Archive for the ‘cannabis’ Tag

Random drug testing is ‘grievous and oppressive’

Sunday, January 5th, 2014

Drug testing is becoming an increasingly common phenomenon in the UK, and is gaining popularity both in workplaces and criminal justice systems. Agreeing to random drug tests is often a contractual requirement – no drug tests, no job – and refusal to provide a specimen is considered tantamount to a positive result by Police, social workers and employers.

It is therefore extremely interesting to hear that this week, in Florida, a Supreme Court has ruled that in all but exceptional circumstances, drug testing without justifiable suspicion of drug use is unlawful, and is only legal if it protects public safety.

The ruling was made in relation those in receipt of state benefits for childcare, so, whilst not directly transferable to our own systems, it may have future relevance – given that drug testing benefit claimants in the UK has already been mentioned in the Government’s recent poor-bashing campaign (scapegoating benefit claimants for bankers’ fuck-ups), and is only one step further than setting Jobcentre staff targets to stop payments, and making systems inaccessible so as to exclude more vulnerable recipients.

But the reasons for the ruling are very relevant here in the UK. In the first part, political attempts to align the poor with illegal drug use were thwarted when the court case revealed that only 2.6% of child benefit recipients tested had provided a positive sample. This percentage of illicit drug use was lower than in the general population.

Even more poignant were the legal challenges to random drug testing brought forward by the case, which was filed by a Navy veteran-turned-student whilst single-handedly caring for a disabled mother and young son. He refused a drugs test given there was no reasonable suspicion of drug use, and as a result had his claim for public assistance turned down. He won the case on the grounds that random drug testing is “unconstitutional”.

The judge deemed mandatory random testing outside the law because, under the Fourth Amendment of US Constitution, drug tests are classed as a search, and as such can only take place in response to suspicion that a crime has been committed. This law was introduced in 1700s when British search warrants enabled the colonists to enter and seize property at will. Fury at this lawful breach of human rights was thought to have started the Amercian Revolution. The resulting Declaration of Rights clearly stated that any searches on a person “whose offense is not particularly described and supported by evidence, are grievous and oppressive and ought not to be granted”.

How incredibly refreshing. Especially at a time when, in the UK, choices we make outside of work, which have no impact on our professional functioning, can mean we lose our jobs; or when a substance we used days ago, which has no effect on our ability to drive safely now, can mean we lose our driving license. Cannabis, a drug with a very weak relationship to social harm which is now legal in parts of America, can show up in urine tests for up to four weeks. Yet what, over such timescales, is the relationship to reduced ability or function, either in the workplace or behind the wheel?

I am sure that, forty years ago, employers felt that had a right to know the sexuality of their employees. Their choice not to employ homosexuals would have been supported by the authorities, despite this lifestyle choice having no impact on their professional capacity or any relevance in the workplace.

I hope this week’s ruling is the start of a thought revolution on the issue of drug use. What a person chooses to do behind closed doors should be private, unless this choice poses a risk to the other people. So in the case of drug use, unless an employer can evidence reduced productivity or increased risk as a result of suspected substance use, drug tests should not be carried out. Most employers condone, even support, the use of alcohol outside of work, despite use of this substance being well-documented to increase risk when operating machinery – the difference in the handling of the use of other drugs outside of work can therefore not be justifiably linked to risk.

This case is a reminder that we have human rights, a fact which seems to have been lost in this country where drug use is concerned. It is possession, not use, of a drug that is illegal. We cannot be arrested for having a drug in our system – yet we can lose our livelihood, without putting a foot wrong. That certainly strikes me as grievous and oppressive.

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Comment from follower

Thursday, December 12th, 2013

This comment, sent by a follower of my blog, is both and informative and hilarious enough for me to want to share it with you all. I couldn’t agree more – or put it more eloquently.

Uruguay have today / yesterday moved to legislate about cannabis and take the trade out of the black market.. What with this and the crude and brash capitalist stance of Colorado and Washington Teresa May is worth a shot at this time I reckon or at least the superficial nature of her tenure .. If she can’t do a proper turd get her off the pot , we are losing money in austere times and disabling the true opportunity of capitalism via her policies – she is even crap at being a Tory !

Drugs policy fails – again: Postscript

Monday, August 5th, 2013

This one’s for the geeks and academics. I consider myself the former.

A mystery donor has sent me the full article for the research I wrote about recently (thanks, mystery donor), and it seems my theory about MCat was incorrect. What I didn’t deduce from the abstract was that the inverted correlation between the legal classification of cannabis and the number of people admitted to hospital with cannabis-related psychosis straddled not only the regrading from Class C to Class B, but also the earlier move from Class B to Class C. This method, known as a reversal design, references both the introduction and removal of the intervention – in this case, down-grading cannabis. The article states:

“There was a significantly increasing trend in cannabis psychosis admissions from 1999 to 2004. However, following the reclassification of cannabis from B to C in 2004, there was a significant change in the trend such that cannabis psychosis admissions declined to 2009. Following the second reclassification of cannabis back to class B in 2009, there was a significant change to increasing admissions… This study shows a statistical association between the reclassification of cannabis and hospital admissions for cannabis psychosis in the opposite direction to that predicted by the presumed relationship between the two.”

So my theory about unidentified MCat use causing an increase in psychosis admissions after cannabis was re-upgraded in 2009 doesn’t explain the previous decrease in admissions after it was downgraded in 2004. However, what became clear from reading the whole article is that the study relies entirely on participants being admitted under the criteria of ‘cannabis-related psychosis’. I query the validity of this data. In my experience, psychiatrists wang down any old shit on admission. As the article acknowledges, “This research has highlighted the need for research that explores the way that diagnoses of cannabis psychosis are made and the influences that operate on these decisions”. I would love to be the person to undertake that research, as from what I have witnessed, the pre-admission assessment usually goes something like is..

Psych: So you’ve been hearing voices?
Patient: Yes.
Psych: Have you ever used cannabis?
Patient: Yes.
Psych (writes): “Patient X is a drug user with a long history of cannabis use. Conclusion: cannabis-related psychosis.”

This diagnosis not only provides an excuse for a quick in/out treatment pathway and passing-of-the-book to substance misuse or dual diagnosis teams, it also puts the responsibility for the illness on the person being admitted. I will not mince my words – psychiatrists hate drug users. They perceive them with the same level of moral integrity that Conservative politicians do – drugs are bad. Those who use them are bad, and we need to police and punish all who use them. Certainly not treat them. Certainly not block up our hospital wards with them for more than a day or two. Get them in, give the Valium for a couple of days until they’re symptom-free, chuck them back out.

Drug users are perceived and accordingly treated by mental health services, and especially by those that rule and dominate these services, as time-wasters – impossible to assess, impossible to treat. I mean, how can I tell whether it is the condition or the substance causing the symptoms? And when I want to know the answer these questions, why won’t they just stop using drugs like I tell them to? Why aren’t they compliant?! And how am I suppose to use my tool of choice – dangerous, numbing drugs – to these liabilities when they have nowhere to live, no family member willing to supervise, and haven’t even got a lockable bathroom cabinet?!

Going back to the research, my original thought that maybe cannabis-related psychoses were in fact unmonitored MCat psychoses has been blown out the water, as overall inpatient psychotic admissions actually went down over time – not up as mephedrone and other new synthetic drugs became more commonly used. Again, this might be due to something completely different – such as psychiatric wards closing and so less space being available to admit people, or community teams such as Early Intervention or Assertive Outreach Home Treatment becoming more effective at keeping people out of hospital – but based on admission data alone, there is no trend here to suggest that psychotic incidences have increased since these new drugs became widely available.

If you consider my point above, you might feel, as I do, that this is less about the mental health of drug users and more about how mental health systems treat people who use drugs – but having spent twelve years banging this drug I am going to leave this point before I start bursting blood vessels.

Drug policy fails – again

Wednesday, July 24th, 2013

Another kick in the teeth this week for Theresa May and her determined squeal that drugs policy is working. After ignoring the research-based recommendations from a group of cross-party peers concerning decriminalisation, then developing selective deafness towards her drugs advisory board by banning khat, Theresa seems fixated on perpetuating the War On Drugs, whether anyone agrees with her or not.

It will be interesting, then, to see how she reacts to the news that cannabis psychosis admissions have actually increased since the drug was reclassified as a Class B substance. Yep, you’ve got us there, Theresa, you font of knowledge for all things street – clearly drugs policy is reducing use and minimising harm just as it should. Well done for sticking to your guns, and thank god those running the country know what they’re talking about. Phew.

Tottering Tory Totty aside, I have to admit this is a pretty bizarre finding. At no point did I think that reclassifying the drug would decrease the harm caused – why would it, it’s still illegal and that didn’t put people off before – but the inverted correlation between cannabis-related psychosis hospital admissions and reclassification of the drug is difficult to explain.

I have been pondering on this. Without subscribing to the Journal of Drug Policy (which is, I have to admit, surprisingly tempting, but takes money, of which I have little), I can’t see whether participants who suffered psychotic admissions had taken solely cannabis. My hunch is that something different may be afoot here. Rates of psychosis amongst my client-group have gone through the roof since MCat has surfaced, and I have heard similar reports from prisons regarding synthetic cannabanoids. I know that, until very recently, and certainly not within the confined dates of this longitudinal study, testing facilities for these drugs had not been developed – and even if they had, the average mental health ward would not have had access to them. So, my sneaky conclusion is that the increased rates of psychosis admission may have been due to the use of other substances – which were not only impossible to detect, but were also legal at the time and so potentially not reported or classified.

That is my suspicion. Just don’t tell Theresa. I can’t wait to see what shit she spins to explain away this one. Although, to be fair, I think she’s more likely to get a bad case of tinnitus than indulge in any scientific analysis. You keep on trucking girl, we’re all behind you (with a metaphorical spade).

Cannabis vending machines, coming soon to a pub near you

Sunday, June 23rd, 2013

Correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m starting to think that cannabis is actually going to get decriminalised. Over the last six months, I have noticed a significant swing in the reporting of all debates around drugs, from the moral to the practicable. Particularly where cannabis is concerned, the reporting has changed from “if” to “when”. There have been changes to the social presentation of cannabis, as well as the moral and political discussions around drug use per se, and even discussions in the professional and academic arenas have started to reflect that this not only should but also might actually happen.

Yes, we know that the Tories are digging their heels in when it comes to making changes. But gigantic intra-party rifts (and an overall lack of charisma) pretty much guarantee that they won’t be getting in next time. The Lim Dems have voiced their more liberal approach to these matters, and whilst Labour have remained diplomatically quiet on the matter, the bunch of Guardian readers will not have been able to avoid the swing in public and press opinions. Plus by the time the Tories have deconstructed the NHS, the next Government will inherit a bunch of uni drop-outs instead of proper drug workers (because untrained, inexperienced workers are ever so cheap, you know), progress at tackling the issue will be reversed, and the drug problem the Tories so confidently state is currently under control (ahem) will be rearing its ugly head yet again, forcing a new course of action. And really, if the Tories actually thought about it, regulating and taxing cannabis would be an excellent capitalist move and revenue generator.

But when I take a step back and stop wrangling with the current political debate, I am in total awe of the social shift we are witnessing. If cannabis does become decriminalised and therefore a marketable product and commodity, and it becomes widely accepted that it does not cause the same level of physical and social harm as alcohol, the social laws that have existed throughout our lives so far will change.

Let’s take as an example the British institution – the public house. We can pretend that the Government has appeased the alcohol companies by giving them licenses to sell cannabis, hence reversing the demise of the good old boozer. People crowded into smoking areas outside pubs will now be passing round spliffs – a much more social activity than smoking cigarettes, and one which tends to spark discussions and create a sense of community. When these people go back into the pub they will probably feel a bit stoned (especially if they’ve already had a drink) and won’t feel like drinking as much. With less alcohol being consumed, and a more general state of relaxation taking prevalence, these punters will be feeling way too chilled out for the usual fight or sexual assault.

So there you have it – my solution to the main target for alcohol services over the last three years – if you want to reduce alcohol-related hospital admissions and A&E presentations, legalise pot. Seriously, with policies like that, I should totally work in public health.

However, what genuinely entertains me about this huge social shift is the looks on our future generations’ faces when we tell them what life was like under prohibition.

Futuristic young person (scanning screen implanted on palm): “So drugs used to be illegal?”
Old me (hopefully donning a jet pack): “They did. You could go for prison for having them in your possession.”
FYP: “What?! Seriously?! So did everyone go to prison then? Did you go to prison?”
OM: “No – we used to hide our drugs in air-tight containers called Tupperware and drive out into the countryside to take them without anyone knowing.”
FYP: “Plastic and petrol? That’s not very ecofriendly! You’d get arrested for that now.”
OM: “And the Police used to drive out into the countryside to to try and catch us.”
FYP: “That is totally wasteful of public money.”
OM: “Well think how much it cost to convict the people they caught and keep them in prison – then have to maintain them on state benefits when they were released because no-one wanted to employ a convicted drug user.”
FYP: “So if drugs were illegal, that means they weren’t taxable – so who paid for drug treatment?”
OM: “Most of the money for drug treatment came out of criminal justice and health budgets.”
FYP: “So money was taken away from catching rapists and treating cancer?! That is crazy!”
OM: “You lot don’t know you’re born. I bet you’ve never even been to a criminal’s house. You’d arrive at the dealer’s, completely shitting yourself, fearing unreportable violence, or, even worse, a Police raid, until the minute you left the dingy, fortified shit-hole, with a bag of godknowswhat, no doubt weighing less than you’d paid for.”
FYP: “Why would I have anything to do with criminals? You lot were bonkers, it’s only weed, as if I’d risk getting arrested for something so boring.”
OM: *shameful lowering of eyes at own stupidity* then *nostalgic state into space at memories of the old days when we thought drugs were cool*.

Santos speaks out

Wednesday, June 5th, 2013

While we are all whining on about the impact of drugs on our communities, and the effects on individuals, South America and Mexico continue to deal with the shocking human cost of producing and distributing cocaine, methamphetamine, cannabis and other drugs. Much like the opium situation in Afghanistan, cocaine and cannabis are cash-crops – but unlike Afghanistan, it’s not just the fluffy types at the UN wanting the curb the trade. Pressure on South American and Mexican governments from the USA to stop the export of cocaine and other drugs has meant tough penalties for those manufacturing and trafficking, because failure to adhere to these US-enforced policies means risking international relations with their closest, richest neighbours and vital trade partners. This has caused a full-on war between the authorities and organised criminals, leading to death rates that surpass most genocides. In Mexico alone, between 2006 and 2011, it is thought that around 60,000 were killed or ‘disappeared’, many of whom remain unidentified after being found in mass ‘narco-graves‘.

In an unusual (and strangely under-reported) move, Columbian president Juan Manuel Santos has this week published an article in The Guardian’s ‘Comment Is Free’, outlining the main points of a report produced by the Organisation of American States (OAS) in partnership with Oxford University. The report suggests ways in which the issue could be tackled, not from a moral perspective (ie what should happen) but from a pragmatic standpoint (what could happen). Santos states that this new set of approaches broadens the debate past the polarised ‘warriors’ and ‘legalisers’ arguments – after all, this is not Star Wars, there is no good versus evil, and neither extreme offers valid ideas to vastly improve the lives of ordinary people.

The scenarios proposed in the report, which has been released as the OAS leaders meet this week in Guatemala, involve providing better health, education and employment opportunities to offer real economic alternatives to those embroiled in drug production and trafficking and their communities; strengthening public institutions to improve the welfare of citizens; better (and, I would imagine, less hierarchical) co-operation with international partners; and redirecting budgets currently spent on international priorities (law enforcement in an attempt to stop the drugs being produced and exported) to local priorities. Clearly some of these approaches will require international support to be implemented – as long as the US and the rest of us keep pushing for the problems to be contained, the internal wars and consequential deaths will continue.

However, the headline-grabbing proposal made in the report is to look at alternatives to criminalisation, starting with the legalisation of cannabis. It seems to me that the OAS have seen an opportunity to use the current cannabis debate in the US, which has resulted in Colorado and Washington legalising the drug, cleverly to their advantage. The report suggests South America and Mexico follow suit, and so appears to be jumping on the US bandwagon. After all, it would be highly hypocritical for the US to claim that the rights they offer their citizens were not applicable to the citizens of their neighbouring countries. But it also uses the US model to politely point out that the problems the War On Drugs causes the USA might cause one or two little problems in their countries too – and they don’t just have over-run prisons and drug treatment centres, they have pits of nameless dead.

Luckily, President Santos does seem to be getting some parallel support from this side off the pond. A letter from a group of MPs and celebrities to our Government was published in The Times this week, signed not only by candyfloss-haired minted powerhouse Richard Branson, marathon-shagging squealer Sting, and you-get-loads-of-sex-how? lanky slime-ball Russell Brand, but also politicians from the Conservatives, Labour, and the Liberal Democrats. The movement is being led by Caroline Lucas of the Green Party, whose personal stake in the matter may be the destruction of vast areas of rainforest as chemical byproducts of drug production are illegally dumped. The letter questions the validity of the War On Drugs and asks how the Government can justify their £3b a year spending on their current approach, suggesting that possibly an evidenced approach might be a better use of public money. (You know, try to see if something works before you spend our hard-earned cash implementing it. Just a thought.)

Whilst the letter does not make direct reference to the situation in America, it is yet another high-profile attack on existing drug policy – and only adds to the ever-increasing international momentum for things to change. It seems to me that we are on the cusp of the greatest social paradigm shift since the abolition of slavery. But then I am a bit of a drama queen.

Heroin for the poor, cannabis for the sick, and the death of an anti-capitalist dream

Friday, May 3rd, 2013

There have been some interesting additions to our previous ponderings in the news this week.

Drugs in medicine

A US collaboration between a medical research team and a centre for substance misuse research have found that cannabanoids can reduce the replication of the HIV virus in white blood cells. This may also relieve inflammation of the central nervous system, reducing symptoms of HIV-related neurocognitive disorders. The broader applications of these findings to other disorders are now being considered.

If we think back to Cancer Patients With Acid Smiles, here is another example of the US striding ahead because they are changing their angle on substances. Cannabis is no longer illegal in some American states, making it free game for medical research, and, as Professor Nutt pointed out, we are slowing down progress in tackling some of our worst illnesses by limiting the substances we consider for treatment.

By way of comparison, a prescribable Naloxone injection becomes available in the UK this week. I have been reading recent discussions on American websites about the huge problem that opiate (illicit and prescribed) overdose is causing over there, as I waved the British flag with news of the work being done in Wales where heroin users and their families have been trained to administer Naloxone. It seems, given the market launch of the product, that this life-saving product is now available to anyone over here. Hooray for harm reduction.

Afghan heroin trade continues to boom

The United Nations has apparently released data suggesting an eighteen percent growth in Afghanistan’s opium trade in the last year. As I suggested in Smacktastic Britian, this correlates nicely with the Government’s poor-battering, and we are bound to see a new wave of heroin use across the country. Maybe David Cameron should read Cameron Does Cocaine and get the bloody stuff taxable sharpish. It would certainly fit in with his other policies if he could provide an actual opiate for the (poor) people. Make it half-price on election day to keep the buggers at home. Although given that the CIA have reportedly been sending over suitcases stuffed with cash for eleven years now, maybe that trade route has already been baggsied. After all, the Americans are the originals (and the best) when it comes to using substances for social control.

Silk Road taken down by hacker

And finally, the website Silk Road was briefly closed down by hackers this week. It is thought the anonymity software Tor, which became known as ‘the dark web’ because of its uses for the grimier side of the net, is to blame for the problem, and that vulnerabilities in the system may have been exposed. This has come in the same week that the Bitcoin system has also been breached, as a software specialist illegally ‘mined’ an amount of the currency for himself. Unsurprisingly, the virtual currency continues to drop in value.

All of which is proof that, if someone is clever enough to develop a system, there will always be someone clever enough to cheat it. It saddens my socialist ideals that the person who tried to take on the banking system wasn’t superiorly intelligent (in my mind he is a masked hero called Merchant Wanker – make love, not profit), but, as we have to accept, there are vultures everywhere, and nobody likes a clever clogs.

Cannabis hits the mainstream – and my nan

Friday, April 12th, 2013

Cannabis, which for so many years has had the public popularity of genital warts, seems to be getting an image revamp. Gone are the days where cannabis was perceived as ‘the devil’s harvest’, inspiring ‘weird orgies, wild parties, unleashed passions’ (I’m pretty sure whoever wrote that had never been to an oxymoronic ‘cannabis party’ – ‘no sex, just Play Station and Kitkats’ would seem more realistic). I haven’t heard cannabis referred to as a ‘gateway drug’ for months, and even the hysterical psychosis argument seems to have calmed itself down a bit these days.

Despite this, I was still taken aback when faced with the bare fact that Coronation Street are running a plot-line where a pensioner smokes cannabis to help her symptoms of arthritis. I feel a bit protective of my grandma – pensioners smoking drugs, it will blow her mind! Although to be fair, she’ll probably just say “I’m not watching that, it’s gone silly again” and boycott it for a week. She’s 96 – the woman knows what she likes and doesn’t tolerate what she doesn’t. And maybe I should give my nan some credit – having lived for almost a hundred years, there isn’t much that shocks her these days.

It did make me think though – this plot line is being delivered to about as mainstream an audience as I can imagine. I don’t watch soaps (what with having a life and all) and so am probably not in the best place to judge. But my perceptions of people who watch Corrie are generally the older person who harks back to a time when people could afford to socialise at the local pub.

My grandma, for example, whose staple weekly viewing is Corrie, Emmerdale (when it’s not being silly), Strictly Come Dancing, and Songs of Praise. I would consider those prime-time banalities to be aimed at a pretty conservative audience (with a tolerance for covert social control). And yet it appears that, on Corrie, the illicit drug cannabis is being portrayed in a positive light. Is this not a clash of cultures?

I question myself for being so shocked by this. The world is a different place now, people are more tolerant. In Hyde Park this weekend, a pro-cannabis protest, where large numbers of cannabis users met to smoke in public, resulted in just two arrests, and bystanders commented that the small number of Police in attendance turned a blind eye to the majority of the drug use. Possibly more profoundly, even The Mail Online seemed to take a balanced perspective on the story, sub-heading their article ‘Protesters argue alcohol and tobacco cause far more damage to society than cannabis’ instead of the more predictable ‘Marajuana turns woman into reptile’ or ‘Potheads eat baby after emptying vending machine in drugged-up munch rage’.

Even in certain states of America (not a country I strongly associate with tolerance or liberal thinking), cannabis has been either decriminalised or legalised. Which makes me question myself and wonder if it’s just me that’s out of touch with the world’s changes. Maybe I’m the throw-back to a time when I considered myself, with my drugland associations, to be on the fringes, and now, without realising it, I’m actually completely mainstream.

I’m going to try not to slip into an existentialist crisis just yet though. I’m saving that for when Nan tells me to roll her a fat one.

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