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Know Cannabis logo

Know Cannabis
website and leaflets from the HIT drugs agency based in Liverpool

Know Cannabis logo

Launched sometime in December 2004 - some time after it was actually announced by the Frank "action update" - the HIT website "Know Cannabis" is aimed at helping you assess your cannabis use, its impact on your life and how to make changes if you want to. Hit are a highly respected drugs advice agency based in Liverpool who have a reputation for straight talking about drugs..

It contains some good advice, including some advice on how to use cannabis more safely. However, as always it mixes the health education message with the legal warnings which somewhat debases the information it gives.

The website is accompanied by leaflets which give a condensed version of the information available online and is promoted by the government's Talk to Frank campaign.

The website Know Cannabis is divided into six sections: - we review the information below.

Cannabis information

Rather negative information about what using cannabis can do to you in terms of dependency, smoking, mental health, debt, relationships and - of course - the law. Also features a special warning to under 18's in terms of the law. There is some good advice in here, particularly with regard to smoking.

Tips and techniques

Some information on how to smoke cannabis which is fundamentally wrong in places - and indeed contradicts information given in the information section to some extent. The information on eating cannabis is very negative and avoids giving any really useful information. Lastly there's information to help you cut down or stop. There's almost no harm reduction advice beyond advising you not to hold smoke in your lungs for along time.

Cannabis quiz

This is supposed to help you decide if your cannabis use is becoming a problem. The quiz is full of holes and questions that are difficult to answer and seems designed to convince you that your cannabis use is causing you big problems.

Order form

So you can buy stuff from HIT such as posters telling you to cut down and a guide to how to cut down or stop, not much there likely to appeal...

Links

To Talk to Frank, NHS anti smoking site, RETHINK mental health charity and things like that, but of course, not to any legalisation campaign - obviously ... why obviously?

So - how good is the information on "Know Cannabis"?

Cannabis information:

The introduction sets the tone: "This website can help you assess your cannabis use, its impact on your life and how to make changes if you want to. Smoking cannabis can cause you problems in different areas of your life. Some regular cannabis smokers choose to cut down and stop, many find it easy, others find it hard. Are you in control of your cannabis use? Read on and then decide for yourself."

Dependency

It outlines the symptoms of addiction - or dependency - which is fair enough and adds: "Are you spending too much time, energy and money on weed? Does a lot of your day revolve around dope? Do those close to you complain that you're stoned all the time? Cannabis can lead to problems - could you stop if you wanted to?"

Interestingly it doesn't mention the addictive nature of tobacco nor give any advice about smoking without the killer weed. This is a failing the site repeats later. How many of the symptoms it attributes to cannabis are in fact due to the tobacco people often smoke it with?

1: Smoking

Some good advice here - indeed it talks about tobacco and the dangers of becoming addicted to it. However, it then comes out with this: "Giving up tobacco may be more difficult as a result of your cannabis use". That is as close as it comes to advising tokers not to smoke with tobacco. So cannabis use leads to tobacco addiction and there's nothing you can do about it? This withholding of information gets worse later.

It does advise not to hold smoke in your lungs - doing that won't get you any more stoned. Good advice as far as it goes.

2: Mental health advice

It gives what seems blindingly obvious advice: "If cannabis is affecting your mental health, stop using it.". However, it's by no means certain that schizophrenia or bipolar disorder sufferers perceive they experience negative effects, or suffer them in quite the way HIT describes, so how useful is the HIT advice actually? Indeed there is evidence to suggest some sufferers are self medicating - that the cannabis actually makes them feel better in some way, even though in other ways it complicates the issue.

However, having warned of that cannabis can make people feel panicky and so on, surely the obvious thing to say is "if you find the effects of cannabis unpleasant, don't use it". After all, many people stop using it because they find it makes them uneasy for one reason or another.

Although it mentions the increased risk for young people, it doesn't give the simple advice "people under 18 are best advised not to get stoned" as UKCIA does either. To do that, of course, would be a bit like supporting age limits, something not possible under prohibition.

3: Debt and relationship problems

Don't spend too much money on dope and don't spend too much time watching TV. Otherwise cut down, use less etc

4: The law

And of course, cannabis is illegal and the law can really mess your life up, especially if you're young. Of course, this is presented as a danger of cannabis, not a danger caused by a stupid law. Interestingly it warns people under 18 about the higher risk from the law, giving the impression that young people shouldn't use cannabis for that reason, yet they didn't give the health advice to young people under the mental health section. Are young people more likely to not use cannabis because it's illegal than if they're given honest and genuine health advice?

Probably the biggest risks from cannabis use come through its illegality - lack of controls over the supply side (polluted "soap bar", uncertain strengths, dealing with profit motivated criminals, illegal black markets and so on - plus of course the harm a criminal record can have on peoples lives. So why no warnings about the harm the law can do?

Tips and techniques section:

1: Smoking cannabis:

Hit do say in the info section "If you smoke cannabis with tobacco, you expose your lungs to two harmful
drugs and this increases the risks." But in the smoking advice they say "There is as yet no conclusive evidence that methods of inhaling cannabis that have been promoted as less risky, such as the use of water pipes and vapouriser, actually do reduce risks overall. The use of vapouriser has attracted some media focus recently but beware of unexpected effects such as increased inhalation (including of toxins). Naturally the safest course of action is to cut down and stop."

All this is very negative and seems designed to put people off listening to the advice, but worse it's simply wrong: Pipes, vapourisers etc do not involve tobacco, they are thus obviously safer/less dangerous than smoking tobacco filled joints. They avoid the physical addiction and craving produced by tobacco and vastly reduce the amount of smoke breathed in..

HIT seem to be implying that there is no point is cutting out tobacco when using cannabis; why? This information actually seems to be arguing against safer smoking techniques. It is close to being irresponsible.

Given that HIT accept tobacco is an additional risk, why no advice to smoke cannabis pure - especially through devices which cool the smoke and remove some of the tars?

Surely as regards smoking the advice is simple - breath in as little smoke as possible and don't mix cannabis with a known cancer causing addictive drug.

The advice on eating is almost entirely negative and no ways to reduce the risks are given.

This is followed by advice on how to cut down or quit. Mostly good advice but of course but again it doesn't advise quitting tobacco with all it's addictive cravings.

The Cannabis quiz:

Rather a lot of comments on the questions in this quiz. The idea is to help you to see if your cannabis use is causing you a problem and to encourage you to think about cutting down. However, some of the questions are badly worded and seem designed to paint a black picture:

Q3: How often are you stoned:

How stoned? Very or a little bit? HIT do not define what they mean by "stoned". A couple of puffs on a pipe might do for most situations, am I stoned? Or do they mean so hammered you can't move?

Q4: When you smoke cannabis, how often do you light up a second joint to get extra stoned?

What if you don't smoke joints? Pipe smoking doesn't work like this. If you use a pipe, you take as much as you want then leave it go out, maybe have a bit more later. The profile of use for pipe smokers is different to joint
smokers and usually far less habitual. Also pipe smokers don't smoke to satisfy a tobacco urge. Again, the concept of safer smoking techniques is totally ignored. So how do non-tobacco users answer this question?

Q5: Do you ever smoke cannabis in combination with other substances such as alcohol, cocaine or ecstasy? Please ignore tobacco when answering this question.

Why ignore Tobacco??? Why are HIT avoiding this issue? They seem intent on propping up the image of cannabis use being entwined with tobacco as a norm.

Q7: What are the most important reasons why you use cannabis? Click below three reasons that apply to you.

The option "To perform or concentrate better" counts against your score - but it's true, many enjoyable things such as doing recreational IT work such as webdev, playing music or other artistic pastimes are defiantly enhanced with a little toke for some people, it does help concentration in some ways. Including this option adds a point to your score - why?

Q10: How often have you thought to yourself in the past year, 'I should cut down or stop'?

Now, if you answer this in any way other than "never" it implies you didn't follow it up by cutting down and thus have a problem, of course, it could be a sign that you're keeping an eye on your cannabis use, but answering "yes" in any way indicates you have a problem

Q11: In the past year, how often has your use of cannabis affected your performance in your work or studies?

What do HIT mean by "affected"? For good or bad? What if you've spent hours in recreational stoned computer abuse and taught yourself IT skills for example? Not all work skills come through staff development ...

Q12: Do you sometimes put things off because you are stoned?

Hells teeth yes of course and so you should - don't drive whilst stoned for a start! That's a loaded question and of course, counts against you if you answer "yes".

13: Have you ever felt extremely frustrated because you couldn't smoke cannabis when you wanted to?

Frankly Yes - in night clubs or at gigs, but this isn't what HIT mean, is it?

When you've completed the quiz you get a score. If you get 5 or less - the lowest you can get of course, the advice isn't "OK, you have it under control", but "This means there is not any immediate reason for concern since you are an infrequent user. But taking drugs always carries risks - and of course cannabis is not only harmful but it is still an illegal drug in the UK. To find out more about cannabis and the law, click here for information."

Oh dear, bad losers or what!

It should be noted that a score of 5 can be obtained even if you answer "every day" to how often you use, so the "infrequent use" comment there is a little odd.

It also states for a low score "No added risk, although taking drugs always carries risks" Which doesn't really make sense.

Take the HIT Know Cannabis quiz here

Visit the Know Cannabis website

In conclusion the website and leaflets contain some good information and HIT do give advice on how to use cannabis in a less risky way, which is something of a landmark. However, as always the advice they give is compromised by the need to support government policy and is partial as a result. The tone of the website is, of course, anti use without any acknowledgment of the positive aspects of cannabis

Another wasted opportunity.

UKCIA
January 2005

 

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