It’s a good job that there are alternatives out there for people who care to look beyond the headlines
The power of knowledge and education should never be underestimated. Most of the troubles faced by pro-cannabis activists come from the ignorance of their opponents: all too often people are prepared to accept what they are told at face value without seeking alternatives for themselves, yet, in this day and age, there is no excuse for proclaiming another’s point of view as your own.
For people with no first-hand experience, the world of cannabis can be a confusing place which is cloaked in mysticism, urban legends and ill-informed propaganda on an epic scale. It’s not like we get portrayed in a particularly positive light and the only time we get a look-in is when some politician is trying to make a name for themselves. Other than that it’s simply a case of groaning or shouting in disbelief at the nonsense which gets reported in the name of keeping ratings up. It’s a good job that there are alternatives out there for people who care to look beyond the headlines, but what about the huge proportion who simply absorb information like a vacant sponge?
A few years ago the BBC decided to push the boundaries of television by conducting live trials of illicit substances under controlled conditions. The program was intended to dispel myths about how our body reacts to different chemical compounds whilst highlighting the reasons behind people’s desire to use recreational drugs. Obviously there was an intention to highlight the inherent dangers involved in using unregulated substances, yet many viewers were more likely intrigued by the chance to see well-known and respected individuals in a completely abstract situation. Following its airing the program sparked widespread debate as a subject which is still considered taboo by many was thrust into the limelight.
Fast forward to the present day and we find that they have caught on to the momentum of the pro-cannabis movement on the other side of the pond. It is beyond the shadow of a doubt that the United Kingdom has to recognize how quickly things are changing in the USA and, despite the unsurprising lack of genuine and unbiased media coverage regarding the progressive thinking of Colorado and friends, there are countless pro-green supporters who are beginning to find their voices on the streets of the UK. Politicians will make reference to the legalization or decriminalization of cannabis to make their names known and there is still a long way to go before the dreams have any chance of becoming reality, but at least it’s a start. Now we have a new live trial being televised to the nation with the intention of revealing the ‘truth’ about cannabis. Whilst this could have been a chance to cast aside the prejudices of the past in favor of honest, unbiased, factual journalism, it could also have been produced with a firm eye on the desires of the establishment. So was this going to be a fair trial or a vicious witch hunt?
Early trailers for the show offered glimpses of a prolific, respected and renowned journalist, Jon Snow, inhaling a copious amount of vapor from a large bag. Whilst the trial offered two types of cannabis, Skunk and hashish, alongside a placebo substance, it is beyond doubt that the bag displayed on the preview clip contained Skunk vapor. At the time of writing the exact THC content of this ‘Street-Skunk’ is an unknown but I would wager that it is far higher than most of us would purchase on a regular basis. Add to this the amount consumed by someone who, by their own admission, has had a few tokes on the occasionally spliff socially ‘many years ago’ and what you have is a recipe for disaster. Unsurprisingly, his experience was not exactly enjoyable.
Following the release of the short promotional clip, he wrote on his blog that he “felt as if [his] soul had been wrenched from [his] body” and he rapidly “cascaded into a very, very, dark place”. Anyone who is familiar with a cerebral high combined with an unexpected couchlock sensation knows exactly what he should have experienced but this would have been massively exaggerated by his lack of experience and the resultant shock of inhaling the equivalent of a third of a spliff in one go – add to this that he was then placed in a MRI scanner and you can sort of understand how he may have felt. Claustrophobic doesn’t even scratch the surface. For a man of his caliber to suggest that his experience was more terrifying than working in a ‘war zone’ is a sure sign that this trial could have caused a huge backlash against the pro-cannabis campaigners.
As the full program finally aired, I was apprehensive yet hopeful that the short preview was designed to gain attention instead of offering a true representation of what the study would find. In spite of the constant reference to Skunk as always having zero CBD and informing the mass population that hash is always weaker than bud (all green weed is Skunk by the way – in case you were wondering), there were many moments which told it exactly as it is: CBD counteracts THC’s effects; criminalization has more negative effects than positive; alcohol is far more harmful than cannabis could ever be; music is more enjoyable when you’re stoned etc. Perhaps the biggest find came in the discovery of how THC impacts on the salience network in the brain. The salience network transmits signals between different areas of the brain and allows us to process information rapidly in order to act upon it: THC binds to receptors and effectively shuts down aspects of this system thereby leading to a lack of motivation or drive to complete tasks. Although this was obviously jumped all over in relation to the classic stoner visage, with people labeling us all as lay-about space-andtime-wasters, the parallel discovery that the CBD content in hash reversed this effect was barely mentioned. Throughout the entire program we were sold the concept that all unprocessed marijuana is ultra-high in THC content and never contains any CBD i.e. weed that grows and is then cured to be smoked is bad. The methods used in this study allowed for many ‘World first’ moments but the manner in which some of the findings were reported were misleading to say the least. Whilst there were definitely elements of the debate which felt like there was no way past some pre-conceived ideals, I was also impressed with the opinions expressed by some of the guests in the studio.
Sir Richard Branson, yes the Virgin guy, stood up for all people with an ounce (or even a gram) of sense and stated without a shadow of a doubt that he sees the abject failure of the war on drugs and moved for an unequivocal shift in policy towards decriminalization, legalization and regulation. The next morning the papers were following this with an official statement from him and the ex leader of the Liberal Democrats, previous co-leader of the UK Nick Clegg, claiming that it is finally time for the UK to change its outdated policy on cannabis. We’ll just have to wait and see how that pans out.
David Nutt was given the floor several times throughout the show to explain what the results meant and he took this opportunity to make the residents of the UK aware that he has always believed that cannabis should never have been made illegal in the first place and he was not afraid to oust the government for their sanctimonious sacking of him from his role as chairman of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs when his recommendations didn’t quite fit in with their view of things. Mr. Nutt made it incredibly clear that all of the issues which are portrayed in the media relate to ‘Street-Skunk’ and its excessive THC content and explained that Skunk is a ‘product of illegality’ which should serve as a lesson in itself. When challenged with the age-old classic comment that cannabis is a gateway drug he responded in brilliant fashion as he explained that the only gateway to other drugs is the unregulated dealers who want to get you hooked on harder drugs to profit from your pain. As though he couldn’t make his overall stance any clearer, his next point spoke volumes. Obviously it was inevitable that the Netherlands would get an honorable mention, but Nutt’s explanation that their decision to legalize cannabis was intended to separate heroin dealers from the cannabis purchasing market (which worked tremendously) was particularly potent. Add to this his supporting facts regarding the Netherland’s reduced issues with alcoholism and a far lower occurrence of the psychological problems which our media are intent on pinning proudly to the cannabis plant. He concluded by reiterating that change is essential – wise words indeed.
So, we have a nationally televised live trial which delivered on its promises of exploring the brain’s relationship with cannabis and encouraged us all to be more open in our frank discussions about our best course of action whilst simultaneously doing everything in its power to reiterate the message that weed is definitely…maybe…sort of dangerous and probably…might be… could be bad for you in a good sort of way. If the viewing public is able to see past the loosely flapping curtain to the truth which was revealed behind then this is one trial which might stand in our favor. The overall message was this: weed might be linked to mental disorders but it is just as likely to be used to treat them if it is bred to contain the right balance of CBD:THC and the only way we can get this right is to decriminalize it and regulate its cultivation and sale. This would also allow profits to be invested into further research into the plant’s miraculous medicinal properties. I don’t think that’s really what they wanted to prove but there you go. They do say that no publicity is bad publicity.
Pre-edit photography: Luis Wilker
Originally published in Weed World Magazine issue 117