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Skunk is dangerous

Earlier this month, we found ourselves at odds with Sir Richard Branson.

You see, not long after publishing a blog post outlining the dangers that smoking skunk can pose to teenagers, the Virgin supremo made comments that left us staggered.

The headline in The Telegraph read: ‘No harm in skunk for most of us, says Sir Richard Branson’. In the subsequent article, he was quoted as saying skunk is ‘slightly worse than alcohol and that ‘a lot of people are doing it for recreational purposes, they enjoy doing it [and] it’s not doing them any harm’.

In the immediate aftermath, a spokesperson insisted that the comments did not reflect Sir Richard’s views and there followed some flip-flopping and backtracking.

Sir Richard insisted later that the media had ‘misconstrued’ his words.

Perhaps so. But in our opinion, at least, some damage had been done.

Sir Richard did get one thing right during what proved to be a rather regrettable episode. Drugs, for a short time, gained additional prominence on that day’s news agenda.

Prompting debate can never be a bad thing, although as always in such matters, it’s best to leave it to real experts rather than relying on the anecdotal and uninformed.

Drugs are a major talking point at the present time and, although opinions might differ, science supports our stance on the subject.

Skunk – and strong cannabis in other forms – is bad news. It does a great deal of harm.

Our recent blog post, incidentally, was founded upon research suggesting that around one quarter of all newly-diagnosed psychotic conditions (such as schizophrenia) can be attributed to smoking extra-strong cannabis. Hallucinations, paranoid episodes, lost drive and abandoned ambition, these are the things we’re talking about. Still think it’s harmless?

Since that post, further studies have been published. One, emanating in the United States, has discovered that smoking cannabis as a teenager can lead to significant long-term memory loss and impairment of brain function. Elsewhere, experts in the UK have found that the damage caused can be permanent and that those most at risk might never recover. Science is on our side here. Nick Clegg might be advocating decriminalisation, but above all, no matter our political persuasion, we must all be certain that the message on drugs is a clear one.

Figures released in recent days have shown that cocaine use in Britain has quadrupled during the last two decades, whilst the ongoing trade in legal highs causes us considerable concern. These are substances that are designed to mimic Class A drugs and their use is becoming more and more common.

In a recent interview, one user told the BBC’s Newsbeat that ‘You sit in your own box and just zone out’, while Newcastle Crown Court last month heard that Richard Gatiss is/was a user, and that legal highs played a part in his decision to attack the disabled pensioner Alan Barnes outside his home in Gateshead.

Such findings, coupled with the evidence that we see with our own eyes on a regular basis, means that, no matter what anyone else might say, our position on skunk (and on the drugs debate as a whole) is steadfast.

Drugs do harm. Forget misinterpretation, on this there is no room for confusion.

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