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Super-Potent Skunk And Our Children

Monday, March 23rd, 2009 Super-Potent Skunk And Our Children

The Times by Helen Rumbelow and Chloe Lambert (16 03 09) produces a stimulating article surrounding the reasons why our children think that the ’strong stuff is the best stuff,’ By that, as the row over smoking skunk by British teenagers grows, there is a fundamental need to step back and identify the historical roots of the drug and its effects.

Inexcess has covered three different personal family perspectives surrounding the furore last week of The Myerson family and the eviction of the novelists (Julie Myerson) son Jake for his skunk addiction. Both husband and wife have indicated that “Britain needed to wake up to the “emergency out there called skunk”.

However, skunk is regarded as far more potent than the joint of yesteryear, its strength and pervasiveness were indeed cited by the Government as to why it was raising the classification from grade C to grade B in January.

According to the article, the very nature of skunk has created a ‘new drugs industry, making millions for illegal farmers - mainly Vietnamese immigrants - on Britain’s industrial estates.’ More alarmingly, it has achieved this in a very short space of time. Factually, police seizures show that it accounted for barely 10 per cent of the cannabis sold here in the late 1990s; last year it was 80 per cent. That by no mean standards this is a huge rise and thus one needs to consider it’s grip on our teenagers.

Through their research the writers interviewed various teenagers and their findings were as follows that firstly, what now teenagers regard as ‘normal’ cannabis was simply not around in the last decade. “Skunk is horribly strong - you can practically feel your brain cells knocking off,” says Ben, a 19-year-old student. “But it wasn’t that we asked for it. Growing up in rural Herefordshire, it was all we could get.”

Nevertheless, the report suggests that ’say the word “skunk” to teenagers and they may nod their heads, while politicians will shake their heads.’ Inevitably there are a few more that are more savvy in that they will ask ‘“What exactly is skunk?”

It gets more complicated as a public health study asked teenagers about their skunk use. Their findings were that “it was unclear what people surveyed understood the term skunk to mean … it is a confusing picture”. The problem here, is how to deal with a situation whereby everyone appears to have differing perspectives in relation to skunk.

Rumbelow and Lambert, now take a historical outlook and revert back to the seventies.

During this time, teenagers smoking pot caused a moral panic which swept the USA. Essentially, the cannabis in the main was imported from Mexican sativa plants. Thus 1975 saw the emergence of blue-and-white American helicopters buzzing low above the Mexican marijuana fields, destroying the crops with toxic salt. At the time, President Ford thought that he had found a clever way to stop American teenagers from smoking “wacky baccy”. Moral panic over.

Alas, killing the fields did not have quite the desired effect. Having sprayed the fields there was also increased border control which meant that dealers would now have to look at home grown plants. Climate played its part as the sativa plant could not cope with the cooler temperatures north of the 30 parallel. In addition, the plants grew tall and therefore difficult to disguise.

For pot smokers the breakthrough came as hippies returned to their native land with seeds that were native to Afghanistan and India, Cannabis indica. As detailed in the article Cannabis sativa was crossed with Cannabis indica, the industrial-scale home-grown market was born, hence skunk.

As a result of the production of hybrid cannabis, this has now become a high-tech industry in it’s own right. Estimated earnings are reported to be inexcess of $50m, which equates to £36m pa.

With that in mind the British criminals have emulated the American example of growing the “Cannabis sativa x indica.”

The criminal gangs are now concentrating on ever increasing the potency of the drug and this is achieved by the levels of concentration of a particular chemical called tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).

David Crane, founder of the cannabis campaign organisation The Hempire, argues that boys and their competitive edge are trying to out do each other by coping with even greater strengths of the drug. He says, ““Boys like to boast about the strength of their skunk,” says 18-year-old Katie.

This is supported by Duncan, 27, a part-time drug dealer for two years, also characterises skunk use as a male-dominated pastime. “It suddenly became more available in 1999 or 2000. It was what everyone wanted,” he says. “The side-effects weren’t really seen as a downside back then. “For a lot of people it’s about the strength. It was older brothers and mates’ older brothers who introduced us - it’s that way for everyone. I was 13. Smoking it is definitely a boy thing, I don’t really know why. It goes hand-in-hand with computer games and sitting around.

“Skunk is definitely a young thing, too. I deal to people of my own age and everyone now is specifically asking not for skunk. They are people with kids and jobs who just want to have a smoke. Once you’re out of uni and have to hold down a job, you get sick of it - and you need to be able to get out of bed in the morning.”

On a final note, Professor Robin Murray, a consultant psychiatrist at the Institute of Psychiatry and leading researcher into the effects of cannabis on mental health, have suggested that it could even work as an antipsychotic.

“We know that there is an increased risk of psychosis in people who use the old-fashioned type of cannabis,” he says, “but no study has yet taken into account the change in cannabis composition. Our clinical impression is that our patients choose to use the stronger varieties, in the same way that a typical alcoholic is not drinking shandy but prefers vodka or whisky. The average psychotic cannabis user is more likely to use skunk.”

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