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Thursday, February 19, 1998 Published at 15:26 GMT


Cannabis 'safer than alcohol and tobacco'
image: [ New Scientist says many 'myths' about cannabis have been rubbished by scientists ]
New Scientist says many 'myths' about cannabis have been rubbished by scientists

The World Health Organisation suppressed a report which said cannabis was safer than alcohol or tobacco, it has been claimed.

Lynn Matthews looks at the background to the WHO report (1' 52')
A WHO report on cannabis, its first in 15 years, was published in December but New Scientist magazine said comparisons between cannabis and legal substances were dropped because it was feared they would give ammunition to the "legalise marijuana" campaign.

"It is understood that advisers from the US National Institute on Drug Abuse and the UN International Drug Control Programme warned the WHO that it would play into the hands of groups campaigning to legalise marijuana," the New Scientist said.

Maristela Monteiro a scientist with the WHO explains its position (2' 02')
Dr Maristela Monteiro, a scientist with the WHO programme on substance abuse, confirmed the analysis was dropped from the report but denied they had been pressured into it.

She said: "It was not a fair comparison from our point of view and from a public health perspective it was not very useful. We thought it was biased towards showing less harm from cannabis."

New Scientist claimed the analysis showed marijuana was less of a threat to public health than alcohol or cigarettes.

[ image: Dr Roger Pertwee: 'Very little evidence of long term harm']
Dr Roger Pertwee: 'Very little evidence of long term harm'
It said researchers had found marijuana smoke did not lead to blocked airways or emphysema or impact on lung function and the drug was less addictive than alcohol or cigarettes.

Dr Roger Pertwee, of Aberdeen University, says: "There is very little evidence that cannabis is harmful in the long term."

He says: "The problem with this area is there is an awful lot of prejudice both for and against cannabis and people feel so strongly about this they are often prepared to manipulate the facts or be selective about what facts to use."

A survey conducted by the University of Amsterdam found there was no immediate increase in the use of marijuana in the Netherlands after it was decriminalised in 1976.

The number of hard drug addicts in Holland has not increased in a decade. the magazine said.

Dutch scientists also exposed several "myths" about cannabis and found:

  • No evidence that it led to a decline in mental health
  • Nothing to suggest it was addictive. In fact 90% of those who had tried the drug had since quit
  • Even heavy smoking of cannabis does not impair the function or capacity of the lungs

[ image: Robin Lefever..runs Promis Recovery Centre]
Robin Lefever..runs Promis Recovery Centre
But Robin Lefever, who runs a marijuana rehabilitation centre, claims he was addicted to the drug and said it affected him badly.

He says: "I was extremely depressed and very unhappy and my life was completely unmanageable. I became virtually suicidally depressed."

Scientists admit cannabis affects short term memory and mental dexterity and can trigger psychological disorders, such as schizophrenia.

A House of Lords committee is currently investigating the legal and medical ramifications of cannabis use and abuse but those campaigning for its legalisation face an uphill struggle.

Home Secretary Jack Straw, whose own son William was cautioned last year for peddling the drug in a London pub, is opposed to the legalisation of cannabis even for medical purposes.


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