Thursday, April 27, 2006

Advisory Council says ‘Leave it in Class C’

report by Steve Barker

It was back in March 2002 when the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs published their report which recommended that cannbabis was moved to class C.

In March 2005 Home Secretary Clarke asked the Advisory Council to reconsider their recommendation in the light of recent research into the relationship between cannabis use and mental illness. This report, entitled ‘Further Consideration of the Classification of Cannabis under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 was published last December and concluded that cannabis should stay in class C; but that a publicity campaign should be run to advise people of possible dangers of cannabis use.

Initially there were rumours that the Home Secretary, with the backing of the Prime Minister was planning to override the ACMD and have cannabis returned to class B regardless. However, the word ‘misuse’ in the title of the Misuse of Drugs Act is a value judgement and it is the task of the Advisory Council to make the judgement as to what ‘misuse’ constitutes. Their role in this is clearly spelled out in the text of the Misuse of Drugs Act itself.

Rumours then spread that if the HS over ruled their recommendation the Advisory Council would resign en bloc. The government would then have had to introduce a completely new Act to control drug classification, and considering that the original vote on moving cannabis to class C was carried both in the Commons and the Lords with a two to one majority, any vote to return it to Class B without the backing of the Advisory Council, would most likely be lost.

The 30 page report started by reaffirming the original report in saying that there are health dangers in smoking cannabis as there are in smoking tobacco. Cannabis intoxication can effect sustained attention and motor activities, and acute cannabis intoxication can lead to a sense of confusion, panic attacks and even paranoia. In a small number of cases, users may need hospitalisation and anti-psychotic medication for a few days. The number of patients admitted to hospital with a diagnosis of acute cannabis intoxication has remained stable in England at under 150 a year for the last five years.

On the issue of dependence , the Council’s enquiry found that if cannabis dependent users stop using they may suffer decreased appetite, lethargy, irritability, insomnia and mood changes. Reinstating the cannabis use terminates these symptoms. In other words, the ACMD is conceding that withdrawing cannabis use from these users reduces the quality of their life.

Schizophrenia Psychosis and other drugs

The onset of schizophrenia usually occurs in the late teens or early twenties, the age at which cannabis use is most prevalent, and association, though not necessarily a causal one, is therefore inevitable. The current evidence suggests that at worst, the use of cannabis increases the lifetime risk of developing schizophrenia by 1%. There may also be an inherited factor here based on the catechol-omethyl transferwase gene.

The report goes on to state that although perhaps 20% of the population experience psychotic symptoms at some time in their lives, The association between the amount and frequency of cannabis use and the development of psychosis is very weak. As is the evidence that use at a young age can trigger psychosis in later life; although cannabis use at a young age is to be discouraged. Recent data does not find a causal association between cannabis use and the development of depression or bipolar disorder; even those studies with positive findings only show small effects. Studies have not necessarily sought information about users’ consumption of other drugs such as amphetamines, which commonly lead to agression, psychosis, schizonphreniform illness and dependence.

The effect of this report now seems to ensure that future governments will recognise that cannabis consumption is an established social activity that needs to be regulated rather than suppressed.

A link to the report is available in PDF format on the front page of the Home Office website []


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