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An open letter to Frank

Since Frank started we've been trying to contact someone in the organisation who could answer questions about the information on the site. It's been totally impossible to find anyone, either a phone number, an e-mail or even a snail mail address, so here's a UKCIA open letter to Frank

June 2003

Dear Frank

UKCIA was interested to hear of the launch of Talk to Frank, we very much welcome a move away from the "just say no" approach to drugs.

However, we have some serious reservations about the nature of the information given out by Frank which we would like to ask that you address. So sorry, this is a very long letter.

In general, the advice and information you give is very good. However, we have complaints regarding the cannabis section.

For a long time we've been told of all sorts of nasty harm cannabis can cause, much of which has been discredited. However, looking at Frank, cannabis is a very nasty, dangerous substance indeed. All the comments you make are negative and you make some alarming claims Also, some of the information is simply wrong:

Frank says: "Cannabis is not something that dealers mix anything with, But some unsuspecting people have been known to buy blocks of mud, stock cubes and garden herbs from people pretending to be dealers".

Wrong. So-called "soap bar" is well known for being badly contaminated with all sorts of nasty stuff. It would have been more honest had you warned of the dangers caused *directly by the law* and the unregulated market here, but you fail to do so. You do say of alcohol that "Because it's legal and sold only in licensed premises, most alcohol is unadulterated by anything very nasty". Which is true, so why not warn of the dangers of the unlicenced, unregulated cannabis market? Click here

You also mention people sometimes get ripped off by dealers, it's true, but why not also warn that on occassion some dealers offer other substances to people wanting to buy cannabis that are a little more than garden herbs?

Frank says: "Much like a cigarette, the effects are immediate and last about an hour"

When smoked the effects are pretty fast acting, but not immediate. For a total non-smoker having a first puff on a tobacco spliff, the head-spinning hit which happens at once is caused by the tobacco, not the cannabis. The cannabis high will come along some time later, maybe as long as 10 - 20 mins later. How long it lasts depends on how much is smoked. Bongs etc are faster acting but still not immediate.

Frank says: "Smoking a spliff makes most people happy, relaxed and at peace with the world but the effects vary from person to person. Some people have one puff and feel sick. Others get the giggles until the muscles in their faces hurt.

The last bit about face muscles is just stupid, it doesn't happen.

Frank says: "Cannabis is quite an introspective drug. Once stoned, users can find hidden depths in daytime television/ the most unlikely song lyrics".

Being stoned is an introspective experience, true. It certainly does allow people to listen deeply to music, experiencing layers of complexity in the composition. Similar things can happen with images. This is why artists use cannabis to great effect in making music and works of art. Indeed, it's probably the reason most people use cannabis. So why not point out the creative aspects - you do point out the good side of ecstasy, so why rubbish it with cannabis?

Frank says "It affects co-ordination. So it can make people a bit unsteady on their feet. Doing complicated things like operating machinery is not a good idea".

Stoned people don't stagger around like drunks which this seems to imply, being very stoned can make movement difficult though but again in some ways cannabis can improve concentration and may even help with certain complex tasks, particularly with artistic composition, also lot of IT "geeks" use cannabis when doing tekie stuff. Again, you only mention the negative, not the positive potential.

Strange though that you don't warn people not to drive when stoned, We know the Transprt research lab study showed cannabis was less dangerous than alcohol in this respect, but it would still be good advice.

Then we get the "flip side" - as if the above wasn't negative enough!

Frank says: "Some people get so chilled they lose their inhibitions altogether".

Sorry Frank, that is utter rubbish. That is probably the one thing cannabis does not do, indeed, it's quite the opposite. Some people, when they get very stoned, become introverted and can dwell on personal or other problems.

Perhaps Frank is talking about intimate sexual encounters here, if so, why not say it? Some - if not most - people would consider that a positive attribute of cannabis however

Frank says: "Even hardcore smokers can get anxious, panicky and suspicious".

Which is what can happen if you become too inward looking when stoned. However, for most people this is not a serious problem, but it's good advice not to use cananbis if this happens repeatedly.

Frank says: "Cannabis screws with short-term memory".

When stoned, yes. Not permanently though.

US Jamaican Study 1974: "No impairment of physiological, sensory and perceptual performance, tests of concept formation, abstracting ability, and cognitive style, and tests of memory"

LaGuardia Commission Report, 1944 "Cannabis smoking does not lead directly to mental or physical deterioration... Those who have consumed marijuana for a period of years showed no mental or physical deterioration which may be attributed to the
drug."

Frank says: "Eating or drinking the drug delays the effects and can make them stronger and longer lasting".

Making the effects stronger and longer lasting is not a flip side! Eating or drinking cannabis also avoids the dangers associated with smoking. The only real problem with eating or drinking cannabis is the uncertainty of the strength of the cannabis you cook with. If cannabis were properly regulated and sold in graded strengths this would not be a problem. Again, you mention a danger caused by the law, without mentioning it's the law causing the danger. Why?

In the "Chances of getting hooked" section

Frank says: "Users are more likely to get addicted to nicotine if they roll their spliffs with tobacco".

So why not advise users to smoke cannabis in pipes - or better still water pipes or vapourisers? Actually, this is probably the most serious aspect of cannabis use to address. Smoking with tobacco creates a craving for another smoke. Because two drugs are being used in combination, smoking either alone won't really satisfy the craving so another spliff gets rolled. Cannabis users who stop using tobacco find their consumption of cannabis drops significantly and their use becomes far less habitual.

So why not give this simple and blindingly obvious bit of advice - If you smoke cannabis, smoke it pure without tobacco ? See UKCIA Toke pure - Click here

In 1997, (R. v Clay), Ontario Justice John McCart ruled, "Cannabis is not an addictive substance; does not cause amotivational syndrome; and health related costs of cannabis use are negligible when compared to the costs attributable to tobacco and alcohol consumption." His findings were confirmed by B.C. Justice F.E. Howard in a similar case in 1998.

Frank says: "If you have been using for a long time, worth you might want to think about counselling. Your local drug agency can offer help and advice".

Why do we get the idea this hasn't really been properly written?

Just because someone's been using cannabis for a long time doesn't always mean they have a problem anyway, it might mean they enjoy it.

And then we get the risks:

Frank says: "Most of the risks associated with cannabis are linked to regular, heavy use".

Most problems associated to anything are linked to regular, heavy use, cannabis is no exception to that rule. Frank is careful not to say there are few if any risks with moderate use, why is this?

Frank says: "Smoking cannabis may be more harmful than smoking tobacco. Cannabis has a higher concentration of chemical 'nasties' that cause cancer".

we note the use of the words "may be" as in truth this is very open to debate and not proven. Not only that but users of pure cannabis breath in much less smoke than tobacco smokers because cannabis doesn't produce a craving and far smaller amounts are actually smoked.

Using a water pipe and smoking small amounts of stronger varieties reduces the potential dangers further. Indeed there is research which even suggests cannabis reduces the risk of cancer ("Marijuana Use and Mortality" American Journal of public health, April 1997).

So why then make alarmist statements which are not proven?

Why not give sensible advice on how to reduce what risk there may be?

Researchers at the University of California (UCLA) School of Medicine announced the results of an 8 - year study into the effects of long-term cannabis smoking on the lungs. In Volume 155 of the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, Dr. D.P. Tashkin reported: "No differences were noted between even quite heavy marijuana smoking and nonsmoking of marijuana."

A Study of Chronic Marijuana Use; Institute of Human Issues "Users in our matched-pair sample smoked marijuana in addition to as many tobacco cigarettes as did their matched non-using pairs. Yet their small airways were, if anything, a bit healthier than their matches. We must tentatively conclude either that marijuana has no harmful effect on such passages or that it actually offers some slight protection against harmful effects of tobacco smoke"

Frank says: "Smoking anything can give you heart problems, bronchitis and cancer. Smoking it with tobacco can get you hooked on tobacco".

Probably true - don't smoke it with tobacco and breath in as little smoke as possible - see above.

Frank says: "Cannabis can make asthma worse".

It can also make it better

Frank says "Regular, heavy use makes it harder to learn and concentrate. Being stoned all the time isn't going to win anyone 'Employee Of The Month'"

So the message should be don't use it heavily for long periods! Regular, heavy use of anything won't make you employee of the month, that's not advice particular to cannabis and is much truer for nearly any other drug.

Then we get this:

Frank says: "Frequent use of cannabis can cut a man's sperm count and suppress ovulation in women".

What message are you trying to put across there? we'd be very interested to see the research which shows cannabis in any way reduces the chances of having kids. This is such a stupid thing to say that it may even encourage young people to think that getting stoned would reduce the risk of getting pregnant and hence - given what you claim above about "losing inhibitions" above - could encourage kids not to use condoms.

Frank says: "Some research has made a link between cannabis and mental illnesses like schizophrenia. If you've got a history of mental illness in the family you should think very carefully about getting stoned".

Some research, it's not proof by a long way. However, it would have been less alarmist to simply say something like "if you find cannabis has unpleasant effects - and some people certainly do - don't use it". Also, again the simple advice of "use with moderation" is totally missing, although you do give that advice for alcohol.

Frank says: "Smoking cannabis when pregnant can harm the baby. There's an increased risk of birth defects, miscarriage and sudden infant death syndrome. Babies also tend to be lower in birth weight".

That's general advice about smoking when pregnant, not especially about smoking cannabis. Again, why not point out the alternatives of non-smoking methods?

Prenatal Marijuana Exposure and Neonatal Outcomes in Jamaica:
An Ethnographic Study

Melanie C. Dreher, PhD; Kevin Nugent, PhD; and Rebekah Hudgins, MA

Measurements and main results. Exposed and nonexposed neonates were compared at 3 days and 1 month old, using the Brazelton Neonatal Assessment Scale, including supplementary items to capture possible subtle effects. There were no significant differences between exposed and nonexposed neonates on day 3. At 1 month, the exposed neonates showed better physiological stability and required less examiner facilitation to reach organized states. The neonates of heavy-marijuana-using mothers had better scores on autonomic stability, quality of alertness, irritability, and self-regulation and were judged to be more rewarding for caregivers.

Conclusions. The absence of any differences between the exposed on nonexposed groups in the early neonatal period suggest that the better scores of exposed neonates at 1 month are traceable to the cultural positioning and social and economic characteristics of mothers using marijuana that select for the use of marijuana but also promote neonatal development. Pediatrics 1994;93:254-260; prenatal marijuana exposure, neonatal outcomes, Jamaica, Brazelton scale supplementary items.

http://www.druglibrary.org/schaffer/hemp/medical/can-babies.htm

There then follows a massive legal section, way bigger than, say, the legal section about crack. The fact that you need to explain this in such great depths is no doubt because of the widespread acceptance of cannabis, however anyone glancing at this will be given the clear impression that cannabis is the main focus for enforcement, which isn't true.

So how well does Frank work offline?

Frank doesn't address the old chestnut of whether cannabis leads onto other drugs. A ukcia person e-mailed you with the question:

"Does cannabis lead onto other drugs?"

The reply was that Frank can't answer that one in e-mail, so he phoned for a chat. The helper gave a straight answer that it doesn't, but also seemed to imply some cultural connection with "other drugs", although she dismissed the idea of dealers offering other drugs, which enough of us know from personal experience happens only too often. Again though, this is a problem caused by the law, not by cannabis.

The assistant promised to send some information about cannabis by post. An envelope arrived with a note from the National drugs helpline saying "sorry we have run out of the information you requested and it may be out of print". There was also a small credit card sized card which had in big letters

CANNABIS HARMS HEALTH
For accurate information and advice on drugs, health and the law call the ... National drugs helpline 0800 77 66 00
NDH card
and on the back
 
CANNABIS IS ILLEGAL AND WILL REMAIN ILLEGAL
Although the government is proposing to reduce the penalties for the possession of cannabis, it will remain a criminal offence leading to a possible fine or imprisonment
0800 77 66 00
National drugs helpine

A vist to the NDH website re-directs to Frank, phoning the NDH number also connects to Frank so we were back at the start. A classic example of a revolving door.

Please, if you're going to do this, then lets have proper, honest and balanced information and not law enforcement dressed up as concerned good advice.

Your cannabis section, Frank, is no more than "spin"

UKCIA

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