The Real Stranger To Cannabis

Baroness Susan Greenfield is one of the great and the good in British high society. Awarded the CBE in 2000 for her “services to the public understanding of science” she is touted as a “distinguished brain expert” and has written several books including:

“Journey to the Centres of the Mind”

“Brain Story: Unlocking Your Inner World of Emotions, Memories, and Desires”

and “The Private Life of the Brain: Emotions, Consciousness, and the Secret of the Self”

Greenfield is regarded as an expert on neuroscience.

She lists her proudest achievement as “to give a consultative seminar to the British prime minister - Tony Blair - and his wife in March 1999”. She is regularly on television and in the press airing her views on how our brains work.

Susan Greenfield is an arch opponent of the decriminalisation of cannabis.

She has argued that the public fears science.

“Because people cannot understand the jargon and are frightened that other people, therefore, have the ability to manipulate their lives”

Perhaps as a result of this desire not to use jargon she was inspired to write a populist article for the Observer Sunday August 18, 2002:

The real danger of cannabis

We know it’s a populist article because she uses the word “cool” in the first sentence and as the very last word in the article. Derogatively we may add (is that jargon?) In the best traditions of populism she also uses the word “loony” when describing those with opposing views. Certainly those who are content for their minds to stay within the limits of mainstream culture will feel right at home with her little article.

Using another populist trick she kicks off with a false premise:

“Take the myth that cannabis is 'just the same as' alcohol. A glib yet logical riposte might be that if the drugs are truly identical why not just stick with the booze? What is the distinct appeal of cannabis that can be ignored in equating the two drugs? Such sophistry is inappropriate because alcohol and cannabis work on the brain and body in very different ways”

I have never known anyone make this claim. Not even when they are in the throes of severely altering their brain chemistry (and other organ chemistry) by imbibing very large quantities of alcohol. The rest of this part of her argument is therefore contrived. She sets up a false (absurd) claim and then argues against it. Neat, very neat.

Certainly people have compared and contrasted cannabis with other recreational drugs and even prescription drugs. Heck even the World Health Organisation got in on this act but that is a far cry from saying Cannabis is just the same as alcohol.

Sorry Susan but that is a populist tactic too far.

She then goes on to thunder “And if cannabis were 'just the same' as alcohol and cigarettes, why are people not taking those already legal drugs for the much-lauded pain-relief effects?”
Hopefully the astute reader has noted the populist trick by now. Yes that’s right, set up a false claim and then argue against it. Now according to Greenfield people have been claiming that Cannabis, alcohol AND cigarettes are “just the same” and she sets out to demolish this “myth”. A myth of her own making.

The exponents of this “myth” are shadowy characters for sure. There is not one example given to substantiate her claim. Though when she says in the very next paragraph “Even the most loony of liberals has not suggested tolerance for morphine or heroin abuse, because they are prescribed clinically as potent painkillers” it is clear that it is the "loony" liberals who are spreading the “myths”.

Sorry Susan, another populist tactic too far.

Information for our international readers, the yellow press in Britain labels anyone straying too far outside mainstream ideology as “loonies”.

I guess it saves the hard slog of actually refuting views in a rational way, but I have a thought, no doubt loony. If the yellow press had been in existence centuries ago, Copernicus, Galileo, Leonardo da Vinci and many others would undoubtedly have been described as “loonies”. Is it really appropriate for someone presenting themselves as a “scientist” to use this tactic?

In her next paragraph Greenfield tries to insinuate a causative connection between cannabis and schizophrenia.

She says:

“It is widely accepted that there is a link between cannabis and schizophrenia: as many as 50 per cent of young people attending psychiatric clinics may be regular or occasional cannabis users. The drug can also precipitate psychotic attacks, even in those with no previous psychiatric history.”

Well that seems to be game set and match, what possible answer can there be to that? Well one possible answer is that people self medicate with cannabis to alleviate the symptoms of psychiatric illness.

Let me explain by using an example for a condition that also afflicts the brain, migraine. If a concerned and eager neuroscientist were to conduct a study of people who regularly suffer from migraine they would discover that these people frequently use analgesia (sorry pain killers – my apologies for the jargon, please don’t be frightened).

My hunch is that the figure would be close to 100% of migraine sufferers take pain killers. Can we conclude from this that pain killers cause migraine? We can if we use Greenfield's logic.

Let’s have some fun and paraphrase Greenfield “It is widely accepted that there is a link between analgesia and migraine: as many as 100 per cent of young people attending migraine clinics may be regular or occasional analgesia users.”

This is very bad science indeed. It is however yet another populist trick. You can use this kind of trick to prove anything.

Here's how it works – 100% of murderers drink water so ipso facto (posh Latin term not sure what it means) there is a link between consuming water and committing murder. Enough.

Greenfield then deploys her keen, analytical, scientific AND populist mind to home in on the potential damage caused by using cannabis.

“There appears to be a severe impairment in attention span and cognitive performance in regular cannabis users, even after the habit has been relinquished.”

Note here the cautious approach of “there appears” not “there will be severe impairment”. Greenfield has no caution in describing liberalisers as “loony” or using the populist tricks described above. So why the caution?

Perhaps it’s because the evidence in this area does not prove this at all? Governments, scientists, drug enforcement agencies, drug warriors et al (Latin term used often in scientific documents just to prove that I do read them) have spent at least the last 50 years and countless millions of dollars trying to prove just this assertion with no success.

In fact the weight of evidence suggests just the opposite. And yes by using “suggests” I am being cautious here too, but at least I admit it.

The New Scientist publishes a number of articles on line on this very subject. I have taken some quotes from them.

A number of studies have tested cannabis users cognitive functioning by testing their skills whilst using the drug and then after they have discontinued it for ONE DAY

John Morgan, Pharmacologist says of one such test:

“And what if the poor test results do turn out to be linked to marijuana? It doesn't automatically follow that heavy marijuana use is causing long-lasting brain damage. One possibility is that, deprived of their favourite drug for a day, heavy users suffer withdrawal symptoms or become so grumpy and distracted that they do badly in tests. Another is that a single drug-free day is not long enough for the effect of their last smoke to have disappeared.”

And this from another article:

“Smoking cannabis does not have a long-term effect on intelligence, say researchers in Canada who have followed volunteers from before birth to early adulthood."

And this one:

"Heavy pot smokers did experience a dip in their intelligence quotient (IQ). But people who had once smoked heavily and then given up were right back up to normal, the study found. Light smokers appeared no different to non-smokers.”

Hopefully the above puts Greenfield’s comment “there appears to be a severe impairment in attention span and cognitive performance in regular cannabis users, even after the habit has been relinquished” into context.

The New Scientist is in my view a shining example of how science can be popularised without being “populist” i.e. sly and manipulative. The New Scientist marijuana section can be found here. If Susan Greenfield reads this article may I suggest she visits the New Scientist web site and discover how popularising science is really done? The quotes above can be found there.

Greenfield also says:

“It is argued that we will never stamp out cannabis use, and therefore we should give up trying. But we will not stamp out murder or house break-ins or mugging, yet I've never heard an argument for freeing up police time by liberalising the law on these acts.”

To use one of Greenfield’s own arguments against her, smoking a joint and committing murder are not the “same”. Oh the irony of it all. To position smoking cannabis alongside the act of committing violence against another human being including murder is absurd. Is this another of her populist tricks? You be the judge.

Greenfield then tries to appeal to the public’s unease with large corporations and distrust of multinationals when she says:

“Cynically, one could argue that it is politically expedient … to help the ailing tobacco industry prosper from a great new product of readymade packets of spliffs."

God forbid that I should ever accuse Greenfield of cynicism perhaps she just hasn’t thought this one through, certainly the tobacco companies own or control vast tracts of land for tobacco cultivation but where is cannabis coming from at the present time? Cannabis is competition to the tobacco companies. This of course may change but only if Cannabis were legalised.

Greenfield laments “We have failed our young people in providing homes and jobs and, by giving them an easy route into a chilled-out oblivion” This is especially ironic given that she has described her proudest achievement as “to give a consultative seminar to the British prime minister - Tony Blair - and his wife in March 1999”.

I wonder if Tony Blair knows his government has failed young people? It was Blair’s government that coined the term “Cool Britannia” and Susan seems fond of the word too but is it really cool to misinform people so badly as she has?

Why is there so much confusion in the drugs debate? I will quote Greenfield with just a hint of irony

“Because people cannot understand the jargon and are frightened that other people, therefore, have the ability to manipulate their lives”

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