EURAD/San Patrignano side-event on cannabis @ CND 2013

On Tuesday 12 March San Patrignano, Eurad, WFAD and ECAD hosted a very well attended side event on cannabis related harm.Speakers were professor Robin Murray (UK), professor Daniela Parolaro (IT) and professor Kevin Sabet (US). The panel was moderated by Elisa Rubini (San Patrignano).

Professor Murray pointed out that studies indicate a doubling of risk of psychosis in frequent users. He also said that 15% of schizophrenia cases in the UK are cannabis related. The increasing potency of cannabis (skunk) was a particular cause for concern. When asked why the increase in cannabis use does not show up in population level schizophrenia prevalence, professor Murray argued that data on schizophrenia in most countries are unreliable, that other risk factors have been reduced in the last couple of decades, and that indeed where there are reliable data, prevalence rates have gone up, although this cannot be attributed solely to cannabis.

 

Professor Parolaro focused particularly on adolescence as a vulnerable period for THC exposure. This is a period when brain maturation takes place, and the body’s own endocannabinoid system plays an important role in this proscess. She argued that the intake of exogenous THC potentially disturbs these processes and affects brain function and behaviour later.

 

Professor Sabet pointed out that the likely result of regulation would be an increase in drug use, particularly among young people. The risk of addiction to cannabis for adolescents is similar to that of alcohol. Sabet was particularly concerned about the commercialisation of cannabis that is already evident in connection with medical marijuana. He drew comparisons to the tobacco industry and argued that there is a real risk of a cannabis industry in the US that will spin out of control. Sabet argued that decision makers often are faced with a false dichotomy between legalisation and incarceration. A recent initiative – project SAM (Smart Approaches to Marijuana) - aims to carve out a third way forward that protects public health while also reducing the negative effects of control policies.