Drug Education News

News and views from the Drug Education Forum

Two views on ecstasy classification

First Kathy Gyngell on the CPS blog:

Let us be quite clear what the  ACMD’s ‘ask’ of the Home Secretary was… It was to promote a government sanctioned ‘never say no’ culture with respect to our youth.  It was no less than an attempt to seduce or even bully her into a process of liberalisation creep.  And it was all on the basis of a single ‘scientifically’ referenced value judgment (however rigorously researched) that there is ‘very little evidence of ecstasy’s damage to society, compared with those caused by alcohol use or hard drugs such as heroin’.  Fortunately she was not so politically naïve as to fall for it.

For a different view, an editorial from The Lancet:

Ignoring scientific advice about illegal drugs in favour of politically and morally motivated judgments will not send the right signal to young people. It will only undermine public health messages about all drugs, be it MDMA or more harmful legal substances such as tobacco and alcohol.


Filed under: ACMD,

The impact of positive and negative ecstasy-related information on ecstasy use among college students: Results of a longitudinal study

I’m grateful to Ben for sending me the link to an abstract of some American research looking at the impact of messages around ecstasy on college age students.

The study found:

Individuals who had heard a greater number of negative messages were significantly more likely to use ecstasy, even controlling for positive messages, prior ecstasy use, peer ecstasy use, perceived harm, sensation-seeking, sex and race.

Something, perhaps, for the ACMD to consider as part of any recommendations they might make as a result of their consideration of that drug.

Filed under: ACMD, scare tactics

Ecstasy Review

The ACMD’s review of ecstasy gets a lot of media coverage so I thought I’d look at what we know about young people’s understanding and use of the drug.

The last annual survey of 11 to 15 year old young people suggested that 75% were aware of the drug.  They said:

There has also been a steady decline in the proportion of pupils who had been offered ecstasy, from 10% in 2001 to 7% in 2007.

It also showed the proportion of young people taking the drug; 1.3% of pupils in the age range said they had taken in the last year, with slight variances between boys and girls (see chart).  As with many other drugs the proportions rise with age so while 0.2% of 11 year olds said they had tried the drug in the last year this rose to 2.9% of 15 year olds.

The BBC have the figures for adults, inlcuding young adults:

The latest official figures show an estimated 567,000 people aged between 16-59 used ecstasy in 2006/07, and 272,000 of those were aged between 16-24.

As the Chief Medical Officer, Sir Liam Donaldson, pointed out earlier this year, small percentages still mean quiet large numbers of young people (if my maths is right about 42,000 pupils). 

Sir Liam said:

The percentage who have ever taken any drugs has decreased slightly in the last 10 years, but the percentage taking Class A drugs has stayed constant. Substance misuse in young people has been linked to suicide, depression, conduct disorders, educational problems and long-term mental health effects.

See also:  the Daily Star, BBC, Independent (x2), Daily Mail, Metro, Mirror, Guardian, and Times (x2).

Filed under: ACMD

Pathways to Problems Event

I was one of the speakers at yesterday’s Pathways to Problems event and I thought I should share my slides.

I’d been asked to reflect on what we understand by effective drug education, and to highlight some of the evidence that seems to have emerged since Pathways to Problems was published.

The essence of the argument that I tried to make was that often when discussion about drug education takes place it happens in a context where there’s an expectation that it alone should be expected to change the behaviour of the children and young people that receive it, and that it works in the same way as inoculation works; ie that a dose should have a long term effect on behaviour. I argued that this wasn’t based on what the evidence would bare and that we need to develop a narrative which recognises the role of education in a broader strategy, which working together should be expected to move us towards our desired goals.

I pointed out that public discussion about drug education often saw it as something delivered by schools, when in reality children and young people have a far more diverse range of information and education to draw on. And that when talking about drug education we need to be clear that our definition includes legal and controlled drugs as well as illegal ones, as it is the legal drugs that children and young people have much more contact with.

I drew on the findings from Ofsted to talk about what children and young people say they want from drug education, pointing out this had been reflected in other’s (and my own) work with young people.

I then took a brief look at two programmes – ones that will be familiar to readers of this blog – that seem to have had positive results at least during the periods during which they were being carried out.

I finished by highlighting some caveats about what I’d said.

In questions I was asked about the number of ex-users delivering drug education – to which I said I didn’t know the numbers. I did say that it seemed to me to be less about whether a person was an ex-user and more about what they said and the messages they gave to the recipients, but perhaps should have also pointed to the need for quality standards for those commissioning external providers (ex-users or not).

I was also pulled up for not mentioning the role of the police and others in “sending a message” about drugs through their enforcement actions.

Filed under: ACMD, Conferences

ACMD Pathways to Problems Conference – Monday June 2nd 2008

I’ve been asked to let you know about this conference – at which I’ll be speaking amongst a range of much better known speakers:

The original Pathways to Problems report, published in 2006 made recommendations to reduce the hazardous use of tobacco, alcohol and other drugs by young people in the UK

The Pathways to Problems Conference on Monday 2nd June 2008 will be looking at the implementation of the 24 recommendations from the report by Government Departments and other national and local organisations; assessing the impact of those recommendations. It will also provide delegates with an opportunity to share good practice and develop networking opportunities.

This free event is being held at the Church House Conference Centre, Dean’s Yard, Westminster, London SW1P 3NZ.

The programme can be downloaded here. Places are available on a first come first serve basis by prior registration.

You can apply by e-mail to Mark Keegan in the ACMD Secretariat at Mark.Keegan@homeoffice.gsi.gov.uk or telephone on 020 7035 4568.

Filed under: ACMD, Conferences, ,

Reclassification Reaction

Frankly it’s been a bit daunting trying to get a grip of all the reaction out there, but with no promises about chronology here’s what I’ve seen:

Bolton MP slams ‘pointless’ cannabis decision – The Bolton News carries Brian Iddon’s views, which include the need for better drug education.

Are voters getting drugs message? -The BBC’s home editor wonders who “the message” of reclassification is aimed at.

Split opinion on cannabis debate
– The BBC have two members of the public with different views.

Cannabis laws to be strengthened – The BBC report the government’s decision and what it means.

Q&A: Cannabis guidelines – The BBC look at how the police will enforce the new classification.

Home Secretary calls for squeeze on cannabis
– Children and Young People Now say the Home Secretary has asked the police to “crack down” on cannabis use.

No Need to Reclassify Cannabis – The Daily Star report the ACMD’s views.

Smith Snubs Experts Over Cannabis
– The Daily Star then says the government are going to reclassify despite the ACMD’s view.

Reefer madness: Do the drug laws work? – ask The Independent.

Smith tightens laws on cannabis – The Independent report.

Labour defies experts in cannabis crackdown – is how the Daily Mail sees it.

Ministers face row over cannabis regrading – in the Metro.

Skunk cannabis is three times stronger than ten years ago
– is the Mirror’s headline.

Government to rule on cannabis and Cannabis classification to be tightened – are the stories for Reuters.

Government set to defy its own experts and upgrade cannabis again; Smith upgrades cannabis to class B; Main Aim ‘must be to reduce demand’; and Scientists warn Smith over cannabis reclassification – were the four stories I saw in the Guardian.

The Telegraph had three stories that I saw: Cannabis reclassification Q&A, Cannabis to be upgraded to class B drug, and Cannabis U-turn Q&A they also have a video of the Home Secretary’s statement to Parliament.

The Times in their Rise of the ‘spliff society’ suggest it’s unlikely to make a difference to how young people view the drug. Elsewhere they report Cannabis goes back to Class B despite drug experts’ verdict.

The Express see it as Cannabis: Labour’s Latest U-Turn.

Away from the mainstream media there were three blog pieces that you may find useful.

Sara McGrail says Alas Smith and Brown, Transform stick their tongue firmly in their cheek saying Millions quit cannabis following reclassification, and Helen Sello questions whether messages about risk are best dealt with by the criminal justice system.

Filed under: ACMD, cannabis, classification, Government

Cannabis Returns to Class B

As you’ll no doubt have seen the ACMD report, Cannabis: Classification and Public Health, and the government’s announcement that cannabis is to be reclassified has been the subject of a lot of media reporting.

If I have time today I’ll try and capture all of that, but before I do that I thought it would be useful to look at what the ACMD say and how the Home Secretary and Parliament responded. Obviously I’ll focus on what they say about young people.


They recognise that young people are the predominant users of the drug, and that the British Crime Survey (BCS) is likely to underestimate the overall use of cannabis (because it doesn’t survey those under 16). However, they say that there appears to have been a decline in use by around 20% to 25% over the past 5 years and point out this is replicated in both the BCS and the national survey carried out in English secondary schools.

In terms of physical health harms they say:

Smoking cannabis is associated with longer-term damage to the respiratory tract and the lungs, with an increased risk of chronic bronchitis. There is also a potential long-term risk of lung cancer. Severe cases of lung damage (bullae formation) have been reported in young heavy cannabis users. The extent to which these longer-term effects are causally related to cannabis use is uncertain: such changes also occur in people who use tobacco over long periods of time. [page 10]

On mental health issues they say:

As discussed in our previous reports, there is clear evidence that the use of cannabis may worsen the symptoms of schizophrenia and lead to relapse. The high prevalence of cannabis use, as well as the use of other controlled substances among those with schizophrenia or psychotic disorder, is not well understood. Nevertheless, there are clear and obvious harms associated with the use of cannabis by people with psychotic disorders, and recent studies confirm this. The Council’s clinical experts report, anecdotally, that dealing with cannabis use (including dependence) is now a major element in the clinical management of many young men with established psychotic illnesses. [page 16]

It is evident that the majority of young cannabis users do not develop psychotic illnesses. Those who do so must have one or more predisposing factors. [page 20]

Later they say:

On balance, the Council considers that the evidence points to a probable, but weak, causal link between psychotic illness and cannabis use. Whether such a causal link will become stronger with the wider use of higher potency cannabis products remains uncertain.

Only a minority of young people who use cannabis will develop a psychotic illness. Hickman and colleagues estimate that around 5,000 young men, or 20,000 young women, would need to be prevented from using cannabis to avoid one person developing schizophrenia. [page 31]

They do, however, warn against “binge” smoking.

Looking at criminal and anti-social behaviour associated with the drug the council say:

A study among 11 to 19-year-old cannabis users showed that cannabis transactions among young people were social rather than commercial; and that they were not overtly linked to criminal markets.

Buying with friends – “chipping in” – was the most common way of purchasing cannabis because it allowed young people access even when they had only small amounts of money. Most purchases were from friends, friends of friends, or family members. Only 6% had bought cannabis from an “unknown seller”. [page 22]

They say that the median expenditure on cannabis amongst those surveyed was £20 a week, with most of the money coming from pocket money or part-time jobs.

Looking at why young people use the drug they cite a survey of 100 young people which found:

that the use of cannabis enabled them to relax, relieve boredom and enhance otherwise mundane, everyday activities. Nevertheless, young people also identified negative personal and social impacts, including lower academic attainment, poorer relationships with their parents and the possibility of getting a criminal record. Less than half the respondents stated that they had engaged in any activity they would regard as anti-social after smoking cannabis, and few suggested there was a causal link. [page 22]

In their section on the cultivation of cannabis the ACMD say that criminal groups involved in the domestic production of the drug include child labour.

Looking at what they think should happen they say:

There is consistent evidence, from different sources (Section 3), that the use of cannabis appears to have diminished by around 20% to 25% over the past five years. Nevertheless, use is still widespread, particularly among young people. Cannabis use is of particular concern to the Council because of the risks of precipitating relapse in those with schizophrenia (Section 7) and of enduring psychotic illnesses (Section 8). Vigorous steps should therefore be taken to minimise the supply of cannabis in the vicinity of psychiatric institutions and prisons, as well as educational establishments and extra-curricular and non-school facilities provided for young people,such as youth clubs. [page 30]

Turning to public perceptions they say:

Those seeking reclassification did so largely because they believed it would send out a signal to young people about the dangers associated with its use. Few, if any, however, wished to see the penalties for possession to be increased. Only 24% of the sample polled wished the penalties for possession to be increased while 67% sought for the penalties for possession to be either unchanged or abolished. [page 33]

In their conclusions and recommendations they say:

The Council hopes that the government, parliament and the public appreciate that the use of cannabis is, ultimately, a public health problem; and that it requires a public health response if current use and the associated harms are to be substantially reduced. Although the criminal justice and classification systems have a role to play – especially in reducing supply – the major emphasis must be directed at ways that drastically reduce demand (i.e. primary prevention), especially in the young; and to provide help for those who are dependent on cannabis (i.e. secondary prevention).

Recommendation 1: In the face of the widespread use of cannabis, a concerted public health response is needed to drastically reduce its use.

Recommendation 2: Special emphasis should be placed on developing effective primary prevention programmes, directed at young people.

They then say more about primary prevention:

The government should be congratulated on its FRANK campaign. Nevertheless, the Council recommends that a more generously resourced campaign to alert young people to the dangers of cannabis should be developed.

The recommendation is to develop a well-resourced campaign alerting young people to the dangers of cannabis.

They go on to say:

In addition, schools (including the independent sector) and local authority youth services should be required to develop and publish their policies relating to substance misuse. This should include the nature and extent of the teaching given to children (as advised by the Department for Children, Schools and Families), as well as the actions taken when pupils are found possessing or dealing illegal substances. The higher education sector should also (in view of the extensive use of cannabis by undergraduate students) be requested to develop and publish policies in relation to the actions taken where students or staff are found in possession of illegal drugs, including cannabis, both for personal use and for supply.

They also make a recommendation around research:

The scale and public health significance of current preparations of cannabis use in the UK require further research if the harmful consequences for future generations of young people are to be substantially diminished. This should include considerations of effects on families. Qualitative research on the impact of cannabis farms on local people should be undertaken.

Recommendation 14: The scale and public health significance of cannabis use in the UK require further research.

Efforts should be made to improve cannabis use data collected from children and the general population. We understand that the Home Office is considering the feasibility of including under-16s within the British Crime Survey (or a separate similar survey). We would welcome this approach and encourage the collection of drug-related data.

Recommendation 15: The Home Office should extend the British Crime Survey to the under-16s and the survey should include drug use.

They identify a need for research into those young people who might be at particular risk of developing enduring psychoses, which they think could inform an effective public health campaign; as could research they would like to see commissioned on collecting data on the incidence and prevalence of schizophrenia.

The Government

Their press release says:

Taking effect from early 2009, the reclassification will mean:

  • more robust enforcement against cannabis supply and possession, and those repeatedly caught with the drug will not just receive cannabis warnings
  • a new strategic and targeted approach to tackling cannabis farms and the organised criminals behind them
  • introducing additional aggravating sentencing factors for those caught supplying cannabis and other illegal substances near further and higher educational establishments, mental health institutions and prisons
  • working with the Association of Chief Police Officers to look at how existing legislation and powers can be used to curtail the sale and promotion of cannabis paraphernalia updating and
  • refreshing our public information messages on the harm caused by cannabis.

The Home Secretary is quoted saying:

‘Cannabis is and always has been illegal. It now dominates the illegal drugs market in the UK and is stronger than ever before.

‘There is accumulating evidence, reflected in the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs report, showing that the use of stronger cannabis may increase the harm to mental health. Some young people may be ‘binge smoking’ to achieve maximum possible intoxication which may be very serious to their mental health.

‘I make no apology for erring on the side of caution and upgrading its classification. There is a
compelling case to act now rather than risk the health of future generations.

The Health Secretary says:

‘The message has always been that cannabis is a harmful and illegal drug and should not be used. We are determined to ensure that young people in particular are well aware of all the risks. Our multi-media ‘FRANK’ campaign will ensure that this is the case.’

And the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families says:

‘Cannabis use by young people has been falling over recent years but remains a persistent problem. The reclassification sends the right message to young people about the risks from cannabis use – this is especially important given its increased strength and the heightened
risk to young people.

‘We also know parents are concerned about the recent trend towards the use of stronger strains of cannabis by young people and the potential for significant mental health problems that would severely impact on a young person’s future.’

Filed under: ACMD, cannabis, classification,

The only message being sent is of cowardice and stupidity

Simon Jenkins writing in the The Guardian about cannabis classification says:

Even if the fall in consumption is not due to the 2004 reclassification, there is no evidence that reclassification increased harm. The fall was probably due to more education about the dangers of abuse, as occurs with bad news stories about ecstasy and LSD. Consumption by the young appears to respond to education rather than punishment.

Message laws are a classic Westminster fantasy. Three home secretaries have sought easy headlines by “demanding” a review of classification, wrongly implying thereby that class C was a non-criminal category. The advisory council has commendably stuck to its guns and to science, forcing Downing Street into a public display of stupidity.

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Filed under: ACMD, cannabis, classification,

Cannabis in the News (2)

More coverage of the decision facing the government on the classification of cannabis:

And as with yesterday’s coverage there’s also “Cannabis causes impotency, doctors warn”, this time in the Telegraph.

Filed under: ACMD, cannabis, classification,

Cannabis in the News

Classification makes the news in a number of papers, they all are agreed that the government are going to reclassify cannabis, and that the ACMD don’t share that assessment:

Elsewhere the Daily Mail go with Cannabis ‘is making teenagers impotent’, say doctors.

Filed under: ACMD, cannabis, classification, ,

About this blog

This blog tries to pick up relevant media and research stories about drug education. It mainly focuses on information in England as this is the geographical remit for the Drug Education Forum. We welcome comments that are on topic.

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