Yesterday, I asked whether Tobacco and Alcohol Control are trying to drive us away from legal relaxants towards illicit drugs. A French journalist writing for a left-wing newsweekly whom I cited wrote recently (emphases mine):

The worst part is that those favoring all these bans and fines are the ones supporting legalisation.

After writing that post, I ran across a blog post dated June 16, 2012, from Dr David Nutt, neuropsychopharmacologist, professor, author and former government advisor under Labour (before being dismissed in 2009 over a controversy about cannabis and psychosis).

In his post, Dr Nutt expresses his disappointment with the British Lung Foundation (BLF) for saying that cannabis smoking harms the lungs. He explains his position and reproduces the graph from his book, Drugs without the Hot Air.

The graph is not wrong — its premise appears to be drugs which will not ‘harm’ people. Consequently, many media commentators over the past several years have taken this to mean that, overall, illicit drugs — with the exception of heroin — are safer than tobacco or alcohol.  Nutt’s graph shows us that LSD and magic mushrooms are the ‘safest’, whilst tobacco is right up next to heroin as the most dangerous.

It seems hard to believe that someone could function at work whilst on LSD or mushrooms. Cocaine quickly becomes habit-forming, leading to aggression and violence.  And imagine working or driving after smoking dope. Not a good idea.

The drugs which Nutt purports to be relatively harmless are habit-forming and mind-altering. It’s frightening to think what sort of society we would have if everyone eschewed drink and/or tobacco for LSD, cocaine, amphetamines and so on.

Again, it seems to me as if this strategy is aimed at those of European descent. Ethnic minorities will have too much nous and too little desire (rightly so) to be taken in by this.

In the comments section of Nutt’s post is a comment from … Clive Bates, former director of ASH (Action on Smoking and Health):

Dear David – excellent post, just what’s needed to counteract this rubbish. BLF has been knowingly pulling this trick since 2002. I wrote a critique of similar arguments in 2002, when I was director of Action on Smoking and Health – it is preserved here: http://www.ukcia.org/research/SmokingGun/critique.php . We gave them the opportunity to change course then, and they declined. Not sure why they qualify to be a charity. What purpose is served by this. Good luck with the corrections… that’s important work. Clive

The article at Mr Bates’s link is clearly headed Action on Smoking and Health — ASH — with the actual title, ‘Smoking Gun’ in much smaller type.

It’s worthwhile reading the article to assess ASH’s pro-cannabis position. Note that we do not hear about this in radio and television interviews with ASH, only about the health of Britons.

It would be interesting for those tobacco smokers interviewed along with ASH in broadcast media to ask them on the air what their position on cannabis is.

Here are a few excerpts from the ASH article from 2002:

The reported claim that three cannabis joints per day equate in risk to 20 cigarettes has a very dubious basis.

The two 1987 studies on which the claim is based examine only a limited range of respiratory illness symptoms, and did not estimate the risks of lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD – eg. emphysema), which are the main fatal lung diseases caused by smoking tobacco. In the UK, lung cancer and COPD are responsible for almost half of tobacco related deaths (heart disease taking most of the rest). The BLF report acknowledges “conflicting findings” on the link between lung cancer and cannabis, and calls for more research “to establish what link (if any) there is between COPD and cannabis smoking”. Given that the data used don’t actually cover the main risks and the link between these major risks is acknowledged to be uncertain, it is premature to draw overall risk comparisons between cannabis and tobacco – and certainly not with precision like 3:20. BLF did limit the scope of the claim in its report – but it was widely interpreted as a measure of overall relative risk.

The very high risks due to tobacco use really arise from its addictiveness, which causes many tobacco smokers to continue to smoke well after they would want to stop. It is common for tobacco smokers to consume 20 cigarettes per day every day for several decades. However, this is not a common pattern of use for cannabis, which appears to be much less addicting than nicotine.

It is plausible that cannabis users control the dose they receive by varying their smoking pattern – as it has been shown that tobacco smokers do for nicotine. Stronger cannabis may therefore mean that LESS smoke is inhaled for a given dose of the active ingredient. There is a large literature on ‘compensation’ and the tendency of smokers to titrate nicotine, though the subject is much less well understood for cannabis. A better working assumption that dose is controlled by the user rather than by the cigarette, and anecdotally, cannabis smokers say that they smoke rather than eat the drug because it is easier to control the dose.

The claim that there are 50% more carcinogens in cannabis tar in tobacco smoke also demands caution given the wide variation in carcinogens within even the same cigarette brand.

It is difficult therefore to see much educative value in these [British Lung Foundation] pronouncements, especially as they contrast with more carefully and credibly formulated information and analysis in recent independent assessments, some of which we describe below.

ASH admit that data are less clear for cannabis in some areas yet they appear to conclude that they have ‘carefully and credibly formulated information and analysis’ showing cannabis to be safer than tobacco.

It sounds murky to me, just as it sounds murky for ASH to demonise and denormalise tobacco throughout the Western world.

It would be interesting to find out what Alcohol Control’s position is on cannabis.

More next week.

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