Dangers caused by the prohibition law

Cannabis is illegal.

This means the trade is totally unregulated, there are no controls over who sells it, where it's sold from, strength, purity or anything else and this can lead to some huge problems. In truth, despite what politicians and police may tell you, cannabis is not a controlled drug, at least not in any plain English use of the word "controlled".

Sections

Prohibition is dangerous / dealing with dealers
Children and young people
The downhill slope?
Strength and purity - the unreliable commercial supply
Medi users
You are the enemy

Prohibition is dangerous

As no-one really knows what they are actually smoking its not easy to know exactly what will happen when you somke it.

Because of prohibition, the law can't be used to solve disputes and the whole cannabis culture is "underground".

The aim of enforcement is to disrupt the supply networks to make the supply as unpredicatble as possible, the less predictable the supply, the greater the potential for harm.

The law ensures that no accountable person can be involved with the trade. Some dealers are in it for the fast buck only and it's a huge fast buck; a multi million pound industry.

Far from protecting cannabis users from these uncertainties, the law treats them as the enemy - remember, a conviction for cannabis possession can damage your career and much more besides

Prohibition is dangerous both for the cannabis user and for the whole of society

Dealing with dealers

As with most things, the majority of people who use cannabis buy it, only a minority can or want to grow it themselves. The people they buy it from are called dealers and there are an awful lot of them supplying a market of several million people. Most dealers are probably OK people, most are small time retailers putting out a few deals to mates and mates of mates, but not too far removed from your friendly dealer is some degree of organised crime. The only way to avoid this is to find a dealer who grows his own.

Always try to buy from people you know and can trust, although this is seldom easy.

Although most dealers will be happy to let you have a small "lay on" if they know you but it's really good advice never to get into debt, most problems are caused by money.

There are an unknown number of very nasty and dangerous people selling cannabis, people who may use violence and intimidation and sell other drugs which are far more dangerous than cannabis. The mentally ill and medical users are particularly at risk from these people.

Never buy off street dealers and especially not off street dealers who operate near where you live.

Don't buy rubbish! Learn what good cannabis - hash and herbal - looks and smells like.

If you don't have a safe dealer you can trust and you are determined to use cannabis, grow it yourself rather than using some dodgy connection, but be warned trying to avoid organised crime is not accepted as a reason to grow your own if you get busted.

If you do grow your own, keep the number of plants low, perhaps around four. Sentencing guidelines issued in 2012 put 9 plants as the upper limit for small grows, but you can still get a lot of trouble if you get caught.

Children and young people

Because of the total lack of regulation of the cannabis market a lot of dealers will happily sell to children and young teenagers.

Children using drugs of any kind isn't a good idea because their minds are still developing and learning about the world.

The legal status of cannabis makes it difficult to highlight the particular risks for children. The laws about alcohol, solvents and tobacco are specific - adults are responsible for not selling to anyone under the specified age. This is possible because, although dangerous, they are legal.

If you're under 18 you will be arrested apparently. Quite how that is supposed to protect young people isn't clear.

Cannabis policy should protect children, prohibition was never intended to do that and fails to do so totally.

The law needs to put the responsibility for discouraging underage use on adults in line with alcohol and tobacco legislation. This is impossible whilst cannabis remains illegal.

People under the age of 18 are best advised not to get stoned - or at least not very often. If you're a dealer please don't supply anyone under 15 ever, ideally make sure your customers are over 18.

obey the police
Always do what the nice policeman tells you

The downhill slope?

Is Cannabis a "stepping stone" drug?

One of the oft-quoted reasons for making cannabis illegal was that it "leads on" to other drugs, in other words the cannabis experience introduces the user to the idea of getting off their heads and leads inevitably to hard drug addiction and needles in the eyeballs. This is called "The progression theory".

The argument often made is simple: although most cannabis users don't become heroin addicts, the first drug all heroin addicts used was cannabis. Of course, this ignores tobacco and alcohol, which aren't regarded as drugs by prohibition supporters. If they are included as they should be, then most if not all heroin addicts started withone of those drugs. Cannabis is often the first illegal drug people take, but rarely the first drug. It's usually the first illegal drug simply because it's by far the most common.

That said here are two problems which give some credence to the idea that using cannabis can open a "gateway" to other drugs however,. These problems are caused and made worse by prohibition.

The first is obvious, because it's illegal you buy it from drug dealers who sometimes - often maybe - sell other drugs. Perhaps the biggest danger is people who are addicted to drugs such as heroin sometimes try to recruit new heroin addicts from cannabis users to provide themselves with a steady income.

The second danger is tobacco, which is too often thought of as a neutral substance used to make cannabis burn better and as already mentioned isn't even thought of as a drug by many people. In fact it's a highly addictive and dangerous drug. Many cannabis users develop long term tobacco addictions as a result of their cannabis use. Most problem drug users are heavy tobacco addicts.

Prohibition means cannabis sales are unregulated and that dealers may be more interested in their profit than your well-being. Because of the law, cannabis users may come into contact with a range of other substances, including dangerous addictive drugs

Medical users

Cannabis is know to have a range of medical uses, the best well known is in the treatment of MS (Multiple Sclerosis) but there are many other uses.

However, because of prohibition medical users are treated as criminals and have to get their medicine from the same illegal supply as everyone else.

For many years carers and people in great pain have been dragged through the courts for trying to self-medicate with cannabis.

Sativex

The government has recently accepted that cannabis has a use as a medicine and doctors can now prescribe it in the form of SATIVEX. SATIVEX is cannabis in a concentrated form dissolved in alcohol and taken as a mouth spray. It is actually made from a blend of two strains which mean it contains equal proportions of THC and CBD. It is an example of a very strong, low potency cannabis product. Although legal to prescribe, SATIVEX is almost impossible to obtain.

Busted carers

At the start of 2006 the medical cannabis campaigns THC4MS and Budbuddies - who supplied free cannabis to people with MS were facing serious charges having been busted in 2005. Several very ill people and their carers are facing criminal charges and many ill people no longer get their medicine.

 

 

Strength - the unreliable commercial supply

Perhaps one of the greatest dangers posed by prohibition is the uncertain nature of the commercial supply. Most cannabis in the UK is supplied by a massive and unregulated industry.

Cannabis can vary in strength from the weak to the very strong. If this were alcohol it would be like not knowing if you were buying beer or vodka.

Except it's not like alcohol because strength isn't the only thing to consider because cannabis is a blend of active chemicals and the ratio of these chemicals is also important. The two words to watch out for are "strength" and "Potency", they are not the same thing. Because of prohibition, there's no way of knowing either.

THC, CBD and the misleading concept of “Potency”

Purity

There is an additional problem caused by the illegality of cannabis

Cannabis which you grow yourself or which was grown by someone you know will be OK. But it's important to realise that as it's supplied by an unregulated industry the so called "black market" weed and hash may be very contaminated. In the UK this not only means "soap bar" (which should always be avoided anyway), but it may well apply to any hash or weed.

Pathogens

Eating/drinking cannabis can be extremely dangerous due to the presence of contaminants and/or pathogens and given the high possibility of adulterants in cannabis, you should really think twice before using a nonsmoking method.

Pathogens are microbes which transmit diseases. These aren't a problem if cannabis is smoked, but may be if it's eaten.

Because of the illegal nature of the trade there are no hygiene requirements for the manufacture of hashish or its transportation.

Cooking at a high temperature will kill most pathogens, but maybe not all of them - if you crank up your oven too high you'll nail the THC too... not to mention burning the brownies!

Cleaning polluted cannabis

There is no reliable way to clean contaminated cannabis, for example, boot polish will survive washing. If your grass comes from crops which have been sprayed there's nothing you can do about that either. Crops in the producer countries are being sprayed by the US government (and probably by ours as well) with cancer causing herbicides.

It should be noted that the level of contaminants in street cannabis is regarded as a measure of success by the authorities - an illustration of how prohibition acts against the interests of public health.

At the very least, NEVER eat street cannabis which hasn't been cooked, e.g., hash which has just been crumbled up and sprinkled on a sandwich; you'll probably be OK, but you might just end up with the runs - you could conceivably end up with hepatitis.

Soap bar hash

Most street hashish is called "soap bar" - because a 250grm block is shaped like a bar of soap.

Some of this is highly contaminated with a range of substances, some of which may be just for bulk but some may be dangerous. UKCIA has simple advice about soap bar - don't buy it. See our page on soap bar here

The great skunk scare

There has been a lot of publicity in the media about the "new" forms of cannabis called "skunk". We are told that skunk is "many times stronger than cannabis used to be" when it was the harmless fun hippy drug they originally banned and "it's full of chemicals".

The concern is that if people are using a stronger form of cannabis - containing higher amounts of THC - this may make the potential health problems worse.

A study carried out for the Home Office as a part of the last ACMD review of cannabis classification seems to indicate that cannabis has increased in potency by a factor or 2 or 3. Read it here

Home produced cannabis is fresher than imported produce and because it's fresher it tends to be a more consistent product.

But the truth is, as they admit, the data they work from is unreliable. Of course - it is under prohibition. The method of data collection - the way the sampling was done was simply not valid

Skunk is really the name of one type of cannabis plant, in fact many different types of cannabis are called "skunk" and it's come to mean any black market cannabis sold by street dealers and in many cases grown by organised criminals.

Some forms of so-called "skunk" have been selected for their high THC content and yield rather than quality.

Some seed shops make great play of the strength of the plants you can grow. Over the years strains have been developed with names such as "AK47", hardly the image of peace and love traditionally associated with cannabis.

This is the result of an underground supply side, itself the result of prohibition.

There may also be concerns about the way some cannabis is grown, and the chemicals used to grow it -

The way it's grown: The over use of organo phosphate insecticides.

Organised criminals are as different to the average home grower as chalk is to cheese in how they cultivate. A huge section of the commercial cannabis market is now served by large scale grow-ops, which rely on a high turn over from a limited space. The pressure is on to use some pretty dangerous chemicals to keep the yield high. There is no way of knowing how big this problem is.

Organo phosphate insecticides (OP's) are variations of nerve gases developed for chemical warfare and are often used to safely control infestation.

Systemic insecticides are sprayed onto the plant and absorbed from the surface of the leaves into the sap system so they are circulated to every part of the plant tissue. One application means the whole plant is protected from anything from a couple of weeks up to a month or so. Any bug without resistance, who takes a bite or sips some sap dies and the plant is toxic for the period. In standard farming the plants would be re- sprayed every 2 to 4 weeks then there is a withdrawal period before harvest.

But the criminal commercial cannabis grower doesn't spray systemics. There are way too many risks as well as costs, it takes a lot of time to spray properly and requires a proper respirator and suit. They may have several hundred kW of lighting - have you ever seen what happens if you get spray on a lamp?

Systemics can be absorbed directly through the root system so they are added to water reservoirs every few days, this is the factory farming concept taken to mad levels. Its very cheap, and fairly safe to the operator.

Sooner or later you get a resistant mite/thrips/whitefly population, put more systemic in, it helps for a crop or maybe two, try another systemic, eventually the problem comes back, mix two or three systemic together, up the dose until just before it starts to be toxic to the plants...

This might be a hundred or more times the the safe maximum level, no one knows what other chemical recombinations and toxins are created in making and using these cocktails, or what damage they may do to living beings.

You are the enemy

Most laws are there to protect people, not so the law against cannabis. The aim of prohibition is simplistic - to reduce use to a minimum. There is no evidence to suggest it works, and much to suggest it doesn't.

With cannabis it's clearly failed but the government remains utterly committed to the policy, whatever the evidence.

Prohibition means there is no regulation of the massive industry which supplies millions of mostly young people. There are no controls over how well it's grown, who sells it, where it's sold from or who it's sold to. There is no regulation of strength or purity and no recourse to the law if you run into problems with the supplier. Polluted supplies are seen by the government as an indicator of success. Because of this, prohibition is in effect harm maximisation .

In the eyes of the law, the very people it claims to be protecting are seen as the enemy - this is a strange way for the government to treat a substance they tell us is dangerous.

Some people react badly to cannabis, but for most, getting a conviction for possession - never mind dealing - can hurt career or education prospects far more than the plant alone can do. In many circumstances you can lose your home or your job. The cannabis laws have destroyed lives, wrecked families, ended careers and the most vulnerable are placed at the greatest risk.