Message sent by Amanda Neidpath on November 15th
I am delighted to announce the successful launch of the Beckley Foundation’s Global Cannabis Commission Report. This comprehensive overview of the latest evidence on cannabis, the policies that control its use, and possible paths forward out of the present stalemate, was universally well received at its launch at a two–day Seminar at the House of Lords on October 2nd – 3rd. This newsletter provides some further information on the Report and seminar, together with an update on the latest developments in the Beckley Foundation’s Scientific Programme.
Launch of the Global Cannabis Commission Report at the House of Lords Seminar,
Seminar on ‘The United Nations Drug Policy Review: Assessing International Drug Control’ at the House of Lords
Submission of Evidence to the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs’ (ACMD) Review of the classification of MDMA
Cerebral Circulation, Cranial Compliance and the Aging Process
Cannabis Research Programme
Beckley in the media
The Global Cannabis Commission Report and Seminar
After more than 2 years of preparations, the Beckley Foundation’s Global Cannabis Commission Report was finally released to an international audience of academics, policy analysts and policymakers at a Seminar at the House of Lords on Thursday October 2nd. Written by a group of the world’s leading drug policy analysts, this Report comprises an authoritative guide to the effects and relative risks of cannabis, the effects of different policies adopted around the world to control its use, and recommendations for policy reform. The Report has been prepared in the context of the United Nations’ Strategic Drug Policy Review of 2009, and provides policy-makers at national and international level with all the relevant facts to help them develop a more rational and effective approach to the control of cannabis.
In reviewing the evidence, the authors come to some striking conclusions, many of which challenge the received wisdom concerning cannabis:
· There are harms associated with cannabis use, but these harms are “modest” compared with those of legal drugs such as alcohol or tobacco, or of illegal substances such as amphetamines and cocaine.
· With regard to mental health, cannabis almost certainly exacerbates symptoms of psychosis in vulnerable individuals, but epidemiologic evidence is yet to show that it causes psychosis in healthy people. More research is required to establish the facts on this.
· Many of the harms associated with cannabis use are the result of prohibition itself, particularly the social harms arising from arrest and imprisonment.
· There is no justification for imprisoning cannabis users.
· Policies that control cannabis, whether draconian or liberal, appear to have little impact on the prevalence of consumption.
· Alternative enforcement regimes which seek to address the social harms of prohibition by decriminalising the use of cannabis, do not lead to an increase in use or harms.
· In order to minimise the harms associated with cannabis governments should remove criminal penalties from its use and consider a system of regulated availability, in which market controls such as taxation, minimum age requirements for use and purchase, potency and content labelling, and a ban on advertising are available to help hold down levels of use and harm.
· To give governments the option of implementing these reforms, the status of cannabis within the International Drug Conventions needs to be reviewed, to allow countries greater autonomy in setting cannabis policies that better reflect their own individual circumstances. The Report lays out the best strategies for individual countries or groups of countries to renegotiate their obligations under the international conventions with regard to cannabis, by either denouncing these conventions and reacceding with a reservation on cannabis, or adopting a new convention on cannabis.
The Seminar provided an opportunity for the Report’s authors, Profs. Robin Room, Peter Reuter, Wayne Hall, Simon Lenton and Benedikt Fischer, to present their findings, and discuss their implications with the assembled experts. The morning session was chaired by Prof. Colin Blakemore, Former Chief Executive of the Medical Research Council, and the afternoon by Dr. Sandeep Chawla, head of Research and Policy Analysis at the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime.
Amongst those joining the Chatham House rules debate were Carel Edwards, Head of Anti-Drugs Policy Coordination at the European Commission, Rubem Cesar Fernandes from the Blue Ribbon Commission, and many other distinguished figures from the international arena. The Report was widely praised, with many positive comments on the breadth and depth of its analysis and the astuteness of its recommendations. The discussion that ensued highlighted how cannabis really is a class apart from other illegal drugs in terms of its relative harms, the prevalence of its consumption, and the ease of its production anywhere in the world. Indeed, as the most widely used drug, cannabis provides the foundation for the whole War on Drugs, a fact that was highlighted in a discussion of the vested interests and the institutional barriers that must be broken down if a more rational approach is to be brought to cannabis control.
These conclusions present a stark challenge to policymakers by highlighting how the current system of cannabis regulation is not meeting its stated objectives, and that there needs to be a serious rethink if we are to minimise the harms caused by cannabis use.
Following up the many interesting and productive leads generated by the Seminar, our focus now turns to:
· Finalising the Report ready for its publication as a book by the Beckley Foundation and Oxford University Press. The book is entitled: ‘Cannabis Policy: Moving Beyond Stalemate’ and should be available by spring 2009.
· Drafting a ‘model convention on cannabis’ that could be adopted by a group of countries wishing to reform their cannabis laws, and instructions for how an individual country could denounce the international conventions and reaccede with a reservation on cannabis.
· Preparing a summarized version of the Report, which, together with the Conclusions and Recommendations, will act as a readily accessible guide to the Report’s main findings.
· Engaging with governments and policymakers interested in pursuing reform, by using the Report as a guide to inform them of the latest scientific evidence, and help them develop more effective policies by providing an analysis of possible paths forward. This will be followed up through meetings in New York, Vienna and Latin America.
We look forward to bringing you updates on progress towards these objectives in future newsletters.
For more information on the Report, Conclusions and Recommendations, and how it was presented in the media, please visit our website:
Seminar Day 2 ‘The United Nations Drug Policy Review: Assessing International Drug Control’
The Seminar’s second day provided an opportunity to review the progress of a number of Civil Society projects looking to inform next year’s UNGASS review, and was attended by an impressive group of international drug policy experts. Besides the Global Cannabis Commission Report, presentations were made on the Vienna NGO Committee’s ‘Beyond 2008’ initiative, the International Drug Policy Consortium Programme, and the Latin American ‘Blue Ribbon’ Commission.
A common theme of all these reviews was the need to face up to the so called ‘unintended consequences’ of the prohibition regime i.e. the harms caused by the War on Drugs. These are most keenly felt in Latin America and other drug producing or transit countries where drug control has led to political instability and widespread violence and murder (7000 deaths since the beginning of last year in Mexico alone). The present global control regime cannot be said to have succeeded in meeting its targets of reducing drug use and availability, but has succeeded in presenting a blank cheque for organized crime with global drug markets worth 100s of billions of dollars, and the stigmatization and marginalization of drug users the world over.
The afternoon session comprised an open forum on how to make the most of the opportunities for reform provided by next year’s UN ten-yearly review of International Drug Policy. From this discussion, a consensus emerged on the need to:
· Shift the drug policy debate away from moralistic arguments to one that focuses on the harms caused by drug use and prohibition – drug use should be seen as a social and health issue rather than a criminal one.
· Focus on the violations of human rights inherent in the War on Drugs. Nowhere is this more prominent than in Latin America where this unwinnable war destabilises entire political systems and social networks by promoting corruption, violence, and kidnapping.
· Raise awareness amongst the general public of the limitations of the present system and the need for reform – the ‘Blue Ribbon’ commission provides an excellent paradigm for how politicians, academics and the media can work together to address the drugs issue in a way that best serves the public interest.
· Explore the potential to pursue reforms within the current international framework – extend the focus on harm minimization strategies and shift the emphasis away from arresting and prosecuting drug users.
With many of the Seminar’s participants involved in the UNGASS process, we hope that the network of supporters for a more rational, harm-minimisation approach was reinforced in the build up to 2009 review.
The Beckley Foundation is a UN-accredited NGO, and will be presenting the Cannabis Commission Report and its findings at next year’s meeting in Vienna. Between now and then, we will be preparing for this meeting by engaging with governments and interested parties in the build up to this review. Last week a summary of the Report was sent as a Beckley Foundation Drug Policy Briefing Paper to over 10,000 individuals and organisations involved in drug policy.
Submission of Evidence to the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs’ (ACMD) Review of the classification of MDMA
The Beckley Foundation was asked to provide a written submission to the ACMD’s review of the classification of MDMA (ecstasy). This submission focused on the harms of MDMA use relative to other drugs, as well as the therapeutic potential of MDMA when used as an adjunct to psychotherapy. It concluded that the relative risks of MDMA do not warrant its current Class A classification, and that more could be done to help MDMA users minimise the possible harms they experience through better public drug education programmes, and the implementation of onsite pill-testing programmes such as are found in Continental Europe.
Developments in the Science Programme
Since our last newsletter in the spring of this year, steady progress has been made across the board in the Scientific Programme.
However, as we reported then, we regret that as we are collaborating with leading institutions on research projects that have only recently been able to obtain full approvals, due to the fact that many of the studies focus on the changes in consciousness brought about by controlled substances, we are unable to provide many details of these projects for fear of jeopardising them through unwanted publicity. A review of some of the most recent developments that we can provide are as follows:
Cerebral Circulation, Cranial Compliance and the Aging Process – a collaboration between the Beckley Foundation and the Sechenov Institute, St Petersburg
List of Publications in Peer Reviewed Journals
Our research with Prof. Yuri Moskalenko continues apace, with Yuri recently staying at Beckley Park to continue working with Amanda Feilding on an overview of their collaborative research, soon to be published as a monograph.
The most recent paper provided further evidence of the importance of cranial compliance as a determining factor in cognitive functioning. Across 42 elderly participants, grouped according to the severity of dementia they displayed, their level of cognitive functioning was found to be closely correlated with their levels of cranial compliance elasticity (CCe) and cranial compliance compensation (CCc). The paper concludes that disorders of cognitive functioning depend in part on a decreased ability to accept an extra volume of blood with the pulse stroke. This in turn is associated with a loss of cerebrospinal fluid mobility and a build up of metabolic waste products, which can lead to increasingly toxic conditions within the brain and cerebral insufficiency. As our investigations continue we hope to shed further light on the exact role that cranial biomechanics and cerebrospinal fluid circulation play in determining cognitive functioning.
Given the importance of the new concept of cranial compliance to cognition, our research is also investigating techniques to boost the levels of this index. To this end, we have already made some initial investigations into cranial osteopathy with some promising findings, and are now researching the benefits of yogic breathing exercises.
In our last newsletter, we reported on the preliminary findings of our research into the effects of trepanation on the cranial system. These highlighted the potential of trepanation to restore cerebral blood flow to normal levels in those showing signs of some cerebral insufficiency. We are now looking to continue and expand this study by carrying out research with participants with low cranial compliance, and are looking for a suitable research hospital at which to base this investigation.
Cannabis Research Programme
· The most recent addition to our cannabis research programme is a large scale naturalistic study into cannabis and creativity. This will involve several hundred participants smoking their own cannabis, and testing the effects of that on the propensity to enhance creativity. In this study we will also be looking at the subjects’ genetic and personality types to test how these factors might influence the cannabis-creativity relationship. A second stage of the research will use neuroimaging to examine the neurological changes associated with creativity whilst under the influence of different ratios of THC and CBD.
This study should shed light on one of the reputed beneficial properties of the drug. We also aim to show that THC alone is not a satisfactory model of naturalistic cannabis use, and that other cannabinoids such as cannabidiol (CBD), which have been hitherto neglected, may have beneficial actions in synergy with THC.
By testing the putative connection between cannabis and creativity, this study fits into a wider Beckley research programme looking into the neural basis of creativity and the processes that contribute to this elusive quality, as well as how these processes might be enhanced through the use of psychoactives. Moreover, in helping to develop a clearer picture of the effects of cannabis and why so many people choose to use the drug, this study is well complemented by the other projects in our research programme, which include:
· An MRI study into the neurophysiological and neuropharmacological underpinnings of the effects of cannabis that users find beneficial. This study will also investigate why cannabis proves anxiolytic for some and anxiogenic in others. It is hoped that this research will help shed light on which individuals are likely to experience an adverse reaction to cannabis, and thereby help prevent the use of cannabis by those who individuals are more at risk of developing a psychotic reaction.
· Research into the psychological effects of THC and CBD, which will help us to understand why some forms of cannabis carry higher risk of triggering a negative reaction. In this study, we will also investigate the potential of CBD as an anxiolytic and anti-psychotic medication.
· Breaking news: our collaborative MRI study into the neurological effects of psilocybin has received full ethical approvals! We are now waiting on R & D approval before embarking on the first research into psychedelics in the UK in over 40 years, which should be underway by Christmas. This study will provide new insights on 1) how the changes in cerebral blood flow brought about by psilocybin are correlated with the substance’s subjective effects, 2) how psilocybin affects regional activation, and 3) the effect on affective responses to emotionally significant stimuli. In so doing, it will help inform the psychotherapeutic applications for this powerful substance.
· Our pioneering study into the effects of LSD on human subjects, the first to get approvals since prohibition ended all such research, is progressing well and we are in the process of developing new creativity measures, suitable for assessing the changes in cognitive functioning that might potentiate creativity. We will also be assessing changes in hemispheric activity and seeing how this might be influenced by LSD.
· Our collaborative investigation using fMRI into the effects of LSD on cerebral circulation is currently waiting to hear from the ethical approvals board.
· Dr. Peter Gasser’s study on LSD as a palliative treatment to ease pain and death-related anxiety among the terminally ill is underway and showing early promise.
Beckley in the Media
Having over the last few years avoided any media coverage out of concern that attention could have a negative effect on the process of setting up studies and gaining approvals, we have now decided to revise this strategy in order to help raise awareness amongst the public of the importance of the fields of research in which the Beckley operates, both science and policy. Indeed, over the last few months, there has been a fair amount of positive coverage, via newspapers, television and the radio. For more on this, please visit: http://www.beckleyfoundation.org/media/beckley_media.html.
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For more information on these and other projects the foundation is involved in, please visit our website: www.beckleyfoundation.org
Amanda, Lady Neidpath
The Beckley Foundation
Tel +44 1865351209
Tel +44 1865351019