over several decades. In fact it has zero-tolerance, which means that, however much you use it, you don’t need more to get high. Medical practitioners who claim otherwise clearly don’t understand what addiction is – a physical change in the body – as opposed to a habit – a psychological dependency. Some people can succumb to the latter with cannabis but it’s easily dealt with if the underlying mental problems are sorted.

So dope is not a dangerous drug except to those who want to control our minds. In fact it’s been used by humans in many parts of the world for thousands of years and has appeared in the archeological record even earlier than alcohol. In our times, until it was banned and replaced, one of the commonest medicinal uses for cannabis tincture (extract in alcohol) was in childbirth, to relax the mother’s birth canal and make delivery easier. So much for it being a dangerous drug.

There’s much more to be said on this topic but I’ll save that for later. Meanwhile look out for more put-downs of the social revolutions that climaxed in the 1960s, the Tories are getting jittery again. Journalists, especially for right-wing rags, like to typify dope smokers as lazy and superficial – talk about pots and kettles!

RA 4-5.8.17