Cannabis Is Least Harmful Substance in Published British Medical Journal ‘Harm To Self And Others’ Study.

The British Medical Journal on 27th of July 2012 published an extensive study scaling the harm caused to ones self and to others due to substance use. The study looked at the 19 most commonly used drugs both legal and illicit. Heroin was ranked at number  1 whilst Alcohol sat in 4th place and cannabis came bottom being deemed least harmful in all 3 tables.

The Paper titled “Quantifying the RR of harm to self and others from substance misuse: results from a survey of clinical experts across Scotland.” published in the BMJ by a collective of 6 research bodies, five from the UK and one from our common wealth cousins in New Zealand who also operate under a policy of prohibition like ours – The Misuse of Drugs Act. This study was carried out by 292 clinical experts.

  1. 1NHS Lothian, Edinburgh, UK
  2. 2NHS Lanarkshire, Hairmyres Hospital, Glasgow, UK
  3. 3Maori Mental Health, Otahuhu, Auckland, New Zealand
  4. 4Division of Psychiatry, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, UK
  5. 5NHS Forth Valley, Falkirk, UK
  6. 6NHS Grampian, Aberdeen, UK

The first thing to take note of here is the number of NHS contributors there are, which have also got “mental health” and “psychiatry” in their names. Let’s start off by remembering that cannabis is a Class B drug and the Governments continuously reinforced  standard line is “cannabis is toxic, harmful to yourself and others and leads to serious mental health problems.” Here we have Harm to self and other (as in the study) and links to mental health (as per the researchers credentials).

The aim of the study is transparent as you could get

“To produce an expert consensus hierarchy of harm to self and others from legal and illegal substance use.”

This is actually something we have seen before produced by Prof. David Nutt who chaired the ACMD before being dismissed of his voluntary duties after doing so. His graph clearly pointed out that Alcohol was much more harmful than cannabis and ecstasy, the later of which he famously and politically controversially made the statement that it was statistically more harmful to go horse-riding. Apparently the scientific evidence did not interest the Home secretary Alan Johnson.  Prof. Nutt has gone on to form the ISCD that has produced a second version of the chart. Not much difference. 

The 2012 version of the study carried out by the NHS again has a very straight answer concerning the results about this study. This is black and white.

Results There was no stepped categorical distinction in harm between the different legal and illegal substances. Heroin was viewed as the most harmful, and cannabis the least harmful of the substances studied. Alcohol was ranked as the fourth most harmful substance, with alcohol, nicotine and volatile solvents being viewed as more harmful than some class A drugs.

Alcohol a very legally available drug, considered by many now to be over advertised to youth and studies are backing this up also is being highlighted as health risk in relation to the title of the study, harm to self and to others. In Prof. David Nutt‘s appearance to give oral evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee reviewing the current Governments Drug Policy he argued the point that alcohol does increase domestic violence, and that is part of the nature of alcohol. In 2008 the Government released a paper detailing the extent of what they called “An alcohol Epidemic”, however it uses the excuse of tradition to keep it well out of arms reach of the MDA’71. At the same sitting, Nutt also said “maybe it was time the Government got their hand dirty and started regulating cannabis”, this is certainly what the Chillian Premier is considering.

Conclusions The harm rankings of 19 commonly used substances did not match the A, B, C classification under the Misuse of Drugs Act. The legality of a substance of misuse is not correlated with its perceived harm. These results could inform any legal review of drug misuse and help shape public health policy and practice.


Could they scream it any louder?

Cannabis is the least harmful drug out of 19 legally available over the counter drugs, prescription drugs, and recreational drugs. Cannabis is safer than the drug given to children at an alarmingly hight rate, Ritalin. It may or may not surprise some people that in America where they have Medical Marijuana laws in a growing number of states (now standing at 17+Washington DC) parents and child physicians are dropping the pharma pills for their children and replacing it with small doses of cannabis infused food called edibles. This is the same for ADD, ADHD, Asperhger Syndrome, Autism and then even on to illnesses like Epilepsy.  This should be listened to much more by the Home Office who are restricting this treatment from patients who are desperate for another option, the Home Office that licenses GW Pharmaceuticals to grow 300 tonnes a year, but more less that 1,500 patients can benefit from a watered down version of it in Sativex at 1000 x the price.

Out of two smoked drugs up there out nicotine and cannabis, the legally available and one wouldn’t get you arrested if you were caught walking around with it in your pocket by the police, it wouldn’t get you a criminal record and a set of fines, travel restrictions imposed, the stigma of having a criminal record and the loss of job and education prospects. Being caught with the least harmful one will though.

Alcohol costs the taxpayer £19 billion a year to enforce in courts and police time, public clean ups and repairs, and cost to the NHS which is around £7 billion alone according to the NHS Alcohol Statistics of 2011 paper.

Also to note, Mushrooms that were banned without any cause in a scandal rush in 2005 also ranked second least harmful in the table just above cannabis in the combined harm table. There are many drugs that were not included that do more harm than cannabis to individuals but in no way harm others such as over the counter pain killers and aspirins that cause a number of digestive and liver problems with prolonged use. Mixing alcohol with aspirins increases the rise of intestinal bleeding and bowel cancer, not that you get this kind of health warning for these two very available and  advertised drugs. Social acceptability has nothing to do with the actual harms.

This paper published in the British Medical Journal indicates without a shadow of a doubt that if there was to be a shift around in the classification system that currently sees cannabis sit at C and alcohol excluded, we would instead see something the reverse of this. What a Misuse of Drugs Act needs to have a distinction between use and misuse, or state what they mean by harms. Most people who consume cannabis do so without causing a problem to anyone else, most of those times a problem is caused though it is when they are stopped by the police or have their homes raided. This causes a problem for everyone else because they are paying £500 million a year for it out of their taxes. The NHS are quite clearly not having problems with cannabis as they are with other drugs as the three published tables indicate.

 Would Cannabis Social Clubs and the legal right to home grow not be a better solution than prohibition? Spain and other part of Europe are starting to think so. 
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  1. Reasonable article, some valid points. The graphs have no value whatsoever. Score based on what? If heroin is 2.7 compared to cannabis at 1.7 then given that cannabis is generally accepted as harmless then heroin would appear to be worth giving a try. The opinion is fine, the “science” is rubbish.

      • Post it again, it’s just a glitch with our Facebook, we don’t delete comments unless they are abusive or completely off topic.

          • I still don’t see it, email me your comment please, I’ll try to figure out why it’s not showing.

          • I *think* I may have cracked it now. (Was probably a formatting error, due to copying and pasting. I tried removing formatting, but that didn’t work, so I had to type it all out again…)

          • OK thank you for your input; I don’t personally agree with every word you wrote, but you have some valid points. Anyway, I’m glad we cleared this up, as certainly we would never delete such posts like yours, in fact we welcome debate and wish more people would come here and debate with us; especially those who don’t agree everything we have to say.

          • Well I’m glad you don’t agree with it *all*, of course! But yeah, no worries. And I’m sorry again that I was too quick to presume censorship; I’m very happy that’s not the way it works here 🙂

          • No, I think NORML UK would not be credible if we started censoring critical posts, which is why I’m glad I checked the site before going to bed and was able to answer your concern. It would appear, from your reply and clarifications, it seems we more or less agree with each other anyway.

          • Yes, definitely a good thing. I’ve only just discovered this site as it was redirected from Facebook. I’m pleased to have visited though. Thanks once more, and good night.

    • No posts have been deleted, I have checked in the back end, and can see no comments have been deleted.

      However, the comments on here do interact with our Facebook page, and we did delete the link on our Facebook page and post it again, as there was a mistake and it was not displaying properly, which meant some comments on Facebook might have disappeared, feel free to post again, we only remove abusive posts or spam.

  2. This post is misleading in what it omits from the original article. You might think from reading this (though there’s no indication either way) that the researchers studied biochemical effects of drugs on users to ascertain levels of harm to self, and so forth. But it’s not like that; it’s a glorified questionnaire: “Addiction specialists and psychiatrists working with substance misuse across Scotland were approached to complete the questionnaire, on the basis of their clinical experience and expertise. This was mainly by face-to-face interviews, with personal interviews being arranged via local regional addictions teams across the country” (p.2)

    Grading the nineteen substances on a 4-point scale, the results of professional opinion were then averaged, and that (simplified) is how we get those charts. Surely what’s notable about this is that the test area Scotland has particular social problems connected to heroin- and alcohol-use; significantly worse than other areas (that’s even noted by the researchers: “The levels of problematic drug misuse are double that of England, and alcohol dependency is a third higher than other parts of the UK. Drug- and alcohol-related deaths are among the highest in Europe and have doubled over the past 15 years.! (p.1)).

    So it’s representative of particular social problems, drugs of choice related to that area, and various other factors. Another thing to note is that health professionals deal less on a daily basis with cannabis-related issues (as with ecstasy), since those who use those drugs and encounter problems often don’t go to health services to address them. Accordingly, problematic use of these drugs will show up as proportionately insignificant on questionnaire-based research such as this.

    None of this is to say the the health-professionals concerned don’t know what they’re talking about, or even that the study’s findings aren’t useful or interesting. But these opinions should be set in a context that makes clear what their value actually is. Cannabis is a tricky drug to grade — so many users end up severely demotivated, depressed, and unable to stop using for years. I know several friends who are like this, though it’s very hard to gauge what are the causal factors involved. Another issue is THC content-levels: the ‘skunk’ that many people smoke is continuously cross-bred so that the active ingredient is stronger and stronger (others, meanwhile, get perpetually fobbed off with imitation material, which has its own dangers). Without attention to which strains of cannabis people use, it’s difficult to assess the drug’s impact.

    I stopped using cannabis because not only was it making me downbeat and lose ambition, it gave me mild paranoia and the early symptoms of psychosis. That’s not entirely uncommon either. Several of my friends have stopped for similar reasons; I even know a couple of people whose mental disorders were said to be triggered off by persistent cannabis use and their lives are now irrevocably changed. But much of this goes unrecorded, at least in part due to the way people using such a drug can become less communicative and more isolated.

    Beyond this, persistent use of ecstasy gave me a prolonged bout of depression that took a long while to set straight; there are ways of thinking that one naturally falls into by the continual use of such drugs, which really affects how you live your life. The point is not to say that these drugs are evil and should be banned–I’d actually be in favour of their legalisation–but all the same, the subtleties of their various (social or personal) effects cannot adequately be captured by research methods such as these. And what is worse is the way pro-legislation groups neglect to mention, as in this case, the actual research methods, since they considerably bear on the value of the data concerned.

    • The problem you mention about the “skunk” (a generic word from a Sensi Seed strain) with high THC levels comes not so much from high THC levels, but rather the fact weed is grown on the black market, therefore, growers anxious to not get caught and/ or make a tidy profit, tend to harvest cannabis too early. In the later stages of budding, a cannabis plant will have more CBD, an anti-psychotic, so these “skunks” you mention are pretty much a product of prohibition, it’s cannabis that has high THC and little CBD, because it’s not been grown properly and harvested too early.

      • Thanks for setting the facts straight. Yes, I’m aware that it’s a knock-on effect of keeping it illegal that accounts for these strains (which, incidentally, I find awful! They completely ‘flatten’ you, with few pleasant side-effects). And it’s a point in favour of legalising them — it really is. All the same, the point of me raising strength here is to point to the diversity in what’s on the market, which is what researchers have to pick up on if they’re doing questionnaire-led research. (The problem is not the same for those lucky enough to be allowed to legally grow and test proper materials.)

      • THC degrades to CBN and CBN is Psychoactive. CBD is another separate cannabanoid and is not Psychoactive. What has happened is modern day varieties (due to prohibition) have been selectively bred to have more THC than CBD. CBD was co dominant in the plant or at least at much higher levels than we have now. This is demonstrated by a lot of land race strains still available.

  3. UK government might want to take some notes from US government. Can’t wait for the day I see cannabis dispensaries open up in UK might take while to happen reckon it will tho, why it’s illegal i don’t know my region (southeast Kent) is covered in crystally citrus lemon haze, super silver haze & uk cheese lol my collective only stock these 3 strains it’s herbs wtf idk :p

  4. They ought to study the relative harm to self and others done by USERS and punish only those that do harm to others whatever they are on.

    The risk of harm should be the basis of drugs laws when applied to the SUPPLY of drugs and information required or provided.

    That in the name of consumer protection.

    If somebody harms another it should not matter whether they have taken a particular drug or none at all. After all, being drunk is no excuse and no defence in law – unless the consumption was unwilling anyway.

    ALL WELCOME to add this badge to your profile pic – easy steps

  5. Although interesting, this paper is meaningless in respect to the MDA’71 as personal or societal “harms” were not the reason some drugs were banned in the first place.
    The MDA’71, as with others, were to prevent a scourge of some substance taking a hold on the British people and Society at large ending up being an unproductive, drugged up, land of wasters, not able to provide for themselves or their families.
    Whether something was harmful to the individual or others, was not the reason for having something restricted. It was whether or not society at large would come to a grinding halt with people only interested in being high and wasting away.
    This is the reason alcohol and tobacco were not listed in the first place, and the reason why heroin/opium and cannabis was.
    It was not important, or required to be, that cannabis was harmless to the individual or to others from use or misuse. It was important to get a hold of something that could, if let to run riot, lead to the down fall of the British Society as a whole. By high and not work, not earn, not buy, not eat, not fight, not trade… just sit in the home and get high while the country ground to a halt.

    To alter the legality of cannabis in today’s society, people are making arguments of one sort or another. These “new” arguments over health, well being, harm, were not the point.

  6. I think that cannabis is fine it might harm you in the long run but compared to alcohol and the way people are when their drunk or doing ‘party drugs’ it’s pretty laid back we are just calm peaceful people !

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