by CanSS, posted 16 06 2014
I chair Cannabis Skunk Sense (www.cannabisskunksense.co.uk) a drug prevention charity and have been deeply concerned about the delivery of school drug education for many years. I was a biology teacher in a grammar school for boys for over 30 years.
Drug education policy is still one of Harm Reduction (HR) in spite of the Coalition’s 2010 promise of Prevention.
Children are physically and psychologically incapable of ‘choosing’ whether or not to take drugs.
FRANK fails miserably to warn children of the true dangers of cannabis and gives out HR tips that can act as green lights.
Use of drugs by 11 to 15 year olds continues to rise.
The vast majority of children do not want to take drugs.
Abundant evidence exists for the success of Prevention programmes.
Responsibility for drug education is now in the hands of one HR charity and one Prevention whose policies appear more HR.
An International Treaty, Article 33 of The Rights of the Child, broken in this respect.
1.For many years drug education in our schools has been in a parlous state. The policy of Prevention changed to one of Harm Reduction (HR) around 15 years ago. Preventing children from ever starting to use drugs is common sense and undoubtedly the expectation of parents.
2.I know that the vast majority of children do not want to take drugs – they told me. They want reliable scientific and updated facts on drugs to explain their refusal to join others in ‘dabbling’.
3.The pupils of 6 different schools in my area voted in large numbers for ‘sniffer dogs’ to visit their schools for random drug testing - another reason for 82% of them to say ‘No’!
4.Two school students from Hyde Park High in Austin Texas are now giving the parents of friends drug testing kits in a contract with their children, to help their friends say ‘No’.
5.Drug Education Guidelines first appeared in the nineties under John Major. ‘Tackling Drugs Together’ 1995 was all about prevention - the first objective, “to discourage young people from taking drugs”. This chimed well with what I had been doing for several years.
6.Shamefully the emphasis slipped over the years, slowly and imperceptibly towards acceptance of the “normalisation” of drug use. Phrases appeared in 2002, “Reduce the use of class “A” drugs and the frequent use of any illicit drug among all young people under the age of 25”. Were they not concerned with infrequent use? Harm reduction accommodates, even condones drug use, it certainly doesn’t tackle it. Our children are being betrayed.
7.Harm reductionists assume that, “Kids will use drugs anyway, we must tell them how to do it more safely and give them “informed choice”. Phrases like, “Prevention strategies are not able to prevent experimental use”, and “Harm minimisation reflects the reality that many young people use both legal and illegal substances”, are used.
8.PHSE Association advice (2013) is littered with the phrase “informed choice”.
9.HR people want to ‘minimise or prevent drug and alcohol-related harms’ and ‘to delay the first use of illegal drugs’ NOT to prevent use in the first place, as laid down in Article 33 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, an International Treaty which says, “States Parties shall take all appropriate measures, including legislative, administrative, social and educational measures, to protect children from the illicit use of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances as defined in the relevant international treaties”.
10.This HR policy smacks of defeatism and is in direct contradiction to our drug laws that set criminal penalties for both possession and dealing.
11.There is no guaranteed safe way to take any drug, legal or illegal as side effects on prescription medicines will testify. Thirty or forty per cent of children may try drugs, but how many try smoking - 90%? Regular drug use (more than once/month) in the UK (16-59s) is around 2.8% and regular cannabis use 2.6%. Among 16 to 24s regular use is 5.1%. (British Crime Survey 2013).
12.‘Informed choice’. Drug use is illegal! Responsible adults would surely not allow youngsters choice to steal. Brains don’t mature till the twenties, and the risk-taking part develops before the inhibitory area so children are going to ‘take a chance’ (Giedd 1999,Chambers 2003).
13.Children are incapable of making critical life decisions that may impair their cognitive functioning and mental health - nor should they. Adults have a duty of care, telling them not to cross the road before they are old enough as they may be killed, or eat unknown berries that may make them very ill. Offering choice to use drugs is the height of irresponsibility.
14.In 2010 the Coalition Government in their new Drug Strategy promised Prevention – it didn’t happen and new guidelines were never written - PSHE is still non-statutory. So teachers are ‘stuck’ with the HR policies drafted in 2003/2004 by the QCA and the DfES.
15.QCA guidelines do not contain the word ‘Prevention’, but do recommend that children should “recognize the importance of making informed choices about alcohol or drug use and have increased awareness of ways to reduce the risks associated with them.”
16.Eighteen is the age for purchasing alcohol and tobacco. Why is it that 7-11 year olds (QCA) are deemed capable of choosing to use illegal drugs. Far from advocating abstinence, Government drug education policy has been to legitimise use.
17.Overall, drug use in the UK is decreasing, but the last school survey (Smoking, drinking and drug use in young people in England 2013) covering 11 to 15s, saw an alarming rise of around 32,000 in children who had ever taken drugs, regular use rose by about 16,250. The average age of 13 in the UK for first use of cannabis is the youngest in Europe. If 32,000 children caught some preventable disease it would be all over the papers, but the press showed no interest.
18.Harm reduction has its place in treatment with known individual users - a short-term strategy on the road to abstinence, but never in the classroom. Well over 95% of my students had no intention of ever using drugs. Harm reduction tips can and often do act as a green light for experimentation. A recent report from the USA, Monitoring The Future, found that children said they would be more likely to take marijuana if it were legal. To children ‘legal’ equals ‘safe’.
19.‘Informed choice’. The situation would not be so dire if the general public were to be properly informed about the dangers of drugs but they’re not.
20.FRANK, the official Government web-site for drug information, is aimed at 11 to 15s but adults as well. Many, if not most drug charities take their facts from FRANK. As is the case with all HR organisations/websites, the treatment of cannabis is abysmal. Some drugs, especially newer ones like legal highs are dealt with sensibly, but information about cannabis our most controversial and commonly used drug, is out of date, woefully inadequate, has HR tips and is sometimes plainly wrong.
21.The following is a brief scientific account of the true extent of the dangers of cannabis:
(References obtainable from ‘Cannabis: a general view of its harmful effects’ by Mary Brett on www.cannabisskunksense.co.uk under ‘books’)
22.Messages between brain cells are carried by many different chemicals (neurotransmitters). Mind altering drugs ‘highjack’ this communication system by mimickry, increasing their release, blocking them or preventing them from being re-cycled.
23.THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), the psychoactive substance in cannabis, mimics a neurotransmitter, anandamide, by shape so occupies anandamide’s receptor sites on cells.
24.Fat-soluble THC persists in fatty brain cell membranes. Depending on frequency of use and strength, half of it may be released within a week, the rest slowly over weeks, even months. Even occasional users will have a permanent THC presence which interferes with the transmission of all neurotransmitters so total brain functioning is impaired.
25.The average THC content of mid-seventies herbal cannabis, was less than 1% (UNODC). In skunk, THC content averaged 16.2% ranging to 46% in 2008 (Home Office Potency Study). Of the cannabis seized, 80% was skunk. The other 20% was hash (resin), around 4-6% THC.
26.The old herbal cannabis had an approximate balance of psychoactive THC and anti-psychotic CBD (cannabidiol). Skunk contains only 0.1% CBD.
27.Dopamine, the ‘pleasure’ neurotransmitter is released when eating, listening to music, exercising and so on. THC increases its production. Excess dopamine can cause psychological addiction (craving) and psychosis (brains of people with psychosis and schizophrenia have too much). Human studies from birth have supported this causal link, skunk users being about 7 times more likely than hash users to suffer.
28.Physical dependence occurs when THC replaces anandamide, whose production slows. If THC is then withdrawn, the receptor sites are left empty and withdrawal sets in - irritability, sleeplessness, anxiety, depression, even violence. Anandamide production takes time to resume. Of everyone who ever tries cannabis, 10% will become addicted but in young people it’s 1 in 6.
29.Users are at least 2-3 times more likely to develop schizophrenia than non-users. A genetic variation is thought responsible.
30.In brain scans of users, a decrease in volume has been found in grey matter (cell bodies), hippocampus (learning), thalamus (receives and passes on messages) and amygdala (emotions).
31.A New Zealand study found young male users nearly 4 times more likely to be violent than non-users due to psychosis or withdrawal. The alcohol risk was twice. Some recent homicides have been linked to skunk use.
32.Serotonin, the ‘happiness’ neurotransmitter is reduced, resulting depression can lead to suicide. A Swedish study found more suicides in cannabis users than users of amphetamines, alcohol or heroin. Cannabis deaths were more violent, being nearly 20 times more likely to result from jumping from buildings.
33.The upsurge of new connections made in learning and memory processes at adolescence by the orderly release of neurotransmitters is jeopardised by persistent THC. The younger that children start using, the worse the damage. They are more likely to become dependent, have mental problems or progress to other drugs.
34.An average grade ‘D’ student is 4 times more likely to be using cannabis than one with average ‘A’s. Children persistently using cannabis in adolescence and continuing into adulthood will drop their IQ by an average 8 points - and not recover. IQ amongst never-users actually rises. Few children using cannabis even occasionally will achieve their full potential.
35.Users have fixed opinions, fixed answers, struggle to find words, can’t take criticism or plan their day. Families suffer violent mood swings, houses get trashed. They are lonely, miserable, feel misunderstood and are twice as likely to drop out of education.
36.An average joint equates to being just over the drink-drive limit, affecting driving for over 24 hours. Alcohol plus cannabis is 16 times more dangerous.
37.Cannabis smoke contains more carcinogens than tobacco smoke and 3 to 4 times as much tar is deposited in airways. In cancer terms, a joint equates to 4 or 5 cigarettes. Rare cancers of the head and neck occur in young people. Collapsed lungs, bronchitis, emphysema, even transplants have been reported.
38.The DNA of new cells made in adult bodies can be damaged by THC. Cells have a life-span and THC speeds up the programmed cell death (apoptosis) of white blood cells, sperm and foetal cells. Users are more susceptible to disease. Infertility and impotence have been reported. Smaller babies may have behaviour and cognitive problems as they grow up.
39.There is a rise in blood pressure and heart rate. Heart attacks have been recorded, teenage ‘bingers’ died of strokes. Recent deaths in Colorado have been attributed to ingestion of cannabis.
40.Mouth and urine samples from non-users subjected to cannabis smoke have tested positive for THC.
41.An alcohol overdose can kill but some are sick and survive. Cannabis inhibits the vomiting reflex.
42.Tobacco, alcohol and cannabis can all lead to taking other drugs. A MORI poll found 50% of smokers tried an illegal drug but only 2% of non-smokers. Evidence for a cannabis ‘gateway’ comes from ongoing experiments with animals, studies from birth and statistical correlations.
43.Medicines must be pure substances so their actions are predictable and controllable. There are 400 in cannabis. Pure (synthetic) THC, Nabilone( UK), Marinol (USA) are already licensed but unpopular with doctors. Sativex (THC +CBD) is not universally recommended. Would you be prepared to eat mouldy bread for your penicillin? Keith Stroup, an American pot-using lawyer said in 1979, “We will use the medical marijuana argument as a red herring to give pot a good name”. Marijuana is not medicine!
44.Tests for THC will be positive even a month after taking a joint. More and more employers are now drug-testing their employees.
45.So, how does the FRANK website fail children? – a few examples:
46.The gravest error concerns the THC content. Until recently the website said that skunk is about twice as strong as the old cannabis. Now we find:
“Sinsemilla, homegrown cannabis, netherweed are all …. part of this ‘skunk’ group. ….. this group could pose even more risks because of their strength”.
In an FAQ: “The most common form of cannabis used today, often referred to is skunk, is on average around 2-4 times stronger than the herbal cannabis that was used in the sixties through to the early 1990s”.
47.There is no mention of the absence of CBD in skunk. I have repeatedly told the HASC about these disastrous errors in written and oral evidence and nothing has happened. People are entitled to the truth and it is FRANK’s duty to deliver.
48.The gateway theory is ignored on the website as is a warning about the persistence of THC in the brain. FAQs provide very unsatisfactory dumbed-down answers. Children need to know evidence exists for gateway, and IQ points lost will not be regained. The medical marijuana scam is not discussed and there is no disclosure of brain damage.
49.Violence and depression which can lead to suicide get no mention nor does damage to the immune system, strokes and heart attacks.
50.“Regular cannabis use is known to be associated with an increase in the risk of later developing psychotic illnesses”. Taking too much marijuana will result immediately in a transient psychotic episode. It is imperative children are forewarned!
51.Harm reduction tips are given e.g. on ecstasy: “Users should sip no more than a pint of water or non-alcoholic drink every hour”. And magic mushrooms: “Most people take between 1-5 grams. People don’t tend to eat fly agaric mushrooms raw as they can make you feel really sick”.
52.FRANK’s poster on skunk is unbelievable. If it’s meant to be funny then it fails miserably. There is nothing humorous about drug use! http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/publications/alcohol-drugs/drugs/frank/skunk-poster
53.A survey by Addaction found only 10% of young people would phone FRANK for help. FRANK receives funding of around £5m/year.
54.In a recent talk to the APPG on Children and Cannabis, Harvard Professor John Kelly said that marijuana is the most challenging drug to treat. NIDA (National Institute Drug Abuse USA) continues to target parents and teens with up-to-date science-based facts.
55.I attended the launch of the New Drug Strategy on December 8th 2010. This Coalition Government’s policy is one of Prevention. I felt optimistic – it didn’t last!
56.The Minister of Health said that through the FRANK service, everyone will have accurate and reliable information on the effects and harms of drugs. I told her FRANK was neither reliable nor accurate. I sent the leader of the Drugs and Alcohol team the relevant literature. Some very prickly and patronising correspondence ensued. After 30 years of teaching them I was told teenagers are tricky to deal with!
57.I managed to meet the FRANK team, their website was due to be re-launched in 2011. I thought they listened, they agreed I rewrite FRANK’s cannabis information.
58.The re-launched FRANK ignored my critique on cannabis, but my request to remove HR advice about cannabis had been carried out. I e-mailed my concerns, only 2 of my items appeared.
59.It then transpired that The John Moores University Liverpool, the birthplace of HR, had been commissioned to produce ‘A Summary of the Health Harms of Drugs’. It was abysmal and shockingly out-of-date. Authors included a member of the FRANK team.
60.There is ample evidence for the success of Drug Prevention Education.
61.Between 1979 and 1991, a huge prevention campaign (‘Just Say No’) in America coincided with a dramatic decrease in drug use. Parents, teachers, police, youth leaders, social workers, churches, the children themselves, all got involved - it worked. Users fell from 23 to 14 million. Cannabis and cocaine use halved, daily cannabis use dropped 75% (Report from North America, Rosenthal 1992).
62.A Survey by PRIDE USA of young people (1983) found the largest number, more than 70% abstained from cannabis use fearing physical or psychological damage, 40% due to the law and 60% because of parental disapproval. A survey here in 2005 (Twigg, B), in which my school took part, showed similar results, around 90% saying no to any drug because of the damage to health.
63.THE most important tool we have to prevent children from using is true knowledge. Supporting sessions on the law, relationships, career prospects, self-esteem, resistance skills, bullying, keeping fit, diet, etc are needed, as is help with academic subjects, encouragement of sport, music, art and so on. The wider community should get involved. Children need goals in life and the ambition to achieve them.
64.Responsibility for school drug education now rests with Drugscope, a HR charity with outdated inadequate information on cannabis, even denying physical dependence. Instead of protecting young people from drugs and adhering to Article 33, they aim to ‘minimise drug and alcohol-related harms’, Adfam primarily a family support charity, and the main one, Mentor UK with its Government-funded ADEPIS programme.
65.Mentor UK claims to be a Prevention charity but like FRANK also has deficient out-of-date cannabis information in its ‘drugs of abuse’ section - skunk, psychosis and schizophrenia are not mentioned, and a (seemingly covert) HR policy. The PHSE Association assures us that Mentor’s Adepis uses the best international evidence! In Mentor’s Government- funded ‘Street Talk’ programme, the 3 conclusions were all about safer use of drugs e.g. 74% agreed “If I use, I fully intend to use drugs and alcohol more safely in the future.” Less than 50% had actually used an illicit drug.
66.An evaluation of one school programme ‘Unplugged’ (Faggiano 2010) found that in 1 or 2 classes, 1 case of alcohol abuse and 1 of cannabis use could be prevented.
67.I attended a recent Mentor meeting. The word illegal had not been uttered till I spoke. It was greeted with mirth by the audience, many of them young female teachers who are in charge of our young people.
68.On being challenged about giving immature minds ‘choice’ I was subjected to an astonishingly explosive rant from Sociology Professor Alec Stevens about choosing to join the army. I wasn’t aware that it was illegal to join up. He was incandescent! It’s not surprising really since he has called for “decriminalisation of growing cannabis”, saying six plants per person is an ‘acceptable amount’. He did not want to harm people for “things they are going to do anyway”. He also backed a controversial trial by Kings College London which involved 'the nasal administration of cocaine' by hundreds of students, and the opening of a ‘coffee shop’ in Kent.
69.Children need, want and value rules and regulations. They feel safe and secure with boundaries to kick against. They often use parental sanctions as an excuse and respond in class to firm discipline.
70.Finally the Governmernt simply abrogated its responsibility for drug issues and devolved it to local authorities in March 2013. No new drug education guidelines are to be re-written - PHSE remains a non-statutory subject.
71.New teachers are left with a harm reduction policy and harm reduction guidelines - 10 years old and 10 years out of date. Thousands of scientific papers have been published since then and cannabis today is unrecognisable. Our young people are being betrayed by adults who, instead of protecting them, let them choose to take drugs from the ridiculously tender age of 7, fail to give them the full, accurate and up-to-date facts and offer tips on safer ways to use.
72.Prevention has always been better than cure. It’s common sense, it works and it’s what every parent wants.
73.NIDA: ‘For every $ spent on drug prevention, up to $10 is saved on treatment and counselling.
74.Drug prevention education must be made statutory in all schools.
Drugs: It’s just not worth it
Our 35-page book gives clear and easy to read facts and advice aimed at teenagers and young people.