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Marijuana Special Report: The dope debate

Your report on cannabis made interesting reading, as yet another official report failed to find evidence of serious harm or risk to public health from cannabis use.

However, I note that many of the findings may be more appropriate for the US, where herbal cannabis is normally smoked 'neat'-without tobacco. In Britain, cannabis resin is the dominant form, representing approximately 70 per cent of the Pounds Sterling 3 billion to Pounds Sterling 5 billion annual market, and is normally smoked with tobacco.

According to our surveys, many users smoke around 6 joints a day, and get through between 1/8 ounce (3.5 grams) and 1/4 ounce (7 grams) per week, with some heavy users smoking up to 1/4 ounce per day. Our latest survey results suggest consumption of indoor-grown, higher-potency hybrids ('skunk', for example) have nearly doubled in the past three years, with growers able to indulge heavier levels of use without having to pay. By comparison, Donald Tashkin's smokers got through three 'neat' joints per day, representing a similar weight of cannabis to typical British users, but without the tobacco.

The British Medical Association report on therapeutic uses of cannabis quoted particular studies from the US from 1982, which involved low-potency marijuana without tobacco, results that may not be applicable to higher-potency hybrids or to cannabis resin. The smoking of unfiltered tobacco joints must increase the cancer risk, and cannabis smokers in Britain may be lulled into a false sense of security by these US studies. There is an urgent need for research into the composition of smoke from tobacco and cannabis or cannabis resin joints, particularly of 'skunk' and similar types of cannabis.

Cannabis has often been accused, falsely, of leading to harder drugs such as heroin and cocaine. It may instead be found to lead to the 'hardest' drug of all, nicotine. In the light of increased government pressure on tobacco companies and the decline in the number of cigarette smokers, a significant number of recruits from cannabis smokers may provide a financial lifeline for the tobacco companies.

From Matthew Atha, Independent Drug Monitoring Unit Wigan

From New Scientist, 14 March 1998

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