A new word has recently been coined on the TDPF blog: Skunkabis. There was a lot of media coverage last year surrounding the apparent increase in potency of cannabis, notably in the Independent on Sunday where it was claimed that cannabis was 25 times stronger. This claim was covered on the Bad Science blog and TDPF later covered an Independent article debunking the Independent on Sunday article. If the IoS had inserted a decimal point they would have been considerably closer to the truth. Cannabis is probably about two- or three-times stronger than a decade ago. There’s more on trends in potency in this pdf and Bad Science has the 2005 ACMD review on pdf.
There were some points made in TDPF’s original post on the IoS story about auto-titration and there was a link to the Schaffer Library of Drug Policy and a paper written by Tod H. Mikuriya, M.D. & Michael R. Aldrich, PH.D. Part of the section on auto-titration follows:
An important consideration in regard to the potency issue is auto-titration, the adjustment of dose by the individual user to obtain optimal effects and avoid unpleasant ones. As noted above, cautious titration of dose was standard practice when cannabis preparations were used in medicine. Smoking marijuana, customary in present social use of the drug, requires knowledge of when to stop in order to avoid symptoms of overdose. The smoked route gives rapid feedback to the user with regard to levels of effect because the drug goes directly to the brain from the lungs, unimpeded by the gut or the liver.
That’s the background. If the media and the government believe that the increase in potency should be a factor, then what are they basing their views on? These are the questions that occurred to me when idly thinking about the issue earlier this week: Do the government and the media know what amount of cannabis is being smoked by the average stoner – are there, perhaps, records of the amount bought ‘per capita’ per year? Could it not be the case, taking auto-titration into consideration, that when there is an increase in potency, the average amount in grams of cannabis purchased by users might decrease and the net amount of THC consumed might actually be unchanged? If the new strains of cannabis are stronger, are they also more expensive than previous strains and wouldn’t this impact on the amount of cannabis that smokers could afford to purchase? Do the government and the media know what methods of use are being employed by today’s smokers in comparison to the cannabis users of, say ten or fifteen years ago? Are they smoking more spliffs and fewer bongs? Is there, for example, a difference in how high users get after smoking a bong in comparison to smoking a spliff? I haven’t heard these points being discussed by politicians, nor do I recall any debate in the IoS articles ‘Cannabis: an Apology’ and ‘Cannabis: a Retraction’. Here and here. And it doesn’t matter if the ACMD debates these points, because the government don’t listen to the ACMD. Which has been covered here on Drugscope.
Going off on a bit of a tangent for a para or three: I think there’s some pretty interesting stuff in this pdf – ‘An Econometric Model of Cannabis Consumption by Young People in Britain’ – “In Britain, the National Criminal Intelligence Service (NCIS) is the only source of time-series price information with anything like official status. NCIS records street prices and produces (unpublished) regular summaries for a sample of cities. NCIS price data is hard to use because it is presented in the form of price ranges whose interpretation is unclear.” and “in Cardiff the price was apparently £86 per ounce exactly in 1994 but £100-120 in 1995 and £100-140 in 1997. The pattern of year-to-year and between-city variation appears too dramatic to be entirely believable” are a couple of interesting snippets.
So the first thing we see is that the form in which the information is presented makes it difficult to use/interpret – it’s difficult to see how the government and media would be able to have considered the possible impact increasing price might have on use if the data is deemed by an economist to be ‘hard to use’. Politicians and the media often seem to have trouble understanding data and scientific evidence and I’m not convinced they would be best placed to make judgements on hard-to-use data. Google ‘Nadine Dorries’ if you want evidence that politicians have a hard time with evidence. Perhaps if the government had an expert committe on the misuse of drugs, made up of experts in various fields, then they could ask their opinion. Oh.
The second quote seemed to show an increase in average price which was considered by the author Stephen Pudney to be too dramatic to be entirely believable. Presumably local prices would be affected by a multitude of local factors [possibly including: how many local dealers had been busted, how many shipments had been discovered before reaching the area, what the fashionable drugs were among the locals at that particular time] as well as national and international factors [could the increased security at ports and airports following 9/11 have deterred importers of resin & imported grass and possibly led to an increase in local cannabis farms? Was there a particularly good or bad growing season in a country that had keen cannabis exporters linked to a particular port?]. Other factors may include: the potency of the cannabis available.
I don’t think that politicians or the media are particularly well-informed about drugs and it seems that in some instances there is no available data – or the data is hard to use. How can the media publish stories on cannabis use and the dangers of super skunk when they don’t know the facts about the dangers and patterns of use of cannabis, and how can the government ignore its own expert committee when not only are they unable to make an informed decision on the matter but (in my view) are led in their opinions by the media?