Skunk Madness: How Cannabis Prohibition Works in the UK

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How the Brits are Spinning High THC Cannabis

By Richard Cowan

Last week the British medical journal, The Lancet, published an article “Proportion of patients in south London with first-episode psychosis attributable to use of high potency cannabis: a case-control study.”

For our purposes here, the validity of the study is largely irrelevant, so we can take its conclusions at face value.

However, there is still one major problem with the way study is framed. It uses the slang term “Skunk” as being synonymous with “high potency cannabis”, meaning high levels of THC, but which is never otherwise precisely defined, even though there are other varieties of cannabis that have relatively high levels of THC.

However, the study also explicitly states that “Skunk” has almost no cannabidiol (CBD), so if there is a definition for “Skunk”, it would have to have at least two variables.

Page 4: “The results of our study support our previous conclusions from analysis of part of the sample; use of high-potency cannabis (skunk) confers an increased risk of psychosis compared with traditional low-potency cannabis (hash).”
Note: In Europe contraband hashish has been the traditional form of cannabis, and has usually been mixed with tobacco when smoked, but “hash” is not necessarily “low-potency cannabis.”…

It added, “Use of cannabis with a high concentration of THC might have a more detrimental
effect on mental health than use of a weaker form. Indeed, in line with epidemiological evidence, the results of experimental studies that investigated the acute effects of intravenous administration of THC in non-psychotic volunteers showed that the resulting psychotic symptoms were dependent on the dose. Furthermore, the scarcity of cannabidiol in skunk-like cannabis might also be relevant because evidence suggests that cannabidiol ameliorates the psychotogenic effect of THC and might even have antipsychotic properties. The presence of cannabidiol might explain our results, which showed that hash users do not have any increase in risk of psychotic disorders compared with non-users, irrespective of their frequency of use…” Emphasis added.

In other words, even heavy use of cannabis with CBD is not associated with an increase in psychotic disorders, and CBD “might have antipsychotic properties.” Emphasis added.

Why isn’t that the headline? Perhaps because that would imply that prohibition is counterproductive?

Instead, from The Telegraph we have “Super strong cannabis responsible for quarter of new psychosis cases. Risk of developing psychosis up to five times greater for those who smoke ‘skunk’ cannabis every day”, which does not even mention CBD!

Even though the sensationalist and very prohibitionist Daily Mail ran the story with the misleading headline, “Scientists show cannabis TRIPLES psychosis risk: Groundbreaking research blames ‘skunk’ for 1 in 4 of all new serious mental disorders”.

At least they reported that “the research appears to show a striking difference between the effects of skunk and the weaker form of cannabis, hash resin.

“It will reveal that hash seemed not to add to a person’s risk of psychosis – even if smoked daily.
Skunk is shorthand for around 100 strains of cannabis that contain a high proportion of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the drug’s primary psychoactive compound. But the levels of another compound, cannabidiol – which may have anti-psychotic effects – are the reverse, high in hash and virtually zero in skunk.

The researchers speculate this could be due to the differing chemical make-up of the two forms: ‘The presence of cannabidiol [in hash] might explain our results, which showed that hash users do not have any increase in risk of psychotic disorders compared with non-users.’”

Nonetheless, the very next paragraph demonstrated that facts don’t matter to the UK government:
“Michael Ellis, a Tory member of the Home Affairs Select Committee, said: ‘This powerful new study illustrates that those in government and the police must be careful to send out the right message. Cannabis isn’t a harmless drug: it can ruin lives.’”

The Guardian offer a much better analysis: “So smoking skunk causes psychosis, but milder cannabis doesn’t? Research that looks at different potencies of cannabis could advance our understanding of the relationship between the drug and psychosis.”

First, because cannabis is contraband, there is no standardization or quality control, and testing and labeling are almost impossible, in contrast to the practice in US states where cannabis is legal, so UK customers can never be certain what they are buying.
Second, the economics of contraband encourages greater “potency”, rum over beer in America in the 1920s, and “skunk” over “hash” in the UK today.

See The Iron Law of Prohibition

Third, the “problem” isn’t “potency”, meaning THC levels, but the THC/CBD ratio.

Finally, it is worth noting that pure THC is Schedule 3 in the US and is available by prescription in the US as Marinol and in the UK as Dronabinol, (Skunk in a pill?) even as the same governments insist that marijuana has no medical value and has a high potential for abuse. (Schedule 1). In the context for this study, the “dangerous” Skunk is Schedule 3, but the “safer” hash would be Schedule 1.

To paraphrase the politician: Cannabis prohibition is not a harmless policy: It can ruin lives… In more ways than one.

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