Trial of the Plant – Day 6 – Cannabis as a gateway to harder drugs proven false

Prof Nutt continued his testimony about the perceived harms of cannabis during day 6 of the Trial of the Plant. He has been at the witness stand now for 3 court days and been at court since the start of the trial.

When asked by Adv Mohan about unanswered scientific questions in regards to cannabis, Nutt replied:

“Cannabis has been a medicine for a very long time, and until recently we didn’t understand what we now know, that the cannabis plant binds to certain proteins and certain receptors in the body that have very significant effects on the brain and the immune system. So we now know what these drugs do, it’s no longer some kind of mystical effect. We know that cannabis produces substances, which work in a defined way and defined parts in the body through these cannabis receptors, and remarkably, there are more of these receptors in the brain than there are receptors for the targets of many of the drugs we use, making the cannabis receptor very interesting and a very rich target for medical research.” Prof Nutt


“The gateway is actually the prohibition of drugs… prohibition of cannabis, that is the gateway to harder drugs” and that there is “evidence against the gateway theory.” and this is supported by the fact that “once you’ve broken the law, it’s emotionally easier to break the law again”.

One of the main criteria for the focus of Prof Nutt’s research was more about the way drugs affect other people, and not so much on how drugs affect the user. The social harms of drugs are of greater concern to those not familiar with the safety profile of cannabis.

One particularly safe cannabinoid of the cannabis plant is CBD. Nutt further explained that “Cannabidiol is not psycho active, it moderates the effect of being stoned, it attenuates the negative effects of THC. In traditional mixtures of herbal cannabis, there will be a yin yang mixture of cannabis.”

THCV is a powerful anti-epileptic drug in a test tube, but has never been afforded the opportunity of a clinical human study.

“The banning of cannabis didn’t stop its use” 

The court had already heard about driving under the influence of cannabis, but there was more said today on this: “Cannabis is not inducing more deaths on the road, even though more states have legalized it.” said Nutt.

While testing for cannabis in a person’s urine, they are essentially prosecuting people for an offense that is not there. In effect, they will not be impaired if they took cannabis 12hr before, but will show up positive if tested the next day. Nutt calls this a big injustice.

Driving under the influence is a sensitive topic, so rest assured that it is now possible to test for active amounts of THC and recent use, which Nutt believes could be an indicator for driving under the influence and can be scored in accordance with a country’s tolerance for alcohol limits.

When it comes to the safety profile of cannabis, Nutt explained that “one of the reasons why cannabis is one of the less harmful drugs, is that you cannot inject it” therefore: “cannabis is intrinsically less harmful than any other drug you can inject”.

Nutt mentioned that strong cannabis strains in the UK like Skunk, which is rather easy to get there, is akin to drinking a scotch. If people had to start drinking only scotch, there would be a lot fewer drinkers in society in general.

The fear of cannabis being unsafe when smoked, also ‘went up in smoke’ when the protective effect of cannabis while smoking was discussed. In essence, cannabis lowers the burning point of tobacco, so those that use tobacco with their joints, are exposed to lower levels of heat and combustion from the tobacco, than those that only smoke tobacco by itself.

People who suffer from psychosis often experience symptomatic relief from using cannabis and thus it could be argued that those with psychological disorders might perform better on cannabis. Nutt further accentuated his point in saying that “if Cannabis contributes to schizophrenia, it contributes to a very small number of cases of schizophrenia.”

He concluded in a study that if the increased risk of cannabis is true, then to prevent one case of schizophrenia, you would need to stop 5000 men, or 7000 women from smoking cannabis, in order to stop one case of cannabis induced schizophrenia.

If the gateway theory existed, it is flimsy at best and calls the scrutiny of alcohol being a gateway drug into question. It was also revealed that Cannabis users don’t necessarily take more risks because of their cannabis use.

“If government doesn’t tell the truth about drugs,

people won’t believe anything they say on drugs.”

The use of cannabis is viewed as predominantly for social and recreational purposes. A market where ratios and dosages are established is a much safer cannabis market.

Cannabis has not been shown to be associated with an increase in petty crime. Alcohol, on the other hand, is associated with burglary, assault and many other related crimes. There is actually no evidence to suggest that cannabis is related to violent crime.

“The media have bloated any reports on the anti-social behaviour of cannabis use.”

“Benefits of cannabis when used medicinally, far outweigh the harms”

 The State objected to Prof Nutt telling ‘a story’ about historical scientific information. Advocate Don quickly defended Nutt’s position explaining that Nutt is a scientist, that he studies the field of science and that part of his research is the history of that field, albeit whether he is a historian or not, he is better placed to talk about the history of science than most in the court room.

David Bayever’s (of the Central Drug Authority) made a statement that using cannabis leads to brain damage, or a reduction in brain size. There is however, no evidence to support this claim when considering data from multiple cases of research that suggest otherwise. – Professor Nutt.

The evidence presented by Dr. Bertha Madras (expert witness for the defendants) was under scrutiny when Nutt said “she is not taking a scientifically neutral position. Her report is polemic against cannabis and the use of cannabis as a medicine. In my opinion, she is taking the position of an anti-cannabis campaigner. I find her evidence singularly lacking in balance and vision. – Professor Nutt.

“Madras is not a prescribing doctor,” says Nutt suggesting she is out of her depth when suggesting dagga cannot be used as a medicine.

The safety of cannabis flows around many corners with evidence showing that alcoholics who use cannabis show less alcohol-related brain damage than those who don’t.

Cannabis has little to no impact on the dopamine system in the brain, and as such works differently in terms of addiction when compared to other drugs.

Nutt had an opportunity to speak about the registration process of licensing medicines, and finds that “it’s inappropriate to apply an extraordinary process of registering medicines for the cannabis plant.”

“If we had to apply the South African model of registering a medicine, then South Africa will only have western medicine.”

“If people want to chew bark to relieve a headache, why shouldn’t they?”

When asked whether alcohol relates to medicine Nutt replied: “Alcohol has no currently accepted medical use”, which is terrifying actually because “alcohol is the biggest contributor to neonatal brain disability, in the world; above any other medical condition.”

It would take ‘centuries’ to do clinical trials to register cannabis as a medicine, like the current medicine model requires. “Doctors always had to do what was best, to the best of their knowledge,” Nutt said, and as such, is subtly reminding doctors to go back to their roots and first, do no harm.

Morning Session
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