- 19 Nov 07
It’s impossible to estimate the impact of cannabis on the average user’s health when no-one knows exactly what they’re ingesting.
The most striking aspect of the current debate surrounding cannabis is how thoroughly it misses the point. Of all the column inches devoted to the drug in the Irish and British press, not a single centimetre has mentioned the greatest danger posed by cannabis, namely the almost total contamination of the cannabis market.
The surprising truth is that cannabis is almost certainly much more dangerous than the current scientific evidence suggests. We don’t yet know how dangerous cannabis actually is, partially because its street form has mutated so dramatically, but largely because no scientific research has yet been conducted into the effects of the versions of cannabis which proliferate in Ireland and the UK. Meanwhile, the current UK (and, hence, Irish) media fixation on the allegedly mind-melting impact of ‘skunk’ and ‘super-skunk’ on the nation’s youth has obscured the concerns being raised by some about what currently passes for cannabis in the UK (and, hence, Ireland).
The media and scientific community are utterly unaware of the realities of the cannabis market, and the official debate proceeds in a surreal logic vacuum. Low-end rags and middle-class fright-mongers alike might be forgiven for playing to their market and over-simplifying the facts, but the reportage of the latest British crime statistics shows that this logic deficient approach prevails even at the most reputable end of the media.
The latest British drug seizure statistics show that over 70% of cannabis seizures were of what was described as ‘traditional cannabis resin’. The remainder of the market consisted of herbal cannabis, both homegrown and imported. The liberal gatekeepers of The Guardian seemed satisfied, noting that the market in super potent ‘skunk’ had clearly been overestimated by those who were most vocal about the alleged mental health impacts of this new, super strength cannabis. The Guardian has remained largely aloof from the fashionable mental health stampede against cannabis, and was in self-congratulatory mood, reporting with relief the fact that imported cannabis resin was still dominant in the market.
In all of its reportage on the issue, the normally well-informed Guardian has accepted the nonsensical ground rules of the new narrative, which says that cannabis has gone from being a benign hippy drug to being a newly super-potent mind-bending life-wrecker. Straight-faced media reports have baldly stated that a single ‘skunk’ joint has led to suicide, while shocking tales abound of good kids gone bad after one puff of skunk. Skunk is simply a slang name for the female cannabis plant (the female produces the smokeable buds); almost all herbal cannabis is considered ‘skunk’. It isn’t a new monster; it’s the same old cannabis.
In the parallel reality that passes for the cannabis debate, resin is the ‘good’ cannabis, while ‘skunk’, which is 10 to 20 to 30 times more potent than ‘traditional cannabis resin’ (depending on which paper – or which page of the same paper you happen to be reading), is the ‘bad’ cannabis.
It is patently true that herbal cannabis is much more potent than ‘traditional’ cannabis. The reason for this is quite straightforward: herbal cannabis is cannabis, while ‘traditional’ cannabis doesn’t contain very much actual cannabis at all.
Typically, a 250 gram bar of cannabis resin will contain 25 grams of pure hashish (sometimes it will contain 5 grams of super-potent hasish instead, and this product is then usually sold to smokers as a special variety and given an sexy name like ‘007’). 250 grammes of cannabis resin will also contain approximately 200 grammes of dead plant material, some coffee for colouring, and potentially other active substances to add a little ‘buzz’, such as pharmaceutical products, glue or even ketamine. The product is then pressed into 250 gram ‘nine bars’, which are sold at street level for around e100 per 25 grammes, with the dealer paying around e600 per bar and pocketing the e400 profit on every nine bar.
This ‘traditional’ cannabis resin is known as soapbar hash because the 250 gram bars resemble giant bars of soap. It is hardly surprising if herbal cannabis is ten times more potent than resin, since resin contains only 10% hashish.
It is ironic that the current media and scientific focus is on herbal cannabis, while not a single study has been conducted into the health impacts of smoking the particular version of cannabis which has prevailed in the UK and Ireland over the last two decades. The issue is not even on their radar. hotpress recently spoke to a researcher at a leading Irish university who confirmed that the captains of academia are not even aware that the version of cannabis currently being consumed is not the same as the versions of cannabis described in the scientific literature. No studies into the health impacts of soapbar cannabis are in the pipeline, despite the fact that the vast majority of the Irish cannabis market is comprised of soapbar cannabis, and has been for a generation.
Once upon a time, discerning cannabis smokers could turn to herbal cannabis as a transparently clean, albeit expensive, alternative to the polluted hash on offer. Unfortunately, the depressing truth is that commercial herbal cannabis continues to be as thoroughly polluted as it was at the turn of the year, when glass-based contamination of herbal cannabis was brought to light. It is now clear that contamination of herbal cannabis will continue to be a fact of Irish drug life into the future.
There is some good news to report. As awareness of the glass contamination spread among smokers, some were inclined to exercise caution, and to demand a better quality product. This consumer power was probably exercised by the fact that weed retails for three to four times the price of soapbar hash at e300-e400 per ounce (depending on quality, scarcity and geography); at these rates, weed smokers had ample financial reason to demand better quality product. Though glass contaminated grass is still available in Ireland, it has largely been replaced by equally contaminated product which, though polluted, passes the ‘grit test’, which tokers used to weed out the glass grass.
hotpress is currently conducting a thorough investigation into the issue of cannabis contamination, and we will report in full in the near future. For now, all we can definitively say is that the vast majority of the cannabis in Ireland contains substances other than cannabis, which pose unknown health risks to users. Even uncontaminated cannabis can pose unknown health risks, since it is likely to be intensively grown and pumped with plant steroids, which remain in the plant and may affect the end user.
The only cannabis users with any claim to relatively safe intoxication are those who have grown or procured organic herbal cannabis. Incidentally, it is this unimaginably small percentage of the cannabis smoking community who are the only people to whom any of the existing scientific canon can be applied.
Scientifically speaking, we know a lot about cannabis. But science has nothing yet to tell us about the current street versions of cannabis. Until we try to find out, debate on the cannabis issue seems pointless. After all, how can we have an argument if we don’t know anything about the object of the argument?b