Legalisation Of Cannabis And A Whole Pot Of Ignorance

Whilst in the process of writing a couple of other articles, a rather hostile debate broke out on Twitter, last night, on the controversial issue of legalising cannabis.

My personal views are somewhat mixed. Whilst I personally cannot abide the substance and would never care to even try it, that does not mean that I am against the legalisation of cannabis.

In fact, there are actually some very good reasons for legalisation, just as there are also some strong arguments against. Nevertheless, when pointing out the negatives last night, I received a number of responses from the ever-so-lovely fellow tweeters. Here are just a few examples:

As I dared to debate the potential problems that legalisation might present, I was subsequently blocked by TJ Kincaid @amazingatheist, for not sharing his views 100%. This was despite my stating that cannabis should be legalised, but felt that a very carefully drafted legislation, and tight regulation, should be construed.

There are certainly reasons for legalisation. For example, a study published in the UK medical journal, The Lancet, ranked cannabis as one of the least harmful drugs. Yet, many cannabis users are actually risking their health, and others via passive smoking, by consuming cannabis that is of uncontrolled and doubtful purity. For example, the ‘Talk To Frank’ website states that Cannabis may be ‘cut’ with other substances to increase the weight and the dealer’s profits, with laboratory-confirmed reports of impurities such as glass and pesticides being found in herbal forms of cannabis; and with hash/resin frequently being mixed with a range of substances to increase weight. The site also reports of a 2010 study on contaminants found in drugs, which reported that there were cases of cannabis being adulterated with henna, lead and aluminum. By legalising cannabis, regulatory measures can be taken to control the quality of the substance. Not to mention that with the substance currently being illegal, the Government receives no revenue, and criminals are making all the profits.

Furthermore, people who use cannabis for genuine medicinal purposes are criminalised and somewhat alienated for using it, and are prohibited from a beneficial medicine for a serious condition. No important long-term research can be conducted on the therapeutic uses of cannabis, because of its current illegality in Britain. As a result, police time is wasted, the courts are backlogged with multiple cases, whilst the prisons are overcrowded.

As for the benefits of the drug itself, the plant contains more than 400 chemicals, including cannabidiolic acid, an antibiotic with similar properties to penicillin. The different chemical derivatives of the plant can be used for medicinal or recreational purposes, and is reported to acts as a mild sedative, leaving most people feeling relaxed or sleepy. By contrast, it is also claimed to make some more animated, and is also reported to release inhibitions. Wide-scale trials testing the safety and efficacy of cannabis extracts (or synthetic forms of them) are currently underway, and so far there has been interest in the use of cannabinoids in nausea and vomiting, appetite, control of cancer symptoms, pain, anxiety and muscle spasticity. Cannabis appears to be able to help reduce the side effects of chemotherapy treatment, although not more so than other already established medications. Some cannabinoids have been reported to relieve nausea during cancer treatment, allowing patients to eat and live normally. There have also been reports of cannabinoids having a protective effect against cancer in mice.

Research has also shown that smoking cannabis from a pipe can significantly reduce chronic pain in patients with damaged nerves, a study suggests. Cannabis extracts also seem to benefit people suffering from multiple sclerosis (MS), by reducing muscle spasticity, thus increasing a person’s ability to stay independent.

However, one myth about cannabis is that it is safe, because it is natural. Despite the suggested benefits, a survey of 1,000 adults conducted by The British Lung Foundation, found that one third wrongly believed cannabis did not harm health, and 88% incorrectly thought tobacco cigarettes were more harmful than cannabis. The NHS news website highlights that many of the same cancer-causing compounds in cigarettes are also present in cannabis, and reports on one study suggestion that over the course of a year, smoking a single joint each day could result in the same level of lung damage as smoking 20 cigarettes per day over the same period.

Indeed, studies have found a significantly higher accident culpability risk of drivers using cannabis, and chronic inflammatory and precancerous changes demonstrated in the airways of cannabis smokers, and a case-control study showed an increased risk of airways cancer that is proportional to the amount of cannabis use.

Furthermore, a study conducted at University of Toronto, on the adverse effects of cannabis on health found a causal role of acute cannabis intoxication in motor vehicle and other accidents with the presence of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in cannabis, in the blood of injured drivers in the absence of alcohol or other drugs.

Several different studies indicate a link between cannabis use and schizophrenia. The adverse effect of cannabis use on the clinical course of schizophrenia has been confirmed in a 3-year follow-up study of psychotic and non-psychotic subjects in the Netherlands. Those who were using cannabis at the start of the 3-year period were more likely to have some psychotic symptoms, and especially to have severe symptoms, at follow-up. Both this, and a second study, revealed that those who had psychotic symptoms at the start of the study showed a more severe adverse effect of cannabis use than those who were non-psychotic at the start. Studies reveal that cannabis can also cause serious relapse in people with schizophrenia.

Furthermore, a significant link between cannabis and depression has also been found in various cohort studies, with a large-scale case-control study in New Zealand found a significant link between heavy cannabis use and serious attempts at suicide. A Canadian study found in a representative sample of over 1800 Quebec adolescents, that over one third had used cannabis and other illicit drugs more than five times, and encountered a variety of interpersonal problems related to their drug use. Cannabis has been shown to cause feelings of anxiety, suspicion, panic, and paranoia.

Another study has linked cannabis to testicular cancer, whilst cannabis has also been found to cause cognitive decline. A growing body of evidence indicates subtle but apparently permanent effects on memory, information processing, and executive functions, in the offspring of women who used cannabis during pregnancy. In total, the evidence indicates that regular heavy use of cannabis carries significant risks for the individual user and for the health care system.

Whilst recognising that there are limitations to the current evidence, the Canadian Cancer Society believes there is enough research to suggest an increased risk of cancer associated with long-term smoking of marijuana and being exposed to second-hand marijuana smoke. They suggest that cannabis smoke contains as many as 50 of the same carcinogens as tobacco smoke, and also state that there is scientific evidence that smoking marijuana may be associated with increased abnormalities in some of the cells in the body, including precancerous changes in the lungs. Might it, thus, not be wise that more research be conducted to better understand the cancer risks associated with long-term recreational smoking of cannabis and of exposure to second-hand cannabis smoke (not to mention the added risks of third-hand smoke), before ultimately deciding to legalise it? There are also studies which contradict such health risks, and the question is, which “evidence” should we believe?

My personal experience is that even walking a few centimetres behind a person smoking cannabis outdoors is sufficient to give me symptoms 20 minutes later, such as nausea, alteration of taste, insomnia, and brain fog. This would certainly tie in with the findings of scientific research.

However, despite the scientific findings that suggest cannabis is a harmful drug, none of the cannabis research carried out over the past 50 years has been conclusive. Although tobacco also affects the lungs, the law does not criminalise those who smoke, and it is not illegal to smoke outside of an enclosed public area. However, taking the possible health risks into consideration, combined with the risks of passive smoking, there is all the more reason to tightly legislate where the drug can be smoked. As free individuals we, of course, should all have the autonomy to put whatever substances we wish into our own bodies. However, it is unfair to inflict our potentially risky lifestyle choices upon others, via passive smoking. There is also the issue of burden upon the health service, which in the UK, is already under strain from lack of funding, the burden of the British binge drinking culture, obesity adding to the number of diabetes, cancer, and heart disease cases, and from people generally living longer and presenting an array of old-age related illnesses. Furthermore, there is the possibility of serious consequences arising from mixing cannabis with alcohol, which reinforces the requirement that we need a very tight legislation if the drug were to be legalised

I appreciate that cigarettes, alcohol, and pollution from vehicles are all toxic and can potentially cause much harm, but to use that as an excuse to add to pollution and health risks, is a very weak argument, and does not reinforce why a person has the right to selfishly inflict their smoke upon others, who may be suffering from chronic chest complaints. UK legislation makes smoking in a public place an offence under Section 1 of The Health Act 2006. However, it does not apply to outdoors, which means smoke is often a problem for people walking behind someone on the High Street, or standing at a bus stop, or living in a flat next to a smoker, etc., which could also be a problem if cannabis were legalized. A wise legislative solution might be to enforce that users only smoke the drug within the confines of their own private detached house, or at a special designated “Marijuana Bar”, where it will not impact the health of others who do not wish to have second hand cannabis smoke inflicted upon them without their consent.

On the grounds of legalising cannabis for its health benefits, it would surely be more prudent to administer a cannabinoid based medicine derived from the cannabis sativa plant, such as that which came into use in the UK in 2010 for people with MS, rather than administering the recreational cannabis that causes euphoria. Less than 3% of those in trials for the derived drug said it changed their mood. As a botanical product, it is difficult to test for efficacy and safety of the natural product, as the proportions of active chemicals can range greatly from plant to plant.

What is particularly interesting is that pro-cannabis advocates all claim that cannabis has the ability to “calm” a person. Therefore, I question why cannabis users are so hostile and aggressive in their method of debate, if the drug has such a calming affect? Surely such aggressive language and manner, similar to that on Twitter, goes someway in reinforcing the studies that suggest the drug causes permanent psychological problems such as anxiety, perception, paranoia, and hostility – not to mention mental illnesses.

It is also interesting that the pro-cannabis advocates, including TJ Kincaid, failed to note that I was not saying that the cannabis should not be legalised, but was merely pointing out the issues legalisation could potentially cause. Consider the studies that suggest how the effects of cannabis can interfere with a person’s attention, judgement, and thinking, and perhaps this suggests the reason as to why.

Alas, such hostility in the pro-cannabis advocates’ method of debate, is surely not the way to convince government officials of the drugs supposed benefits. Conversely, it might even go some way into convincing officials that the studies suggesting the drug’s adverse effects on the brain are accurate after all.

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No Shave November

According to Cancer Research UK, men are in general, at a significantly greater risk than women from nearly all of the common cancers that occur in both genders, with the exception of breast cancer.

The joint report, The Excess Burden of Cancer in Men in the UK (2009), published by National Cancer Intelligence Network, Cancer Research UK, Leeds Metropolitan University and Men’s Health Forum 2009), reveals that when rate ratios were calculated by excluding breast cancer, and cancers which are unique to either men or women only, 60% more men in the 15–64 year age range are dying from cancers that should be affecting men and women equally. Thus, a greater effect seems to be predominately because the cancer deaths that occur in younger women are those related to the breast and genital organs (37.1% overall of cancer deaths in those aged 15–64; and around 50% in the 35–44 years age group). From the rate ratios of male to female deaths it is evident that there is a significantly higher rate of death for men over all ages. This ratio is lower in the 15–64 age range but rises substantially over the age of 65 years.

The mortality rate for lung cancer is substantially higher in men than women due to differing smoking patterns over the previous 60 years, despite there being more men who have reportedly given up smoking, relative to the number of females smokers. When rate ratios are calculated after excluding lung cancer to examine the influence on the burden of cancer in the two sexes after excluding the major cancer caused by smoking, then the ratio for all ages drops slightly to 1.31, with corresponding falls to 0.98 for 15-64 year olds and 1.51 for those aged 65 and over. This could suggest that younger males also have higher overall cancer mortality because of their excess rate of lung cancer.

There has also been a rapid increase in the incidence of prostate cancer, with rates rising from 32.5 per 100,000 in 1975 to 97.2 per 100,000 in 2006 in Great Britain. Although statistics by Cancer Research reveal that more women averagely die of breast cancer, than men of prostate cancer, there are fewer campaigns targeted at men and the importance of early detection. Prostate cancer mortality combined with the male mortality rates for common non-gender specific cancers, means that more awareness campaigns are necessary for male cancer.

It is interesting that despite September being Prostate Cancer month, blue ribbons and blue coloured merchandise did not engulf the country in any manner similar to the flurry of pink ribbons that emerged in the subsequent month of October. Perhaps it is no coincidence that November has now become a month for male cancer fundraising, with the “Movember” challenge.

“Movember”, a portmanteau of the word “mo” (from moustache) and “November”, is an event involving the growing of moustaches during the entire month of November, to raise awareness and raise funds for more effective detection, diagnosis, treatments, and to reduce the number of preventable deaths from male cancers. The Movember Foundation has run Movember events since 2004 in Australia and New Zealand, and since 2007 in Ireland, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, Spain, the United Kingdom, Israel, South Africa, Taiwan and the United States. The foundation’s goal being to “change the face of men’s health.”

As I believe in equality and, therefore, believe that male cancer deserves the same attention and awareness as that generated by female cancer campaigns, such as the ‘Pink Ribbon Campaign’ and ‘Race for Life’, I would join in with the moustache growing… If I had enough facial hair to grow one! Therefore, I have instead decided to join in by going razor and wax-free with regards legs, arms, and…etc! My fundraising page can be found HERE.

No doubt many will turn their noses up at my challenge, and I must admit that I will find it difficult to walk around unshaven. On the continent, many women are reported to grow their body hair, but it is very much a faux pas in Britain. Women whose body hair falls outside aesthetic standards may experience social acceptance problems. The exposure of body hair on women other than head hair, eyelashes and eyebrows, is generally considered to be unaesthetic, unladylike, undesirable and embarrassing. People will usually point and laugh at a “hairy lady”, just like Julia Roberts caused a stir at the film premiere of Notting Hill, when she raised her arm and revealed a hairy armpit.

Julia Roberts at the premiere of ‘Notting Hill’ in 1999.

Yet, it would appear that in casting aside the razor, she is in good company. Drew Barrymore, Elizabeth Jagger, even fashionista, Trinny Woodall, have all had a hairy moment:

Elizabeth Jagger


Drew Barrymore


Fashionista, Trinny Woodall


Beyonce Knowles


Anne Robinson is the “weakest link” after all!


Jessica Biel

Even the ever-so-sophisticated Sophia Loren has been known to fashion a bush!

Women participating in the “No Shave Novemeber” challenge have also been causing some revolt on Twitter.

I confess to also finding body hair most unsightly. But, is that really my own opinion, or is it one that has been indoctrinated into all of us all by society? Hair removal has, after all, been an integral part of grooming since prehistoric times, when men used flint to remove unwanted hair as early as 30,000 B.C, and historical accounts of women’s hair removal have been linked to ancient Greece, the Trobriand Islands, Uganda, South America and Turkey. The rise of hair removal can certainly be closely linked with fashion – as most of society’s ideals are. In ancient cultures, the absence of body hair often indicated class. Only the lower classes let their hair grow. In the Middle Ages, women even removed all of their hair, including the hair on their head, in the name of fashion. The first commercial for a female hair removal product was in 1915 when Harpers Bazaar printed an advert which showed a woman in a sleeveless evening gown which exposed her perfectly shaven armpits.

In the 1970s, feminists put their razors aside as a form of political statement, but today even women who object on principle, are still under pressure to remove body hair. Merran Toerien, who has researched gender and body hair, believes that bodies are seen as needing disciplining into an ideal:

“Hair is seen as masculine…Historically, medically and in the media, it is nearly always associated with men. Shaving female body hair is seen as a way to differentiate between the sexes.”

Women with body hair are even perceived by men and women to be more aggressive and immoral, according to a study by US psychologist Dr Susan Basow, who asserts that non-hairy women are generally seen in a positive light. Indeed, a UK study found that 99% of modern day women removed some hair, most commonly from the underarms, legs, pubic area and eyebrows. Shaving and plucking being the most common removal methods.

Professor Stevi Jackson, Director of the Centre for Women’s Studies at York University stated:

“Over the years body hair on women has been viewed more and more as a monstrosity and dealing with it has become more and more draconian,” she says. “It is about conforming to standard and if you don’t you are viewed as unattractive and ungroomed… It is not about being seen as beautiful; it is about conforming, not standing out.”

The removal of female body hair has become such a social requirement that little 12 year old girls are being subjected to a Brazilian wax, as this anonymous article titled “The Bare Truth”, published in the Economist reveals:

“An Irish beautician called Genevieve is explaining what a ‘Brazilian’ is a she practices the art on your correspondent. … Between each excruciating rip, she explains that she is going to remove nearly all my pubic hair, except for a narrow vertical strip of hairs the width of a couple of fingers. This is known colloquially as the ‘landing strip.’ … In only a few years, this form of waxing has gone from the esoteric to the everyday and is starting to rival the ordinary bikini wax in popularity. At the same time the bikini wax is becoming a normal procedure for women of all ages: the youngest person Genevieve has waxed is a 12-year-old girl”

It is socially acceptable for men walk around with beards, hairy chests, backs, legs, etc., and is even considered an expression of manliness. Ironically, if a man shaves his legs (which may be required for a sport such as rugby or swimming), he will often be ridiculed. In fact, thick hair is associated with strength and masculinity, and so much so, we often find many men going to great lengths to prevent male pattern baldness on their heads. Femininity demands a hair-free body, and a hairy woman is not considered sexually attractive, whilst body hair on men is associated with masculine virility. Whilst I accept the physical differences between men and women on a biological level, society’s dictation of body hair is surely yet another example of ironic hypocrisy, which affects both genders.

When society faces a serious health issue such as cancer – a cruel disease that takes so many lives away from us on a daily basis, surely this is a time to set aside such social and cultural expectations. If ditching the razor and wax strips for a month, and joining the Movember campaign is a social faux pas, then so be it. I like to think I have the strength of character to stand up to what is, essentially, a rather pointless social ideal, in order to raise much needed money for cancer research – an important cause that might help save lives.

It would be nice to see other women who are also brave enough to “stand by her man”, and ditch the razor for a month (or at least sponsor my endeavour), instead of trying to adhere to narrow-minded social norms. It is, after all, for a good cause. I would also like to to remind all the chaps out there: Please remember to have an annual health check up, and a PSA Test if you are over 40. Furthermore, young men should regularly check their testes for any abnormalities, as testicular cancer is most common in young men.

Please remember to donate to my “No Shave November” page at Cancer Research UK. It does not matter if you can only donate as little as £1, for as long as everyone donates something, all the small donations will add up to something bigger. Although it is a UK cancer charity, with which readers from other parts of the world may not feel is relevant to them, one must remember that as long as money is donated to cancer research, it is irrelevant as to where in the world the money is donated for research. What is most important is that valuable research can be conducted, to ensure a cure is ultimately found, instead of focusing upon where in the world the cure was found.

Please donate. Thank you.