Archive for the ‘drug policy’ Tag

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.

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Baby wants a double vodka

Saturday, July 20th, 2013

Pregnant women who use methadone are likely to under-report their alcohol and drug use, a piece of research published this month has found. The admittedly small sample of fifty-six opioid-dependent women, prescribed methadone as a substitute for heroin, were found to continue taking illicit drugs and alcohol during their pregnancy, as discovered by testing mothers’ and babies’ urine, and meconium (first stools). The study showed that 91% of women taking part in the study had used illicit drugs – 73% had continued taking opiates, and 70% had used benzodiazepines (which are thought to be linked to birth defects). 47% of the babies had also been exposed to alcohol use at levels of at least 2 units a day or 5 units at once, despite only 5% of the women disclosing this level of alcohol use. The most common combination (drug workers won’t be surprised to hear) was heroin, cannabis and alcohol.

Now this is clearly a highly-contentious area to discuss. On one side of the debate, there are people who acknowledge that women become pregnant for a variety of reasons, not necessarily through choice, and that the lifestyle that comes with heroin addiction may not be the most happy or meaningful existence, or borne from the most stable of upbringings. Once pregnant, drug users typically face extreme feelings of guilt – feelings which they have historically used drugs and alcohol to manage. And then the judgements and processes they are subjected to during pregnancy – safeguarding procedures and meetings, constant monitoring, reports written weekly about them and their parenting capacity, every bad decision they have ever made dragged up and pored over – make pregnancy not a joyful but a very stressful experience.

And then, on the other side of the debate, there are the tabloid readers – and there is so much meat on this bone for them to chew. First of all, of course, all drug users should die. They sacrificed their right to be on this planet the first time they smoked a spliff. Then – it gets worse – they are mothers. Should a woman not cease to exist in her own right the instant she conceives? She is, after all, a vessel. She should be pure and demure and fit all the glowing, maternal images we associate with motherhood. So the lifetime of misery, abuse, ill-treatment and self-deprecation should end the second that sperm hits that egg.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I find it very hard not to judge drug-using mothers-to-be. The unborn child is helpless and dependent on her to meet its every need, and it is heart-wrenching to think that it is disadvantaged before it has even left her womb. I do read the riot-act to these women, making it very clear that they are putting their baby’s welfare at risk, and increasing the chance that, once born, their baby will suffer painful and distressing withdrawal symptoms. What a sad and sorry start to life.

However, one thing is for sure – guilt does not perpetuate healthy behaviour. The fact these women are under-reporting their substance use is a sure sign that they already know all of this. You can bet your bottom dollar that they are beating themselves up more than anyone else ever could. And it is the discrepancy between what is expected of them and what they believe themselves to be capable of that makes burying one’s head in the sand the most realistic option.

I would imagine that most women who have had children would find this research both sickening and saddening. Whilst the idea of doing anything that may put their babies at risk may repulse them, I bet most of them have also felt judged, squeezed by other people’s expectations, desperate not to stand outside the prescriptive maternal mould that is dictated to them. Surely there is no worse judgement than being a bad mother. And not breast-feeding…?!

In the late stages of her pregnancy, I took a good friend of mine out for a drink. She was a single mum with two other kids at home, and she was desperate, for one last time before her baby was born, to just be herself for a night. She hadn’t drunk at all throughout her pregnancy, but on this occasion, I bought her a bottle of Corona, and she savoured it as we sat talking for an hour. We were in Wetherspoon’s – not an establishment known for its distinguished clientele with high moral values – but you should have seen the looks she got that evening. People gathered to bitch and point; judgements were formed, comments were made. At the time, she was drinking within the acceptable limits in pregnancy (guidance has since changed to ‘no alcohol during pregnancy’, although I believe this was mainly due to the fact that people struggle to quantify a unit), and she certainly wasn’t putting her late-stage pregnancy at any risk by her action. But as she sat there, gorgeous and bulbous, trying to enjoy her one night of being a person before months of being a multi-tasking milk machine, she was deemed by the other drinkers gathered that evening as the scourge of the earth.

So I suppose, in conclusion, I just want to say – this piece of research is sad. It is sad for the babies, it is sad for the mothers, it is sad for society. But maybe, maybe, if we saw pregnant women as people first and mothers second, the gap between expectation and reality might not be so great, and the image of the happy, stable, glowing mum-to-be might change into something more achievable for all pregnant women.

Theresa May – khat(ban)woman

Wednesday, July 10th, 2013

Well, Theresa May has pulled another shit idea out of her seemingly bottomless bag. Proving that she not only has no idea about the young people in this country, she has now managed to alienate the Somali, Yemeni and Ethiopian communities too. Ignoring her advisors and their indepth research, which indicates that khat use is neither significantly dangerous to meet illicit criteria, nor on the increase, the daft old bat has decided that, yes, it should definitely be illegal.

Khat (a phonetic spelling of a word that basically sounds like ‘cat’) is a plant that, when chewed over a long period of time, produces a mild stimulant effect. An integral part of the community in Somalia, Yemen and Ethiopia, it helps people working long hours stay up, and is primarily used socially.

In the communities I have worked in, there has been a small amount of problematic use, and the head of the London Somali Youth Forum claims that young people are also starting to use the drug. However, when we consider that many of the Somali, Yemeni and Ethiopian people living in this country arrived here seeking asylum after fleeing their war-torn motherlands, having witnessed some fairly grim atrocities and then landing here at possibly not the best time to be a Muslim, I don’t think we can be too hard on them for using the drug in a slightly different manner than they would have done in their homelands, where use is unproblematic.

In terms of the social context, to me it stinks of oppression and racism. It’s worse than the Americans labelling Mexicans as mentally-deranged marajuana users, worse even than them labelling black Americans as crack users – because the plot there was to over-associate a widely-used drug to criminalise a specific population. Khat, in comparison, is pretty much only used by these communities – so from where I’m standing, this is out-and-out racial oppression.

Let’s draw a comparison. Imagine that the South of England invades the North. (It can only be a matter time, really – the BBC have already started.) A civil war ensues, killing thousands and displacing many thousands more. Some pretty nasty things take place, everyone is affected – both the Northerners who see their homes and families destroyed, and the Southerners who lose their fathers and sons in the fighting. Eventually many people have no choice but to evacuate to Ireland.

Now the Irish aren’t too keen on the English, for some reason. They begrudgingly offer them asylum, but they don’t want the English to feel too at home, or too equal. So they take from them the one thing that helps them cope, the one familiarity that brings people together and unites their communities, the thing that they sit down to with family, friends and neighbours when times are hard – the good old cup of tea. The Irish make caffeine illegal. And the English cry. (I know the Irish love it too – but just humour me for the span of this brief analogy.)

Now caffeine is addictive. It can be misused. In fact, in the 80s the World Health Organisation recommended that caffeine should be banned, because of the huge number of people presenting to GPs with headaches, migraines and anxiety problems resulting from excessive use. When we are upset or tired, we tend to drink more of it. Something bad happens – sit down, I’ll put the kettle on. Something needs discussing – come on, let’s go for a coffee. Imagine the social impact we English would experience if caffeine was removed from our culture.

And, likely as not, instead of having a cuppa or meeting for a coffee, we would go to the pub. In times of trauma and displacement, we English would need each other, to remember our old lives, and to help heal the wounds of war. And without a cuppa, what would we go for..? A run? A bath? I think not – we would go for a pint.

So I am suggesting, Theresa, you silly sausage / evil Aryan witch (delete as you see fit), that this policy might not be one of your best. I can’t imagine that the Somali youth are going to take up badminton instead. And at least this is a habit they can share with their parents and get useful advice on, instead of taking up something that alienates them from their heritage and no-one has any useful information about – like MCat.

What do heroin and Theresa May have in common?

Sunday, June 30th, 2013

So the United Nations are fully behind The War On Drugs, it seems. A report released this week states, somewhat apologetically, "We have to admit that, globally, the demand for drugs has not been substantially reduced and that some challenges exist in the implementation of the drug control system". However, it continues to maintain that the War On Drugs is the only way forward as "the problem will not be resolved if drugs are legalized. Organized crime is highly adaptive. It will simply move to other businesses that are equally profitable and violent".

Anyone who watched Prohibition recently will question this premise. The documentary tracks the careers of various criminal gangs, who went from scraping a living together to living in the lap of luxury when alcohol prohibition provided them with a gaping gap in the market. As one interviewee recalled, small-time crooks who would previously have had the odd driving job suddenly had more work than they could cope with. The demand for the product elevated criminals to celebrities. Makes you wonder exactly which market the UN think could generate the turnover of the international drugs trade, to keep the drug barons in the lifestyle to which they have become accustomed.

It will come as no surprise that the report identified significant changes in drug trends. Whilst heroin and cocaine use remain stable and predictable, new psychoactive substances being manufactured in Asia are the new big thing.

You don’t say. Quite aside from my highly-informative *ahem* pieces on MCat and PMA, the search terms that lead people to my blog give us an interesting insight as to the popularity of these new substances. Of the one hundred and thirty-four search terms I am able to see (and don’t worry, there is no way of me finding out which of you searched for which..), thirty-six of those contained the words MCat, meow meow or mephedrone. So over a quarter of people coming to my blog via an internet search engines were looking for information on MCat. This in comparison to just six searches for information relating to heroin.

However, possibly more worrying is that heroin is of equal interest to a somewhat more conservative issue. One which, unlike MCat, is not spread across the front pages. Yes, that’s right – my blog keeps receiving visits from people searching for images of Theresa May’s legs. Six of the pervs have been mortally gutted when their excited searches have revealed my somewhat drab and largely unsexy blog. Still, I am proud to incite flopsie in the dirty sods – and hope that maybe they learned something about drugs policy in the meantime.

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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*.

Dr Death joins the decriminalisation debate

Friday, June 14th, 2013

Some sad news – another death from PMA (para-Methoxyamphetamine). This is the fourth in Derbyshire in recent months, with two further deaths just over the border in Macclesfield, and a total of eleven deaths recently linked to the drug in the UK. This poor lass was a 24-year-old mental health worker who had been on a river party cruise in Nottingham. Later that night she started convulsing at home in Ilkeston and was dead by the time she reached hospital.

The drug, which is being sold as ecstacy, is not only very toxic, but the toxicity quickly multiplies as doses increase. Couple that with the slow onset of its effects while users are expecting the quick hit of ecstacy, and you have a scenario where people neck more thinking they have a batch of dud pills. It works in much the same way as antidepressants, by inhibiting serotonin reuptake, and so is really not a good idea for anyone on these type of medications.

It seems that only the tabloids are interested in this story. Using their impeccable ability to turn any story into a soap opera, they have named the drug ‘Dr Death’. I’m not quite sure what it has to do with Harold Shipman, or why they feel the need to anthropomorphisise a substance by turning it into an evil physician, but it sparked fury on the Mail’s comment pages. Those able to read the article then type a response missed the point that the victims thought they were taking ecstacy, with comments such as “You’d think that since the drug is called “Dr. Death” people might actually doubt whether it’s safe to take” and “The clues in the name!” (his lack of apostrophe, not mine), or the more resigned “This is what teenagers do these days” *sigh*. My personal favourite, a statement which manages to misconstrue any educated facts into Jeremy Kyle bullshit – “Ecstasy kills. Heroin kills. Crack kills. It may not kill you the first time you take it, or even the 5th but it will get them eventually, that goes without saying. So kids, please, put the common sense into action and live”. Hey kids, just say no, or Dr Death will sneak into your room at night and bum rape you TO DEATH. That goes without saying, it’s common sense. In the name of sweet baby jesus, take the aptly-named Amy Winehouse’s lead and use something safe like vodka – because it’s not a drug, it’s a drink.

In contrast, this story makes me genuinely sad. Yes, people took the drug of their own volition, and yes, drugs are illegal, but these were all young people having a good time, taking what they thought was ecstacy, which they had probably taken many times before. But the sad truth is – the deaths were completely unnecessary. If, as previously considered here, drugs were decriminalised and monitored by Trading Standards, people would know what they were taking, how much, and could even gain access to information about the interactions between the drugs they were taking, for example how PMA interacts with MDMA (which causes serotonin syndrome, leading to severe overheating and convulsions).

Or, in the Netherlands, thirty ‘drop labs’ have been commissioned, where people can take their drugs for free testing. This not only gives users access to information about what they are taking, leading some to claim that it allows them to hold dealers accountable and therefore has improved the quality of drugs being sold locally (meaning increased safety as people know what they are consuming) – but also enables national monitoring of drug trends and purity, and hence improved opportunities for harm reduction interventions. However, this approach of course will only work in a society where attitudes to drugs are more liberal, where there are testing labs in every town, and where people are organised and motivated enough to utilise the facilities. But it’s a start.

If only one of the sensible newspapers would report this story, it could be used to support the decriminalisation debate, then maybe this argument would reach people with influence and we wouldn’t have to see stories like this. I would just like to point out that I am available for freelance work…

Austerity gives it Greek-style

Tuesday, May 21st, 2013

As most, I fear the fate of our beloved NHS under the Shithead Coalition. I have previously suggested that current Government policy (punish the poor for the mistakes of the minted) may well be leaving the door wide open to another heroin epidemic, and we already see the country flooded with novel psychoactive substances such as MCat. Well it seems that the nightmarish repeat of the 80s unravelling before our eyes in Britain is already taking place in Greece.

A new ‘cocaine of the poor’ is sweeping the poverty-stricken country. At €2 a hit, and reportedly a variant of crystal meth, ‘shisha’ sounds likely to me to be MCat by another name. Similarly, it brings aggression, violence, mental health problems, and burns users from the inside out. And as with MCat, it is cheap, easily accessible, and currently has ripe pickings of the desperate poor.

And who can blame people for wanting some escapism. With Greek youth unemployment apparently at 64% and a total of 400,000 families without any income at all (not to mention those who have jobs but aren’t getting paid, or are earning so little that they are unable to sustain their families), it is no surprise that suicides have increased by over 60%. Prostitution and homelessness have also massively increased – and I don’t know about you, but if I was reduced to living a brutal life on the streets, I think I’d prefer to be the nutter than the nutted, battered than the battered. Shisha use could be seen as a strategic line of defence.

In terms of the back-drop to the growing drug problem in Greece, I have been dipping in and out of an amazing blog (a really excellent example of why the Internet and its self-publishing is a wonderful thing) which challenges pretty much everything written in the mainstream media, and uncovers some fairly scary truths about the state of the world and those running it. The author, John Ward, writes about the ‘Troika’ – European Commission, International Monetary Fund, and European Central Bank – crippling Greece’s economy by forcing austerity measures. His comparisons between the Troika’s policies and those of the Fascists during the Second World War are genuinely frightening. John has exposed the corruption within the capitalist structures of Europe, and warns that, as in the past, ‘austerity’ can be a label given to international looting by those in power. And last time round, he says, when the Nazis stole Greek resources as part of ‘German reconstruction costs’, 40,000 Greeks starved to death.

So what does this mean for the Greek people now, and are there lessons we can learn? A new book, as reported in the Guardian this week, looks specifically at the health impact of austerity measures, and brings the tag line “Recessions can hurt, but austerity kills”. Strong words – but they are backed up with hard facts by this Yale, Oxford and Cambridge-educated expert in health economics, David Stuckler, who says that Greece is facing a public health disaster. With a reduction to the health budget of 40%, he quotes the Greek health minister, “These aren’t cuts with a scalpel, they’re cuts with a butcher’s knife”. And the cuts weren’t made under the guidance of the medical profession but by the financially-motivated Troika. They are not even representative of financial requirements being met by other countries, but are in fact much harsher than the cuts being imposed in other areas of Europe. It seems that John Ward’s shocking comparisons may be more accurate than is comfortable to acknowledge – and that the concepts of public health and indeed humanity appear to have been lost in a calculated move for money and power.

And the results for Greek health provision so far? Hospitals without surgical gloves, pharmacies without necessary medication, and seriously diminished resources to support the ever-increasing population of substance users. Stuckler has spoken to drug services in Athens to see how close they are to meeting World Health Organisation guidance that 200 clean needles should be made available for each IV drug user every year – and the current availability per person is 3. No wonder then that cases of HIV have shown a 200% increase (which is probably a conservative estimate given that testing is no doubt harder to access, and will not be helped by the increasingly desperate prostitution trade), and I dread to think of the rates of hepatitis C, venous damage and bacterial infections as people continue to use drugs without access to harm reduction advice and clean equipment.

As Professor Stuckler points out using multiple examples from history, destroying welfare, healthcare and employment programmes is never a positive move for the economy, aside from the human cost. A country that fails to invest in its people has not the strength to recover – very much like a person, there needs to be belief, hope and investment for recovery to take place. And if austerity was a treatment programme being clinically trialled, “It would have been discontinued” says Stuckler. “The evidence of its deadly side-effects – of the profound effects on economic choices on health – is overwhelming”.

So, just to bring it back home.. Cuts to public services: check. Increase in unemployment: check. Money being taken from the poor and disabled to pay for the rich: check. Increase of depression presentations (especially in the north of England where unemployment is highest and suicide is on the rise): check. Easy access to dangerous, damaging new drugs and a bumper opium crop due in from Afghanistan: check. Right then, we’re all set! Addiction is the new black, I’d get taxing the stuff if I were you, David.

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.

Theresa May’s Skirt

Tuesday, March 12th, 2013

It’s hard not to pull another ‘Theresa May or may not’ pun in light of this week’s news, but I think we can all be pretty confident that impartiality will not play a part in her ‘what works study’, and so we might be best steering away from language that implies an absence of foregone conclusion. After all, “The Government does not believe there is a case for fundamentally rethinking the UK’s approach to drugs”, and despite the recent peer review which suggested otherwise, “a royal commission is simply not necessary” (with ‘simply’ here meaning ‘in my opinion, and I hold a position of great power, so frankly the rest of you can go fuck yourselves’).

It doesn’t sit comfortably with me making the point that Theresa doesn’t have children of her own, as it drives me mad that every prominent female figure has their personal life and physical appearance analysed, while their male counterparts can walk around looking like someone ran over their fat faces, sticking bits of themselves into anything that will let them (and some things that don’t), and no-one bats an eyelid or feels the need to pass comment. However, on the issue of drugs, I can’t help thinking that being a parent might make Theresa somewhat less glaringly out-of-touch with what is happening on the street, if ya get me, blood. If she had a teenager with friends on Facebook that used words she didn’t understand, or had to carefully vet nights out to ensure none of those state school kids were going to be at this dance – or even, god forbid, had a child who disclosed cannabis use but hadn’t developed schizophrenia or grown another set of arms in their sleep (probably for stealing) – she might be less focused on figures showing heroin and crack use to be at their lowest levels, and more on the scary prevalence of ‘legal highs’.

However, her claim that she will “review new evidence of what works in other countries” is nothing more than an exact word-for-word restating of a commitment made in her 2010 drug strategy. It is not hard to see through the flimsy smokescreen that this is, in fact, a statement that they are going to do nothing – other than funding some Lib Dem to go on a jaunt, despite better evidence being available via academic studies on the internet. (“Best send one of theirs, David – gets one of them out of the way for now, focuses the matter on opinions instead of hard facts, and means we can completely ignore his findings whilst avoiding those ghastly ‘party divided’ headlines.”) The action falls short of offering anything that wasn’t already promised three years ago, but is released as a news story for no other reason than to spin some yarn that the Government is doing something, anything, in response to public and peer pressure to genuinely review drug policy.

You might think it’s a clever skirt, Theresa, but us plebs aren’t quite a thick as you might like to think. Nice legs though, love.

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