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05/02/2008 00:00:00

UK: Highly potent skun' dominates UK's cannabis market

A highly potent "skunk" cannabis has overtaken the British market in
just a few years, new official data revealed today.

The powerful drug has grown from just 15% of the England and Wales
cannabis scene six years ago to a massive 70-80% now, according to
initial results from a Home Office-funded project.

The findings were disclosed at a meeting of the Government's official
advisers on drugs policy, which is considering whether cannabis should
be returned to Class B and carry tougher penalties for possession.

Dr Les King, an adviser to the Home Office Scientific Development
Branch, said several hundred samples seized by police on the streets in
just the last weeks showed levels of skunk, or sinsemilla, had rocketed,
while cannabis resin had slumped from 60-70% of the market in 2002 to
about 20%.

Traditional herbal cannabis now accounts for just 5% of seizures,
compared with 15% six years ago, he added.

"The large increase in the market share of sinsemilla appears to have
come about in the last few years," said Dr King.

"It is now clearly the dominant product.

"It coincides with the rise of these large organised criminal concerns
run by the Vietnamese.

"Traditional herbal cannabis has almost been squeezed out of the market."

David Potter, of GW Pharmaceuticals, who has conducted a separate survey
of samples from a number of police forces, said he had found a similar
swing towards stronger cannabis.

"It's like a wave moving towards the more potent end," he told the
Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD).

"People are moving towards sinsemilla, which is a much, much more potent

"This has the potential to change the cannabis scene quite a lot."

The ACMD heard that skunk contains higher levels of the active
ingredient in cannabis, known as THC.

But it also contains much lower levels of another ingredient,
cannabidiol or CBD, an anti-psychotic substance which may moderate
effects of THC on the mental health of users.

An expert from the Forensic Science Service (FSS), which analyses
samples seized by police and Customs, said the potency of skunk had
increased from 6% THC content in 1995 to 14% in 2005.

But Dr Mark White added: "The important thing to look at now is that the
last two years at least from the data we looked at, the THC content has
actually decreased to around 10-11%.

"The reasons for this are not very clear.

"It could be that the police are more active and they are seizing the
plants before they have reached the optimum point of harvest.

"Or maybe the growers have changed their strategy to produce quantity
rather than quality."

Dr White stressed that the FSS's data may not be representative because
of a number of variations in the way samples are obtained.

On the subject of the potency of skunk, Home Office adviser Dr King
later said: "Skunk is two to three times more potent on average in THC
than traditional herbal cannabis and traditional cannabis resin.

"It's the same as saying that wine is twice as strong as beer.

"It is not only what you drink but how much of it you drink that matters."

The ACMD, whose conclusions will be handed to Home Secretary Jacqui
Smith by the end of April, also considered evidence about the effect
cannabis has on mental health.

Professor Glyn Lewis, of Bristol University's psychiatry unit, told the
council: "There is now sufficient evidence to warn people that cannabis
use could increase the risk of psychotic illness.

"More frequent users are more likely to develop psychotic symptoms -
there is a doubling of the risk."

Author: 24Dash via UKCIA

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