Doubts over new drugs chief’s cannabis stance

The Government’s new drugs adviser has said in the past that cannabis should not be classified as dangerous and it is one of the “safer” recreational drugs.

Prof Les Iversen was confirmed today as the new interim chairman of the Government’s Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD).

In a 2003 article for the Evening Standard he said cannabis “has been classified incorrectly for nearly 50 years as being an extremely dangerous drug, but it doesn’t fit that level of hazard”.

Prof Iversen went on: “I’m not saying it’s completely safe – no drug is completely safe, but as recreational drugs go, it’s one of the safer ones.”

However, his comments were made before the disastrous weakening of cannabis laws in 2004 from class B to class C, a decision which was reversed in 2009.

Responding to questions today about cannabis classification, he said: “I think cannabis for the time being is past history”.

One study lasting 27 years and involving 50,000 people showed that smoking cannabis trebles the risk of a young person developing schizophrenia.

Last year Prof Iversen said: “The big worry is to do with mental health issues – there is an acute psychosis you can get with cannabis if you take too much and it can result in admission to a hospital and require treatment with anti-schizophrenic drugs.”

He continued: “That’s not uncommon – paranoia, crazy delusions, aggression. It’s a very unpleasant reaction not only for the user but those around them.”

Cannabis was made a class C drug in 2004 by then Home Secretary David Blunkett.

However, mounting evidence of the risks associated with the drug led the Government to return it to class B, going against the advice of its drugs advisory panel, the ACMD.

While cannabis was at the lower classification judges, police, parents and mental health experts called for it to be moved back up to class B because of the damage it caused.

There are now more than 22,000 people a year, almost half under the age of 18, being treated for cannabis addiction. In 1997 the number was 1,600.

In July last year a study showed people who try cannabis just once can show signs of behaviour linked to schizophrenia.

Researchers from the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College, London, injected 22 healthy students and academics with Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the main active ingredient of cannabis.

The results revealed that half the subjects showed an “acute psychotic reaction”.

The study identified a series of similarities to symptoms of schizophrenia in the responses of the individuals, including hallucinations and delusions.

The fact that the researchers found signs of psychosis in healthy people undermined previous arguments that only those with existing problems are at risk.

Dr Paul Morrison, who led the research team, concluded: “These findings confirm that THC can induce a transient acute psychological reaction in psychiatrically well individuals.”

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