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27/07/2007 00:00:00

UK: Experts dismiss case for cannabis reclassification

Drug experts today said there was still insufficient evidence to
reclassify cannabis, after a report suggested the drug could increase
the risk of schizophrenia by at least 40%.

The Labour MP Brian Iddon and Professor Robin Murray, of the Institute
of Psychiatry, said there would be no benefit gained by restoring
cannabis to a class B drug.

Their comments came after a report published today in medical journal
the Lancet estimated there were at least 800 people suffering serious
psychosis in the UK as a result of smoking cannabis.

The Home Office said last night that the report's findings would be
considered in a review of the 2004 decision to downgrade cannabis to a
class C drug.

The review was prompted by fears that the potent "skunk" form of
cannabis was triggering schizophrenia.

Prof Murray, an expert on cannabis-induced psychosis, said the Lancet
study added "very little" to the understanding of the health risks
associated with smoking the drug.

He said: "Politicians tend to think reclassification is important. It
isn't. Fourteen-year-olds smoking spliffs have no idea of the difference
between B and C. If it were reclassified to B, it wouldn't affect
14-year-olds because it's already illegal for them anyway. What is
needed is education about the risks."

The study, which is an analysis of previous research, estimated that 14%
of 15-34-year-olds currently suffering from schizophrenia were ill
because they smoked cannabis

Prof Murray said: "Individuals who - perhaps with some mild
predisposition - would not otherwise have developed schizophrenia will
do so because of taking cannabis. It's a bit like how people with only a
minimal predisposition to diabetes will develop it if they eat too much."

Dr Iddon, the chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on drugs
misuse, said the study did not convince him it was time to return
cannabis to class B.

"I don't think the causal link has been proved. I think cannabis might -
possibly for genetic reasons - trigger psychosis at an earlier age."

The MP, who is also a member of the science and technology select
committee, said there was a danger of criminalising "hundreds of
thousands of young people" if the status of the drug was changed.

"If Gordon Brown changes the class of the drug, it won't be
evidence-based but for political reasons," he said.

"Since we reduced the classification of cannabis from B to C the usage
is going down, so what's the point of muddying the debate again by this
yo-yo political policy?"

The drugs charity DrugScope also challenged the calls to reclassify
cannabis, saying there was no evidence that it would cut use of the drug.

The DrugScope chief executive, Martin Barnes, said: "The challenge is to
ensure that information on cannabis use and the associated risks is
understood by teachers and health professionals working with young
people and conveyed in ways that young people will listen to.

"Shock tactics alone rarely work, but we need to get across that just
because you know people who appear to be OK using cannabis, it doesn't
mean that they are, or that it will be OK for you.",,2136450,00.html?gusrc=rss&feed=networkfront

Author: The Guardian via UKCIA

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