NZ Herald Column Kyle MacDonald

What we’re forgetting about cannabis

This is my column this week in the New Zealand Herald, which is published in the digital edition every Thursday…

With so much talk around medical cannabis, legalisation and how “safe” it is as a recreational drug, it is important to remember that, for many, the drug can wreak havoc on their lives.

One such person who can attest to the impact is Dave Chant, who was our guest last weekend on the Nutters Club.

Cannabis addiction was a problem for Chant for most of his adult life. Like many, it’s a tale of gradually slipping from social use to increased daily use to needing to be stoned every minute he was awake.

Many people will, of course, try to tell you that cannabis isn’t addictive. Some people make the distinction between physical and psychological addiction, where drugs like nicotine, alcohol and methamphetamine (or “P”) are physically addictive, and cannabis isn’t.

This is a false and incredibly unhelpful distinction. As is the idea that cannabis is a “safe” drug.

Like any process that causes pleasure or relieves pain, cannabis can be addictive. If people have a lot of pain or anxiety they’re trying to escape, it can seem like a solution for a while but if it becomes your only way of coping with tension and discomfort, that’s a problem.

It is true it’s less potentially addictive than other drugs such as alcohol or methamphetamine. However, less harmful is not the same as safe. It’s self-evident that the only truly safe drug use is no drug use.

Part of the complication with cannabis of course is it’s made up of many different compounds: THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) is the one most people have heard of because that’s the one that gets you “stoned”. But there are over 140 different cannabinoids in cannabis.

One of the other interesting ones, from a research point of view, is CBD (or cannabidiol). This is the compound that seems to be able to alleviate seizures and other health complaints – including for some anxiety and even psychosis – and doesn’t cause you to feel stoned.

Interestingly, it also seems that CBD seems to mitigate some of the negative effects of THC, almost like they were meant to be taken together.

It’s really more accurate to say that people like Chant are addicted to THC, and this is where prohibition plays a role. During the prohibition of alcohol in the US in the early 20th century, no one smuggled or illegally manufactured beer. The smartest thing to do was to make very high percentage spirits – more bang for your buck as it were.

We know the same thing has happened over time with cannabis. Growers and producers have come to favour high THC plants – – often at the cost of CBD content. Again, more bang for your buck.

And it’s THC that causes all of the problems we see with cannabis: the mental health effects, the paranoia and anxiety. Strong hydroponic THC laden cannabis is the problem.

This is why, despite having heard so many stories, I remain so strongly in favour of regulated legalization. Because only via regulated market can we control the supply chain, and in doing so manage the THC content – and safety – of what people will choose to consume – regardless of the legal status of the plant.

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