Saturday, May 25, 2024

Why Do The British Insist On Confusing Cannabis With Tobacco?

Tobacco is much more problematic than cannabis. So why are the Brits talking like they’re the same substance?  

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article solely belong to the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Fresh Toast. 

When I became the National Director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) back in the early 90s I felt that it was my duty to go to the High Times Cannabis Cup, which was held annually in Amsterdam during the American Thanksgiving week. Work, work work.  

As part of my research I found out — the hard way — that Europeans almost always smoked a cannabis “joint” with tobacco. Until the late 1980s most of the cannabis in the Netherlands, and in the rest of Europe, was smuggled hashish, which can be really harsh to smoke, and since almost everyone smoked tobacco in those dark days, it was only natural to break up the hash and mix it with tobacco, often from a cigarette.  

SEE: What Americans Can Learn From A British Study On Hashish Potency 

I grew up in a cloud of cigarette smoke, but unusual for my generation, I had never smoked tobacco, so taking a deep drag on a Dutch joint left me a little wobbly until I learned to ask. Fortunately, a few years experience with American cannabis enthusiasts (Stoners) taught our Dutch hosts to warn us if it was not “Pure” or “American”. 

In the meantime, thanks in part to American exiles, the Dutch were starting to grow “Nederwiet”, Dutch grown weed that could be more easily smoked without tobacco, but Europeans still liked to mix Wiet with tobacco. However, the Dutch government joined the international effort to discourage tobacco use. In the coffeeshops and other venues where cannabis smoking is “tolerated” smokers can no longer mix it with tobacco, so they provide other herbs with no psychoactive effects. No thanks. I am still “pure.”  

Meanwhile, The Guardian, Britain’s best left-of-center newspaper, (The Telegraph is the best right of center paper) ran an article on December 19 titled: Cannabis users ‘fail to grasp health risks of smoking,’ study says.

Reefer Madness from a paper that is usually anti-prohibitionist??  

Then really weird: “Study shows that consumers of the drug are not aware they could be risking a lifetime of tobacco addiction.” 

 Huh?? Then I remembered my wobbly knees in Amsterdam.  

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The article explains, “Hundreds of thousands of people who smoke cannabis describe themselves as non-smokers, a study has revealed. Experts fear the findings mean cannabis users may not appreciate that smoking the drug carries many of the same health risks as smoking tobacco.”  

No. That is not what their study says. It “estimates that 380,000 people who describe themselves as non-smokers are smoking cannabis with or without tobacco at least weekly.”   

If people say that they “don’t drink” would you assume that they never drink water or juice? Of course not. If you just ask people if they “smoke” almost everyone would assume that you were referring to tobacco, especially in a country that is still as prohibitionist as Britain.  

Notice that the Wikipedia article on the subject is Smoking in the United Kingdom. (Also see my article, British National Health Bureaucrats Refuse To Pay For CBD For Children With Severe Epilepsy.) 

“It is extremely concerning,” said Hannah Walsh of King’s College London, one of the study’s authors. “It is possible that they do not realise they are putting their health at risk. It’s also a concern that people may be unwittingly establishing a tobacco addiction, with cannabis acting as their route into a lifetime of smoking tobacco.” 

What Americans Can Learn From A British Study On Hashish Potency
Photo by Elsa Olofsson via Unsplash

“The study discusses recent research suggesting that UK-based recreational cannabis users who mix the drug with tobacco will use about 0.35g of tobacco per joint, equivalent to one third of the content of a cigarette.” 

“This exposes participants to cotinine (the main metabolite of nicotine found in the bloodstream) levels suggestive of moderate tobacco exposure, equivalent to that found in light/moderate cigarette smokers,” the study notes. It also points to research that finds mixing cannabis and tobacco produces more negative acute cardiovascular effects and is associated with chronic bronchitis.  

“Produces more negative effects”… More than what??  

“Government generally sees cannabis and tobacco as separate issues but plainly their use is deeply interwoven,” said Hazel Cheeseman, director of policy at Action on Smoking and Health.   

“Deeply interwoven”? Really? Not in Texas.   

“There is an opportunity to address this in the government’s planned Addiction Strategy. This strategy must include measures to tackle the overlapping use of cannabis and tobacco and the resulting harm to health. 

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Photo by LexScope via Unsplash

Excellent. May I suggest that they consider legalizing recreational cannabis use, so that there are more ways to consume cannabis without mixing it with tobacco and explain that tobacco is much more problematic than cannabis. 

But, that’s not very likely.  

“The study found that cannabis was disproportionately used by younger people. Seven out of 10 of people who had taken the drug in the past year were under 39 years old. It also identified that people who said that they used cannabis and tobacco together were more likely to report mental health problems than those who used either product on their own.” 

“Surveys suggest more than 75% of cannabis users in the UK mix the drug with tobacco – significantly lower than in other European countries.”  

I’ll have to go back to Amsterdam to check on that. 

Richard Cowan is a former NORML National Director and author of Pros And Cons Of Vaping CBD Oil


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