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Ireland health services accused of ‘scaremongering’ over cannabis



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Irish health services have been criticised for using ‘flawed data’ to ‘scaremonger’ at an educational cannabis event.

Prominent cannabis campaigners, clinicians and advocates have publicly criticised the contents of an event dubbed as ‘educational’ by Ireland’s Health Service Executive (HSE).

The presentation, which took place online and was titled ‘Cannabis: Exploring mental health perspectives and the changing market’, focused on cannabis consumption in under 18s, mental health and used the hashtag #SupportingRecovery on social media.

But several experts weighed in to point out the ‘outdated’ research used and lack of inclusion of the medicinal benefits of cannabis.

Slides which were made publicly available included figures from the Youth Drug and Alcohol Service, which listed cannabis as needing the highest level of treatment over drugs including heroin, cocaine and benzodiazepines.

It also named only CBD and THC as components of cannabis – and claimed THC causes ‘euphoria’, ‘impairment of memory and learning’ and ‘paranoia’ while omitting any of the reported medicinal benefits.

It also included data from a study of psychosis and cannabis use across Europe which has been described as ‘flawed’ and ‘questionable’ by some.

In a thread, PieterHog shared: “I use this study with my students sometimes as a textbook example of  ‘questionable research practices”. It has all the tricks we were told not to use. Categorising data into arbitrary groups [the study supposedly categorises all cannabis of more than 12 percent potency as ‘strong’] is a much-used trick to “massage” the data so they lead to a certain conclusion.”

Irish drug reform and harm reduction activist, Natalie O’Regan, described it as ‘astonishing’.

“The cannabis reform community in Ireland was disappointed with yesterday’s HSE event, she said.

“There are a number of issues that are evident (never mind what was not publicised). Firstly there are more than two components to cannabis, which they only show two of in their slides. Secondly, I am not a statistician but the data they use are highly questionable.

“Thirdly, in a conversation around mental health and cannabis, it seems from their slides that the insinuation is that cannabis equals mental health issues, which is astonishing in 2020.”

The HSE went on to conclude that ‘further Irish specific research’ was required.

But critics pointed out that Irish authorities are seemingly unaware of existing cannabis research carried out by the likes of Dr Raphael Mechoulam and Dr Lester Grinspoon, an emeritus associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.

Dr Grinspoon’s son, a Harvard-trained cannabis specialist of 25 years, Dr Peter Grinspoon, spoke out on Twitter: “The doctors in Ireland somehow seem to know less about #cannabis than everywhere else – it is astounding… They think it’s the 1950’s. It’s going to become increasingly embarrassing.”

Nicole Lonergan, of the Cork Cannabis Activist Network, said that Ireland’s health services and Minister for Health Stephen Donnelley had ‘let the country down’ when it came to cannabis, and were leaving patients at risk of stigma and the dangers of the illicit market.

“I am embarrassed for those individuals involved with this “educational event”. From what they chose to publish, it’s clear there was no education involved, just the repetition of the same old scaremongering and flawed data,” she told Cannabis Health.

“Where was the information regarding how THC can help with depression, anxiety, nausea reduction, appetite stimulation, and its ability to stimulate introspection and mindfulness? How about the endocannabinoid system?”

Nicole continued: “If they remain inside their echo chambers, Ireland will never progress and Irish citizens will continue to be harmed not only by misinformation, but by the stigma they are forcefully perpetuating about cannabis as well as the obvious dangers of an illicit market.

“Our health services and our Minister for Health have let our entire country down when it comes to cannabis, as well as cannabis patients and consumers who both require and deserve safe, legal access to this medicinal plant.

“While they choose to adhere to outdated rhetoric and insist on keeping cannabis prohibition in place, they are forcing patients and consumers to rely on an illicit market, whereby testing for quality, potency and the presence of contaminants is not required, nor are minors protected.

Legalisation is the only way forward, it’s time for our government to acknowledge that.”

Cannabis Health has approached the HSE for comment.