Beware of the killer skunk…a return to reefer madness
By Johnny Marks
The fact that I am writing an article on the subject of marijuana using an alias signifies a salient fact: The ingestion of marijuana into the human body is an issue plagued by misinformation, misrepresentation and pseudo-science. At the epicentre of this hysterical debate about the relative harms of cannabis is the mysterious ‘skunk’. Read about ‘skunk marijuana’ in the press and you could be forgiven for believing that we’re talking about one of the most deadly substances on the planet.
When many of us discuss the issue of the legalisation of Cannabis we are confronted with legitimate concerns about stories expressed in the media: New super-strength varieties invalidate all research to date, they wreak havoc amongst our communities, and inflict a destructive trail of long-term psychological damage into the fabric of our society. Observe the mainstream media and you could be forgiven for overlooking the fact that the way in which marijuana is reported in the press, tends to be bullshit. This belief system is propagated by lazy journalism, fear, and the suppression of critical thought.
Let’s look at the numbers… Cannabis is a substance over 100 times less toxic than alcohol . According to Government statistics, nearly 7% of adults in England and Wales have used the drug in the last year. That’s 2.3 million people. 2.3 million people! Statistically, we can therefore estimate that around 29’000 Civil Servants (official representatives of Her Majesty’s Government) enjoy the odd toke. Furthermore, according to a Home Office Report, “To prevent one case of schizophrenia… 5,000 people would have to be prevented from ever smoking cannabis”
To many people’s disbelief, these figures do incorporate the societal impact of the infamous ‘skunk’. If the rumours are true this stuff hasn’t been round for long, and could be up to 30 times stronger than the old-school hash which your mum smoked in 1967. The reality is that ‘skunk’ by its genealogical definition (a cross between Afghan Indica, Mexican Sativa and Columbain Gold Sativa) has been around since the late 1970s. A product of the globalisation of pot, the sharing of biological knowledge across borders, and the experimental splicing of botanical genetics, there is no doubt that the ‘skunk’ marijuana plant is an immigrant…I mean, how many more reasons do you need to distrust the stuff?
To these ends I offer a different perspective. The demonization of ‘skunk’, a word which is void of any established scientific definition, is a biological modern-day witch hunt. As a result, the value of a plant observed to be medicinally prized both physically and psychologically to millions of people is diminished. Under the surface of these layers of deception is the reality that our relationship with marijuana both recreationally and medically, is in flux. Whether you’re a stoner or a scientist, there’s no doubt that these are exciting times, for our relationship with the marijuana plant is evolving and becoming extremely sophisticated.
We are utilising marijuana in an explosive array of applications and experimentations. The belief that high THC = dangerous skunk is simply bad science. Many self-respecting stoners now vapourise their herbs in order to protect their health. On the genetic front Breeders in North America and Canada have successfully produced cannabis completely void of THC and high in CBD, and the demand for medically-rich CBD oil has skyrocketed in the past five years. The Darknet: (a term used to describe the libertarian markets accessed through secret parts of the internet) provides the backdrop for this booming trade in illegal medicine.
Grannies are ordering marijuana cookies using online crypto-currency and sending them to the nursing home to share with their friends. Court Judges are purchasing expensive highly-engineered glass bongs to relieve the stresses of a day after a day at the bar. Teachers are smoking hash whilst marking your children’s homework. There’s a good chance your MP, irrespective of where you live in the country, has smoked weed at some point. Like it or not…I think we can safely conclude that prohibition hasn’t worked. We need to get real about this and demand change.
I will be the first to point out that the regulation of cannabis is by no means a priority issue in the context of wider global threats such as terrorism, climate change, and the development of AI. However I do believe that it is symbolic of an extremely pertinent aspect of political debate: the creation of progressive politics necessitates the application of evidence to inform policy. The issue of skunk, or any combination of its genetic relatives, is therefore an issue which represents the gulf between science, what we read in the press, and what we expect of our elected members. Cannabis is political.
Since the 2007 reclassification as a Class B substance under Brown’s Government, The UK has become increasingly socially hostile towards the recreational or medicinal ingestion of this natural substance. Over the same period of time America has become a beacon of hope on this issue, with 23 states now having legalised marijuana in some form. It’s clear that the United Kingdom is lagging behind. Do we want a political system predicated on emotion and pre-conception, or follow the approach being pioneered in Colorado and other states? Figures suggest that if we follow the latter approach, we could do away with the black market in one swift move, whist generating £1bn in Government tax revenue each year. It’s about time the Treasury woke up and smelled the skunk.
Lachenmeier, D.W & Rehm (2015) – Comparative risk assessment of alcohol, tobacco, cannabis and other illicit drugs using the margin of exposure approach, Scientific Reports, 5:8126
Cannabis Reclassification and Public Health, Advisory Council of the Misuse of Drugs, Home Office, 2008
6.6% of adults aged 16 to 59 using cannabis each year (Home Office Drug misuse National Statistics) from total civil service employment of 439,942 as of 31 March 2014