You are in Library / Conferences

Document circulated to delegates at the Cannabis and Mental Health conference
2nd and 3rd December, Institute of Psychiatry, London

UKCIA logo
The website of the Legalise Cannabis Campaign

Derek Williams - Webteam UKCIA

The prohibition of cannabis has created myths - cannabis had to be either the devil weed or the harmless herb. However it simply isn't possible to run a website like UKCIA and keep such a simplistic concept. The truth, of course, is complicated. Cannabis does have many positive uses - it is in many respects a very safe substance, perhaps the safest recreational drug available and it is enjoyed without problem by millions of people. Nonetheless there are dangers and risks connected with both its use and the way it is used.

UKCIA is the web site that grew out of the original British Legalise Cannabis Campaign of the 1970's. These days we get around 50,000 visitors a month and were described by the "Elisad Gateway Project" from The European Association of Libraries and Information Services on alcohol and other drugs as follows:

"The UKCIA website is one of the most comprehensive sources of information on cannabis. It has extensive information on the legal, medical, and social side of cannabis, all backed up by statistics, full text reports and references. It has a wide audience. It's primary audience is researchers, and those already taking cannabis, but through its activism and information sections it seeks to influence the general public, policy makers, and health personnel".

The Elisad Gateway site was relaunched in 2007, so the above link may be outdated - new site here

The philosophy behind UKCIA has always been to "tell the truth" about cannabis; "telling the truth" of course, means identifying the dangers as much as promoting the benefits. So whereas we do set out to highlight the nature of the cannabis culture, we don't seek to defend every aspect of it.

The first and most controversial issue for us was that of smoking and health. In 2001 UKCIA became the first organisation to run a harm reduction campaign aimed at the safer smoking of cannabis. Called "toke pure" the campaign aims to encourage the use of cannabis without tobacco (70-80 % of cannabis users in the UK smoke it mixed with tobacco). We would like to develop this further.

UKCIA also highlights the fact that cannabis is only a "controlled drug" in law; in reality it is no such thing. The efforts to prevent its use and supply have never been very effective and today the number of tokers runs into millions. It's easy to get in most places, yet as the market is unregulated purchasers have no protection under law and the most vulnerable are at the highest risk from the many dodgy dealers who have little incentive to sell an uncontaminated product in a responsible fashion.

UKCIA supports a regime based on harm reduction, which as well as credible education could involve workable laws including those to regulate the strength and purity of cannabis, perhaps even grading by THC/CBD ratio, license the dealers to enforce safer standards and impose age limits on sales (perhaps 18). None of this is possible under prohibition and the anarchy of the illegal market.

Around the time of reclassification in January 2004, the legitimate warnings of the potential mental health problems were presented as a reason to oppose law reform in much of the media. Because of this they were dismissed by tokers as yet more "reefer madness" - yet more prohibition lies. It was something UKCIA could not ignore though and we set out to find more information. However, information regarding mental health issues is not easy to get, and if we got it, it wasn't easy to understand.

We see our role as one of communicating the information to a section of the population long used to being the target of drug war propaganda and forming a trusted link between users, their friends and families, and sources of expert knowledge or help. We would like to ask for feedback and advice on the information we have on UKCIA. To that end we have set up a discussion mailing list to debate the issue. Please contact us for further information.

Derek is attending the second day of the conference.


Working with tokers and getting the message across - Helen, a carer

I'm the parent of a 22 year old young man who has schizophrenia and was a heavy user of cannabis at age 15. And in spite of 6 years of strong discouragement from the mental health services, he still uses it now.
I had a complete lack of knowledge of any risk factors with cannabis, and when my son became ill I was pretty gobsmacked to find out that these risks were well documented but the information was not available. It was like there were two worlds - In one people would say - cannabis is cool, there's no harm in it everybody knows that. In the other - cannabis is bad for schizophrenia, didn't you know? Everybody knows that. Heavy smoking of dope at age 15? What did you expect?

I absolutely support any moves to increase public knowledge about possible risks of cannabis among some people, and in particular protect children.

However there seems to be a significant lack of working with the people who themselves use this drug; harm reduction should of course involve people who do use cannabis. Those who actively campaign for the right to use it are in a unique position to communicate the advice, as they have the ear of tokers.

I have been talking with UKCIA and other organisations for the last five months through the internet, a superb means of communication which is used a great deal by tokers . I also spoke at the legalise cannabis festival in Brixton last year.
I have found that there is an enormous body of knowledge amongst cannabis users - knowledge about different strains of the plant and their different effects, and knowledge of beneficial medical uses. I have gained much information, particularly as to why my son continues to use it. But there is also a high degree of defensiveness. Personal experience based and not research based. And a suspiciousness about the research - particularly when it doesn't reflect personal experience. But many people have been approachable and have looked further at the evidence. There is also an enthusiasm to change and move forward with working towards harm reduction, and also to work with others such as myself with very different experiences.

UKCIA is a legalisation group that has already a policy of harm reduction, in discouraging tobacco amongst others. I now work in partnership with UKCIA in developing evidence-based information about mental health and cannabis, with harm reduction advice that is both accurate and acceptable.

This is a significant move forward in getting the message across - its not just the information but where it comes from. Information about cannabis and mental health is now coming from a trusted source. Advice and information from the government is often not believed. A recent example of this is the Mentor leaflet "Hayzy Dayz, the big cannabis talk", which seemed intent on alienating tokers rather than working with them to get messages across about safe use of cannabis.

The next stage is for everyone involved to build on this partnership with the cannabis community - this is a key element in communicating the research findings.

Helen has been working with UKCIA on this issue and is attending both days of the conference


UKCIA is updating its advice and we need your help - Harm reduction leaflets

UKCIA is planning two leaflets that will be available for download from our site. One will be aimed at tokers and the other at their friends or parents. The leaflets will include the safer smoking advice we give in our "Toke pure" campaign, and also advice about mental health issues. Explaining this issue in an open and non-threatening way is difficult, involving as it does some terms not used in general conversation.

Schizophrenia is an illness that affects about 1 in a 100 people. Its onset is often in late teens. The cause is not known but it is known that there are significant risk factors, including family history of mental illness. Recent research indicates that cannabis is another risk factor, particularly when it is used by young people.

Cannabis use may not cause schizophrenia but research indicates it's a risk factor.
The risk is much greater for young people

Watch out for yourself! Watch out for your friends!


Heavy use could be an indication of a problem - don't ignore it
If you have a reason to be vulnerable, for instance having a relation with mental health problems - avoid using cannabis
People under 18 are best advised not to get stoned

Campaign for legalisation - The law against cannabis greatly adds to its harm


What to watch out for

If you know someone - especially someone young (in their teens or younger) who's using a lot of cannabis it might be an idea to check out what's going on.

Although it is not proven that cannabis can actually cause mental health problems it is true that sufferers tend to use a lot of it and when they do it seems to make their condition worse.

We're not morbid!

It could be that heavy cannabis use is an early indication of a developing problem, something scientists call a "premorbid" indication; nothing to do with being sad, "premorbid" means it could be an indication of developing mental health problems, a sign that something is wrong.

Prolonged heavy use isn't the norm even for a rebellious youth, it should always be a cause for concern. So if a young person is using a lot of cannabis, don't ignore it, you might be seeing a warning sign.

Whether or not cannabis causes any illness, or even just makes it worse, the simple advice is that it's best say people under 18 shouldn't get stoned.

We are fully aware these can be improved, not least we also need help with the advice we give about consuming cannabis as a food or drink and would like to ask for your help in drafting these leaflets.

To help us both understand the issue and to develop the information we give to people, UKCIA has started a mailing list dedicated to the issue of cannabis and mental health and we would like to invite anyone interested to join the list.

UKCIA is updating its advice and we need your help - UKCIA-MH discussion e-mail list

UKCIA runs several e-mail mailing lists, including a general discussion list for activists, UKCIA-l. We have started a new list dedicated to the issue of cannabis and mental health is called UKCIA-MH

The purpose of the list is notification and discussion about research into the links between cannabis and mental health. Examples of postings that are considered on-topic are:

- Discussions about cannabis use and its relation to schizophrenia, depressive illnesses, dependence.

- People's experiences of the effects of cannabis on mental health - personal and professional perspectives whether positive or negative.

- Information about cannabis and mental health as it appears in the media, scientific literature or from campaign groups.

- The impact of changes in the legal status of cannabis upon people with mental health problems.

- Discussion regarding legislation that would minimise potential for harm.

- Requests about relevant resources.

The list does not seek to offer medical advice.

The purpose of the UKCIA-MH list is not only to help us all to understand the issues surrounding cannabis and mental health, but also to allow us to present the issue in a way which can be understood by ordinary people without specialist knowledge - especially a knowledge of the jargon used by professionals.

We see it as a part of our campaign to give information and advice about cannabis that is as informed as possible. We are keen to listen to interested people and organisations and the best way we can think of doing that is by providing a forum for an exchange of views, opinions and expertise.

To subscribe to UKCIA-MH, send an e-mail to, or for further information contact UKCIA by phone, e-mail or in writing


Contact UKCIA
Derek Williams



General contact address

The Greenhouse Bethel Street
NorwichNR1 1NR


Helen e-mail

ukcia banner
Use this banner to link to UKCIA

Page designed and maintained by UKCIA