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IV SOCIAL ASPECTS OF CANNABIS USE
Much of the main controversy about the dangers of cannabis has attached to the
claims that its use leads to opiate addiction and to the commission of violent
crime. We paid particular attention to these aspects in our review of the salient
literature and of evidence as to United Kingdom experience.
Hitherto discussion of the question whether there is a progression from cannabis
to heroin has relied chiefly upon evidence from retrospective investigations of
the previous habits of heroin-users. In the nature of the case such evidence can
never be conclusive. On the assumption that the use of cannabis is still confined
to a fairly small section of the population, evidence that a high proportion of
heroin addicts have previously taken cannabis would only suggest that the marihuana-smoker
is more likely than the non-smoker to take to heroin; what it cam1ot do is to
give any clue to the frequency of such a progression among marihuana-smokers generally.
For what they are worth, such retrospective investigations (which incidentally
more commonly deal with American than with British experience) indicate that many
heroin addicts have previously sampled other drugs including cannabis.
Most observers discount any pharmacological action disposing the cannabis-smoker
to resort to other drugs, and look for other explanations. Some have suggested
that in order to obtain their supplies cannabis-users must inevitably resort to
the criminal underworld where opiates are also available. According to our witnesses
supplies of cannabis in this country are not necessarily obtained in the same
places as heroin. However, social mixing of some cannabis and some opiate-users
takes place and involvement with opiates could thus occur on a socio-cultural
Others suppose that dissatisfaction with the relief or pleasure to be obtained
from cannabis leads users on to other drugs, and a minority postulate a predisposition
to cannabis which is also a predisposition to heroin. These suggestions arise
because most observers obtained their information from drug-users who are patients
or offenders. These are often the multiple drug-users who rarely avoid trouble
and are frequently to be found in clinics and before the courts. There appears
to be a particular group of emotionally deprived, disturbed personalities who
have tried most of the illegal drugs (including cannabis) before becoming heroin
addicts. In fact most heroin addicts are multiple drug-users and have the emotionally
impoverished family background not infrequently found in other delinquent groups,
such as high incidence of broken homes, poor school record. police record. unemployment
and work-shyness. Cannabis-users with similar personalities and backgrounds may
have a predisposition to heroin, amphetamines and other illegal drugs. It is the
personality of the user, rather than the properties of the drug, that is likely
to cause progression to other drugs.
It can clearly be argued on the world picture that cannabis use does not lead
to heroin addiction. So far as the United Kingdom is concerned no comprehensive
survey has yet been made but a number of isolated studies have been published.
none of which demonstrate significant lines of progression. Our witnesses had
nothing to add to the information already available, and we have concluded that
a risk of progression to heroin from cannabis is not a reason for retaining the
control over this drug.
Published statements on links between cannabis and crime tend to confuse the consequences
of enforcing legal restrictions on non-conforming drug users with alleged criminogenic
effects of cannabis-smoking itself. Since possession of cannabis is generally
prohibited, the user found in possession automatically acquires a criminal record.
To obtain his supply. an illicit source must also be involved.
A main charge against cannabis overseas, but not in this country. has been that
its use makes people commit crimes of violence, because it removes inhibitions.
There have been reports of outbursts of wild agitation and unprovoked violence
by chronic users. Other observers have denied any direct link with violent crime.
The Indian Hemp Drugs Commission concluded that "the connection between hemp
drugs and ordinary crime is very slight indeed", but that excessive use did,
in some very rare cases, make the consumer violent; 600 witnesses were asked by
the Commission whether they knew of cases of homicidal frenzy, and very few did.
A considerable majority of these witnesses did not consider that the drug produced
unpremeditated crimes of violence, and some said, as other writers have since,
that there is a negative relation because cannabis makes men quiet as a rule.
The New York Mayors Committee reported to similar effect: many criminals
might use the drug, but it was not the determining factor in the commission of
Probable reasons for this divergence of views are: criminals in some countries
have based their defence on alleged cannabis-intoxication which provoked behaviour
which they could not remember and for which they could not be held fully responsible;
many of these users had combined cannabis with opium, heroin. amphetamine, barbiturate
or alcohol, and it was impossible to identify which of these if any was to blame
for an individuals criminal behaviour; samples of persons investigated have
mostly been small and the history of drug-taking, its duration and its degree
in each individual has been provided exclusively by the man himself, who often
believed it to be in his interest to lie about it.
The most that emerges from the welter of conflicting statements is that an excessive
dose of cannabis may lead to an attack of disturbed consciousness, excitement,
agitation, or panic, and reduce self-control. The stronger with alcohol than with
the smoking of cannabis.
In the United Kingdom the taking of cannabis has not so far been regarded even
by the severest critics, as a direct cause of serious crime. It is not, of course.
disputed that a number of criminals take cannabis as many do alcohol. We sought
further evidence on these matters, but we found that for lack of reliable methods
of detecting cannabis in the body the police were not in a position to offer any