Marijuana is worse than speed

That appears to be the conclusion from a set of figures reported in today’s SMH:

Of patients who mentioned cannabis use to their GP, 48 per cent had a psychological problem, including 19 per cent with depression and nine per cent with psychosis. Six per cent had anxiety.

Only 31 per cent of stimulant users reported similar problems, with significantly lower rates of all conditions, according to the latest bulletin released by the National Cannabis Prevention and Information Centre in Sydney.

Director, professor Jan Copeland, said the results confirm the dangers of the drug, especially for the 300,000 Australians who smoke it daily.

“It was unexpected, given what we hear about amphetamine-related psychotic symptoms, but it goes to show what a terrible impact cannabis is having on users,” Prof Copeland said.

“The delusions, hallucinations and paranoia can be very distressing and people are feeling it.”

To start off with, what this really tells you is that people who feel compelled to tell their doctor about their marijuana use experience a different set of problems from people who feel compelled to tell their doctor about their amphetamine use. I even wonder whether the anxiety figures are so much larger than for the population at large, though obviously if you go to the doctor with a physical symptom you won’t necessarily get around to reporting or the doctor to diagnosing the anxiety.

The story continues:

The results, in data collected from 1,000 randomly-selected GPs, also revealed that mentioning cannabis use to a doctor was very rare, with the drug named in just 19,000 consultations nationwide each year.

That’s not 19,000 consultations which the 1,000 doctors told the survey about; that’s 19,000 when the numbers derived from the 1,000 doctors are multiplied back up to match the population of doctors and patients as a whole.

The story continues:

Users were more likely to be male, young, unemployed or on a low income and indigenous.

It’s unclear whether this means users reporting the matter to their doctor or users generally. In any event, there is the classic chicken and egg problem in interpreting these sorts of correlations. And then, the story seems to turn a corner:

“The low numbers are a major concern given the sheer number of users and the effects we know that use is having,” Prof Copeland said.

She said too many users still believed cannabis had few health consequences or were nervous mentioning a drug habit to a doctor.

Professor Copeland would like more people to report their cannabis use to their doctor. If they did, this would give her a better statistical base, though she is obviously satisfied with the conclusions already. Prohibition and criminalisation of use is precisely what discourages anyone but the most pathetic and nothing-to-lose from telling their doctor about it.

But Australian Medical Association chair of general practice Dr Rod Pearce said stressed the importance of consulting a doctor.

“Illegality is a non-issue for us and it absolutely has to be given the increasing body of research linking cannabis smoking with psychiatric illness,” Dr Pearce said.

“I’m not being wowserish either. This is a serious problem.”

It may not be a problem for a doctor, but it could be a problem for anyone who tells the doctor if the records of that consultation are subsequently subpoenaed. These days that is very easy to do since unless you don’t want any prescription written/made out and are prepared to pay the full price yourself, any consultation will leave some kind of trace via your Medicare number.

The story also reports that “About 1.5 million Australians have used cannabis in the past year, with 750,000 smoking it weekly.” That begins to make the (grossed-up-to-) 19,000 reports to a doctor look even tinier.

Is the present prohibition and criminalisation of use really the right way to approach this?

9 Responses to “Marijuana is worse than speed”

  1. Martin Says:

    No, criminalisation is not the answer. I have thought for many years that alcohol, tobacco and cannabis are actually more dangerous in many ways than speed, heroin, ecstacy or cocaine. With the more recent hydroponic growing methods apparently making it a lot stronger than it was “in my day”, the issue is coming to a head (if you’ll pardon the pun).

    The concepts of hard and soft drugs and legal = good/illegal = bad are the real problems and the illegality itself adds the issues of quality and enforcement v education to the mix.

  2. wanderer Says:

    This time M I’ve read the link. I found the SMH article, no author accredited, all but incomprehensible. It appears to be a compilation of (at least) two NCPIC (National Cannabis Prevention and Information Centre) publications:

    Bulletin 2, 29 March 2008:

    Media Release, 28 September 2008

    Most of the quoted statistics are from Bulletin 2, and have been spliced into the today’s Media Release copy.

    Both documents are valuable, but are carrying a different message to that pedalled by the Herald, i.e. your header, marijuana is worse than speed.

    Bulletin 2 has the following key points:
    · “Two of every 10,000 general practice consultations involve the management of cannabis-related problems, so there is an estimated minimum of 19,000 general practice consultations in Australia for this problem annually
    · Compared with patients at other consultations, cannabis patients appear to be more likely to be male, to be aged between 15 and 44 years, to have a Health Care Card, and to be an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander
    · Compared with psychostimulant consultations, cannabis consultations appear shorter on average, more likely to involve concurrent management of psychosis and anxiety, but less likely to generate prescription of antipsychotics
    · There is a need to raise awareness of screening, assessment and brief interventions for cannabis-related problems among GPs to assist in early detection and more cost-effective treatment of cannabis-related problems in the community.”

    There follow several tables of statistics, some quoted in the SMH. It concludes with:
    “For the purposes of this Bulletin, no inferential statistics were reported; therefore, the conclusions must be viewed with some caution.”

    Media Release 28 Sep says (my selective quotes) that:
    “the number of people requesting assistance from their GPs for cannabis related problems is comparatively small.”
    “ cannabis-related consultations are more likely to involve simultaneous management of anxiety or psychosis, than consultations involving other drug use such as amphetamines.”

    Jan Copeland emphasises that “GPs are extremely well-placed in relation to their frequent, broad-range contact with most Australians. It is vital that we equip GPs with the knowledge and awareness of how to identify and treat people with cannabis-related problems who might otherwise fail to seek or attain effective treatment.”

    I read all this as a sensible attempt to enlist the help of GPs as first-line managers of cannabis users.

    To re-establish context, the drugs which are most damaging our society and draining the National health budget are alcohol and tobacco. Obesity (the fat and sugar drugs) probably overrides them all, I don’t have ready figures.

    While this hasn’t addressed your question, I hope it has exposed questionable journalism.

    Ever been to Copenhagen?

  3. wanderer Says:

    M (I read the link this time) I have already posted a fairly detailed response, which may have been delayed, deleted, rejected or send to Uranus, so second try….abridged:

    That article is a crappy piece of sloppy journalism with no accredited author. It extracts material from two documents (March and September) from the National Cannibis Information and Prevention Centre. The NCIPC statistics are covered with a rider that “no inferential statistics were reported; therefore, the conclusions must be viewed with some caution.”

    The gist of it, as I read it, is that GPs should be encouraged to be more diligent in being first line advisors on cannibis use and its effects. There is nothing pointing to the conclusion that marijuana is worse than speed.

    As for prohibition, don’t hold your breath. The drugs doing society most harm, personal health and national budget, are alcohol and tobacco. Sugar and fat may be even worse. The anti-smoking campaign has been tremedously successful here. Alcohol is here to stay, and as long as other drugs are projected as ‘worse’, then drink stays the more acceptable. Of course, it is all to do with use vs abuse, whatever your poison.

    Is there any society, anywhere , ever, that doesn’t alter its mind with something or other?

    BTW, heroin was banned by the federal govt (50s) following pressure from the USA despite strong representation from the medical profession.

  4. marcellous Says:


    Sorry to have lost your more detailed comment,

    Meanwhile, your posts on Billy Budd have whetted my anticipation.

  5. wanderer Says:

    I think the error was here.
    see Bulletin 2, 29 March; Media Release, 28 September

    BB is transfixing; it’s hard to remember an audience so locked in, even the (Oz) critic next to me stopped scribbling pretty early on. We’re going again. Whet away, I doubt it is possible to be over-hyped. Did you see the ABC interview with TTR? He is so engaging.

  6. marcellous Says:

    @ W:

    BB has never been my favourite work, but prompted by your recommendation (and Sarah N’s) I’ve splashed out and bought a second ticket for the last night, which is, apart from tonight (impractical) the only night I am free other than the night I am already going.

    An older woman colleague is very keen on TTR and her husband refers to TTR as the “chook magnet.” I’m not as keen on him as she is, which is not to say that I don’t think he is pretty damn good – it’s a matter of degree and obsession. I missed the interview, I’m afraid.

  7. wanderer Says:

    The link to the ABC interview is in my blog, bottom of performance notes.

    Weeks preparing & listening (Britten conducts BB – Pears, Glossop, Langdon, Shirley-Quirk, Branigan, Tear…quite a whos who of the era) made all the difference to what I got from it this time.

    The first night, the woman next to M said (of TTR) – bit of eye candy up there, to which M replied – LOT of eye candy up there. M likes uniforms.

  8. Eco Green Says:

    Politicians are 10 years behind the times when it comes to hemp use. People have been fighting for a long time against marijuana and pot prohibition with some movement going on now. Still too slow for those caught up in the jail system for possessing a little weed. Our freedoms have been trampled on by folks who know nothing about how beautiful cannabis can be for someones life, if one learns how to grow cannabis. Keep up the good work.

  9. Attitude Seeds Says:

    A plant that has been around for thousands of years and has never killed a single person is worse than speed? got to love that thinkin.

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