09/11/2011 07:11 GMT | Updated 08/01/2012 05:12 GMT

The Need to Rethink All Attitudes Regarding Drugs

If we are serious about preventing teenage substance abuse, we need far stronger and rational mechanisms in place over our current approach.

Recently Mark Davies of the Rethink Mental Illness charity wrote a piece for HuffPost UK on cannabis and attitudes.

I'd like to give thanks and take the opportunity to respond to Mr Davies.

Firstly, it's worth mentioning how Rethink differs in its approach to similar organisations. Rethink know from anecdotal evidence and their own polls that the classification of drugs often does not factor in with an individual's decision to use them.

Consequently, Rethink have never campaigned for harsher penalties for possession. There is more evidence to suggest that the cachet of doing something illegal plays a part in fuelling desire; it's an oblique trend, but it seems the more illicit something becomes, the bigger the badge of honour for the rebellious - cannabis use tends to spike with stricter laws.

Mr Davies also draws ample perspective on the issue by noting how statistically low the rate of cannabis related mental health problems are.

However, that's not to brush the issue under the carpet. It is indeed correct to draw concerns if just one person is at risk.

But, to go further, it may be a prudent measure to not single out specific substances, but instead, address teenage abuse across the board and on its own merits. Substance abuse on a developing mind is the concern, and this is something that we need a full paradigm shift on.

It's of personal belief that focusing primarily on cannabis as a contested issue does little to address the real harms of substance use and attitudes in wider society.

If we take Mr Davies' headline of: "Middle-Class Parents Need to Rethink Their Lazy Laid-Back Attitude to Cannabis" and substitute the word cannabis for alcohol, tobacco, energy drinks, or preferably "substance use" - then we may have a more lucid dialogue and a harm prevention/reduction model.

Alcohol use in teens poses the biggest threat to life and mind; alcohol related psychosis (Korsakoff's Syndrome) affects 1 in 1000 of the world's population, this is a far greater risk than cannabis use, but we simply do not see the headlines that convey the dangers of alcohol related mental health. This distortion of emphasis could give rise to a displacement of mental health concerns; by placing full onus on specific substances, it can create apathy for others.

To address Mr Davies and his comments once more, he is indeed right to speak of education as the key to stemming the flow.

This, however, is where the conversation falls flat in the real world. Teenagers have friends, google, and access to an array of anecdotal evidence. Education of substances - until now - has existed to 'Just Say No'. The campaign is highly questionable in its content and conduct; for far too long we've tried to project images of harm, and often, the truth becomes the casualty.

With the internet, anyone can bypass hyperbole and media myths and go direct to source at peer reviewed research. As Mr Davies says, the science and risks on cannabis related mental health are statistically minor, but the law is trying to deter use by prosecuting all adult actions and 'send a message to the children'. In the recent department of health publication that's aimed at health professionals, the art of 'sending a message' has been dropped in favour of research from medical and scientific studies. The comparisons on all drugs, and related risks, make for an interesting read. The disparity between what we like to project as a message - so as to act as a deterrent - and what is actually true are notable, and this plays more than a factor for the all out confusion we now face in society in our drugs conversation.

Read the literature here:

A Summary of Health Harms of Drugs

Unlike alcohol, cannabis is further subjected to the harmful aspects prohibition. Despite cannabis having been classified as a "controlled drug" - tragically, this is a full oxymoron; there is no control. If a child chooses to use cannabis, they can do so easily given that the availability is profound. Cannabis is on sale to anyone with money; all the while there's a buzz around the substance due to the illegality of possession, then we are fighting an unstoppable tide in curtailing teenage use.

In the UK, we have some of the worst quality cannabis imaginable. With parallels from 1920s prohibition America, cannabis has become the moonshine and hooch of this generation. The importance of matured, correctly cultivated cannabis - with a the correct blend of cannabinoids - is an absent topic, but is of vital importance. With the current 'control' methods of drugs, we have no age restrictions, no quality control, and we're reliant on the worst aspects of society to act in the best interests of safety; cannabis hands a £6.7 billion to gangs and the black market.

To quote Mr James Duffy, retired Police Inspector and LEAP speaker:

"It's easier [for children] to buy cannabis than alcohol due to the regulation."

If we are serious about preventing teenage substance abuse, we need far stronger and rational mechanisms in place over our current approach. The current laws, and media conjured hysteria, is preventing the very discussion that we all agree that we need to have. Perhaps now is the time to work together and change the current outmoded methodology that's led us to this problematic crossroad. To prevent more of the same, we need to learn from the past, listen, and conduct our approach with scientific & evidence based policies. We can no longer blindly deal in 'messages'.

With thanks once more to Mr Davies and Rethink Mental Illness.