Thoughts on politics and life from a liberal perspective

Tuesday 28 August 2012

The cannabis/IQ research shows why it should be legalised and regulated

There are reports today of the results of a long term study conducted in New Zealand which show a link between heavy use of cannabis before the age of 18 and a concomitant reduction in IQ levels.

This is indeed worrying and it is a good thing that such a study has been conducted.

I have not seen much political reaction to this yet but I am willing to bet a sizable amount of money that the bulk of it from the mainstream parties will be in the vein of "This is why cannabis needs to be kept illegal" and that this somehow "proves" that the current laws in this area are correct.

That is the wrong conclusion to draw from this research.

A problem has been identified. That young people who use a certain drug heavily before the age of 18 are at risk of damaging their brain. It would appear that once past that age that risk is much less severe, if there at all (the main problem seems to be with the developing brain). So what we should be trying to achieve if anything is a reduction in the number of young people taking the drug. The current legal regime does not do this. It is very easy in pretty much any area of the country to obtain cannabis, for people of any age including teenagers. Those who supply it are not interested in checking the age of the person consuming it.

If we follow the evidence here, there is little reason to stop adults from taking cannabis but a big incentive to try and stop children. So if cannabis was legalised, regulated and sold in a way similar to alcohol (with tough penalties for supplying to minors) with a simultaneous widespread public education campaign showing why it is dangerous for children to take it surely this would be more effective than our current system? It would make it harder for children to obtain the drug and for once, the public education from the government would actually be based on evidence. Over time this would improve the credibility of these laws rather than the blanket "All drugs are equally bad, Mkaaay" message at the moment which most people and especially children simply do not believe.

For those who disagree with me on this, please just consider these points:

  1. The current laws have very little deterrent effect on young people taking cannabis.
  2. How can it possibly help somebody who may have done something that will have damaged their brain and lowered their IQ to give them a criminal record? Surely all that will do is blight their life chances even further?

We need to be much smarter in our approach to this problem. Sadly though I fully expect this more nuanced approach to be ignored in favour of more of the same. In fact I fear an even stronger "crackdown" from this in a misguided attempt to try and discourage children from taking cannabis.


Harry McCulla said...

In total agreement with you Mark. As you say, there is no incentive for a dealer to check for ID. why should he - what he does is illegal anyway?

To put it another way, the minimum age to buy a prohibited drug is £10.

Anonymous said...

A pretty stupid blog post, firstly cannabis is teratogenic and has many other harms apart from lowering IQ.

Secondly legalisation for adults would create a "desireable adult behaviour" as far as vulnerable youngsters are concerned. It would INCREASE the attractions of cannabis for the young and impressionable and increasingly normalise use.

Get real, legalisation is just not going to happen in the Uk

Mark Thompson said...

@Anonymous: I'm not saying cannabis has no other harms but this is the critical one that so often seems to be the "clinching argument". And it is only really relevant to children. The other harms are no worse than those inflicted by alcohol which is perfectly legal for over 18s. And if teratogenicity is a major problem with cannabis then let's have an information campaign to inform pregnant women (and those planning to conceive) like we do with alcohol. It's not a reason to ban it completely for everyone on pain of imprisonment.

Cannabis is already highly desirable for young people precisely because it is illegal. The misinformation put out by the government is woeful and treated as such by kids who are much more switched on to the real risks in many cases than the government gives them credit for. Were they given credible information backed by proper scientific studies then they are more likely to take it seriously.

As for your final point, it seems somewhat irrelevant. You are essentially saying that there is a political consensus against what I am saying so I should just shut up. The only way blinkered thinking at the top like this is ever changed is for it to be challenged with reasoned argument and evidence. If that means I am not "getting real" according to your yardstick then so be it.

Rob said...

Also, if legalised people would have a greater choice in what types of cannabis they buy. Most people have no choice but to buy skunk if they enjoy cannabis.

Peter Reynolds said...

Most people are missing the REAL NEWS in this story. The report shows that cannabis can be harmful to children but this is not news. It just reinforces what we already know. The REAL NEWS is that Professor Terrie Moffitt, of the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College London, has said, unequivocally, that: "...cannabis is safe for over-18 brains".

This is the REAL NEWS!

Anonymous said...

Teratogenicity? You say that as if it's a bad thing. My God how briliant, all I have to do to avoid getting my girlfriend pregnant, is smoke a whole lot of weed... It certainly sweetens the deal.

Why didn't anyone come up with a contraceptive based on Cannabis? I bet Big Pharma will be on the case as soon as they realize the potential. Anyway, why bother, people can just continue to smoke it.

Rohan said...

I think one of the most salient facts that no-body seems to be picking up on here, is that the study from New Zealand shows a "lowering of IQ". Why has everybody blithely accepted the IQ test as a valid indicator of intelligence? You cannot measure intelligence, so how can you measure it? They used to be all about pattern recognition, and in the past have been shown to be both gender and culturally biased. It's absolute rubbish to rely on these tests, yet because it seems to confirm what we suspected (ie Stoners lose brain cells) we have all just accepted this rubbish. If it wasn't so convenient for the media and their reactionary rhetoric over drugs/drug use, it would get laughed out the door. I think they used 1000 kids in the study, so what percentage of them were regular users? How big was the control group? Was the "decline" trend normal for a group this size? What type of IQ test was used? How many people used cannabis alone? NOt one news report has any of this info, so what are we to make of this study, before blindly accepting what it says because some scientist says so? We shouldn't even be discussing the conclusions of this report!

Anonymous said...

I'd like to summarize the issue with legalization as follows (pardon my English, it's not my native language):

The research was conducted on people who started using cannabis at early age and have continued to use it ever since.

This has happened during prohibition: while cannabis and its production, sale and use have been illegal.

Therefore, prohibition has not been able to stop young people from using cannabis. Otherwise the research could not have been conducted at all.

So, how prohibition could be any solution to a problem that it has not been able to prevent in the first place?

Nothing Better To Do said...

I suppose if a young person has taken cannabis and suffers from lowered IQ they will suffer a lifetime of shattered dreams and limited choices. Probably end up joining the Lib Dems.

Unknown said...

If you worked with young people you would know that minimum ages for buying alcohol and tobacco was also ineffective in stopping them from drinking and smoking (even without parental consent). If they think it's 'cool' and want it, they will find a way. However, I do not think this diminishes the argument to make it illegal. It's bad for them and it's right to say "You should not do this".

Secondly, your argument that they've been stupid and made themselves stupider so the law should give them a break is preposterous! Most criminals are stupid, I mean of below average IQ, but that doesn't mean we should let them roam the streets out of pity.

I do agree that the current legislation for tobacco, alcohol and drugs in general, especially in relation to minors, needs a radical overhaul because it simply does not protect those at most risk. But I expect we'd disagree on how that should look like ;-)

Unknown said...

Most people today are lacking the REAL NEWS in this tale. The statement displays that cannabis or spice incense can be dangerous to children but this is not news. It just stands for what we already know. The REAL NEWS is that Professor Terrie Moffitt, of the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College London, has said, unequivocally, that: "...cannabis is safe for over-18 brains".