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Wednesday, 29 March, 2000, 12:18 GMT 13:18 UK
Doctors stress illegal drug dangers

Ecstasy may cause health problems, warn doctors
An influential panel of doctors has warned that no illegal drug is safe - the day after a controversial report recommended a softer police approach.

A joint working party of the Royal College of Psychiatrists and the Royal College of Physicians concludes that cannabis increased the risk of certain cancers and that ecstasy could cause brain damage.



Anyone who suggests that current drug policies or legislation are inappropriate risks being branded either as hopelessly woolly-minded or as dangerously subversive

Dr Robert Kendell
However, despite these health risks, the working party acknowledged that the arguments for legalisation or decriminalisation of cannabis were strong.

"Cannabis is less obviously harmful to health than the legal substances tobacco and alcohol," they write.

The findings are published in a book, "Drugs, Dilemmas and Choices", which highlights the lack of research into the health effects of drug use.

Dr Robert Kendell, chairman of the working party and a former president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said that the lack of public debate on the issue was "surprising and worrying".

"Worse still, anyone who suggests that current drug policies or legislation are inappropriate risks being branded either as hopelessly woolly-minded or as dangerously subversive," he said.

Although people who smoke cannabis instead of cigarettes generally smoke a smaller quantity of cannabis, recent research suggested that just three cannabis "joints" a day were equivalent to smoking a pack of 20 cigarettes in terms of the risk of emphysema.

Possible benefits

Clinical trials have shown that that cannabis extracts may be beneficial in the treatment of some of the symptoms of MS, and even could be used against some brain tumours.

The health risks of Ecstasy are again not comprehensively researched, but the drug has been linked with depression, over-heating, and brain damage.

Methamphetamine, another drug connected to the UK club scene, may be responsible for long term brain cell damage.

On Tuesday, a report from the Police Foundation recommended a more lenient approach to drug use, particularly cannabis, LSD and Ecstasy.

It suggested ending the powers to arrest and imprison cannabis users, fixed penalty fines for soft drugs offences and classifying Ecstasy and LSD from class A to class B drugs.

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See also:

26 Mar 00 | UK Politics
'No downgrading' on drugs
28 Mar 00 | UK Politics
Drugs czar defends strategy
01 Mar 00 | Health
Cannabis 'helps MS sufferers'
21 Mar 00 | Medical notes
Cannabis: The debate
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