The Sunday Telegraph have been ringing Frank, the government’s drugs advice helpline, and report on what they’ve been told:
Advisers manning the “Frank” helpline are informing callers they believed to be children as young as 13 that alcohol is a “much more powerful drug than cannabis” and that using the illegal drug recreationally is not harmful because it “doesn’t get you that high”.
Callers are also being told that taking ecstasy will not lead to long-term damage and that if they are in doubt, to “just take half a pill and if you are handling that OK, you can take the other half.”
The government are said to be carrying out an immediate investigation.
They also have a handy “what is Frank?” sidebar, the transcripts of their conversations with the advisors, and an opinion piece by Professor McKeganey, professor of drug misuse research, University of Glasgow, and Dr Zerrin Atakan, consultant psychiatrist at the Institute of Psychiatry.
Professor McKeganey says:
The big question though is whether the pro drug tenor of the transcript is at all indicative of the wider Frank advice to young people. If that is the case we have a serious problem.
The U.K. has one of the highest levels of teenage cannabis use anywhere in Europe. What we need is clear information on the harms of cannabis use not this kind of misplaced, pro drug propaganda, targeted at young people and dressed up as advice and support.
Dr Atakan says:
Research evidence shows that the brain is not fully developed until we are about 18 – 20. Any drug use while the brain is still developing may lead to structural or functional changes as shown in some MRI studies. One Australian study has shown that heavy cannabis users show clear structural abnormalities of the brain. Another recent study has also shown that cannabis use before 18 can lead to abnormalities in areas of the brain that control memory, attention, decision-making and language skills.
The Daily Mail follow the story here.
The UK Cannabis Internet Activists have a different take on the advice:
What the adviser didn’t say was “just say no”, which is what the Telegraph is so upset about. This is the real world though, the adviser has a couple of minutes to engage with the callers and to hopefully leave a message which will make the caller think. What we have here is experienced advisers dealing with a real world situation, worse of having to do so against a backdrop of a policy built on lies and misinformation.