In this episode we announce the winner of the £50 digital voucher and share the answers to our New Year's Quiz!
Keep listening for important facts and figures from the cannabis world; we've got some statistics that you'll want to hear!
Episode 11 – Cannabis by Numbers
Hi there and welcome to the hemp community podcast. My name is Dan and I am pleased to be back with this latest episode after a few weeks break to catch up with real life. For anyone that is interested, I have just finished the first year of my Masters Degree which means I can stop writing essays and start writing podcasts again!
You may remember that in the last episode of the hemp community podcast we had a special end of year quiz with a £50 digital voucher up for grabs! We asked 5 questions about cannabis, with the answers available in earlier episodes.
Before we announce the winner let’s go through the quiz!
1. What was the name of the 1937 law which effectively outlawed cannabis in the US in the (The marihuana Tax Act)
2. What was the name of the 1st western doctor to study cannabis as a medicine (William O’Shaughnessey)
3. What is the name of the artist who wrote the 1976 cannabis anthem “legalise it”? (Peter Tosh)
4. What is the name of the aquatic species that is believed to be the evolutionary originator of the endocannabinoid system? (Sea Squirt)
5. Final question, and it’s a two-parter; what are the names of the endocannabinoid receptors shared by every human being? (CB1 and CB2)
A big thank you to everyone who entered the quiz, but of course we can only have 1 winner; and at the risk of drawing this announcement any longer we’d like to say a big congratulations to Ryan from Glasgow who can expect his digital voucher in his inbox by the time of this podcast’s release!
We’ll definitely have more prizes up for grabs in the future, so be sure to subscribe to the hemp community podcast so you won’t miss future episodes!
Before we get on with this week’s episode, I want to offer a quick reminder to all listeners, the hemp community is a social enterprise in Scotland, and we sell a range of CBD products. You can order from our website hempcommunity.scot or you can drop by the shop on Henderson Row in Edinburgh. Our job is to offer people advice and support throughout the process of using cannabis and cannabinoids for their health. As a business we do our best to offer people a retail experience that will facilitate the health outcomes they come in to address, and we do this inspired by evidence. My background is in health sciences and I try to bring some of that insight to my work at the hemp community.
Different types of scientists ask different questions and use different tools to get the answers they seek. I like to think of it like this;
Do you prefer telescopes or microscopes?
Microscopes allow us to look very closely at small details in the present; with a microscope we can see in great detail and we can focus on tiny interactions that the naked eye could never hope to enjoy. A cannabis scientist with a microscope can tell you all about the pistils, trichomes and minutiae of the plant, and with great enough magnification they can even show you how cannabinoids bind and behave in a petri dish.
Telescopes on the other hand allow us to look at big things, although they are often very far away in both space and time. This type of scientific tool may not permit you to discern a lot of detail, but it can offer you a perspective that the naked eye could never see. Looking at cannabis through a telescope allows you to see how big the world of cannabinoids really is, and how wide reaching it’s influence.
Personally I think the most important research tool for cannabis is a vaporiser, a cup of coffee and some friends around a table. Jokin aside; whether you’d choose acute observation of miniscule matter or the splendour of distant phenomena all scientists agree that you can only spend so much time with your eye to a lens; eventually you have to look at the real world
In the real world, Cannabis exists. Absolutely. No doubt about it. Humans have spent thousands of years learning from it, and its impossible to imagine how civilisation could have survived past the stone age without cannabis. Strangely, in the 20th century western society decided to outlaw cannabis and criminalise users, but after nearly 100 years of prohibition the arcane flora is experiencing a cultural and scientific renaissance.
Through COVID we have become accustomed to the phrase “following the science”, and to keep those mathematical muscles moving, I’d like to share with you some statistics about cannabis; numbers that give me hope.
The first number is 360,000; this is roughly how many regular cannabis users there are in Scotland and it represents just under 10% of the adult population, although as many as 50% of Scots admit to having tried cannabis on at least one occasion. Of these 360,000 cannabis-consuming-Caledonians approximately 3,000, a meagre 1% consume medical cannabis legally on private prescription, which means that 99% of cannabis consumed in Scotland is provided by the illicit market. This might not seem like a cheery fact but the first step in correcting a problem is to acknowledge that it exists. The prohibition of cannabis hands control of a valuable commodity to criminals; the harm from drugs is a self-inflicted wound. These 360,000 adults are members of our communities; they cook our food, cut our hair, play sports, rent cars, push pens and I’m told some of them even record podcasts. 360,000 cannabis consumers in Scotland, and all in spite of prohibition; this seems to be the baseline endemic rate of cannabis use and most countries in the world report a similar 5-10% of the population who are regular cannabis users. Even in legal states like California that figure is only just higher than 16%. My deduction from these figures is as follows; the zero-tolerance, war on drugs approach has only reduced the size of the cannabis market by about a third, but increased the harm associated with the market by an order of magnitude.
Speaking of harm, the next number I’d like to introduce is related to harm, and that number is 1,686. According to Public Health Scotland this is the number of people hospitalised by “cannabinoids” in the year 2018/2019. The data doesn’t distinguish between synthetic and plant-made cannabinoids, although anecdotal evidence suggests the man-made chemicals are responsible for a growing proportion of cases. I’ve mentioned before in the podcast that the people collecting data deliberately conflate the harms of synthetic cannabinoids and natural cannabis by lumping all of the statistics under the same clumsy category. Deliberately Sloppy Science facilitated by extremely biased and evidence-averse policy. Of the 1,686 Scots hospitalised by cannabinoids more than three quarters are seen in a general hospital, leaving only 321 patients in psychiatric care. The next time someone mentions cannabis psychosis, gently remind them that out of 360,000 cannabis users in Scotland, only 321 individuals, less than one tenth of one percent, of that group required psychiatric care as a result of cannabinoid consumption and even then we have no reliable data regarding the types of cannabinoids that harmed these users. For comparison, in the same year, 2727 Scots were admitted to a psychiatric hospital due to alcohol, which is a bigger absolute number but relative to the number of alcohol users in Scotland it is roughly the same, very small proportion. What we can learn from these numbers is that cannabis is not harmless, but keeping it illegal hasn’t prevented harm, in fact the rates of cannabinoid related hospitalisations have increased steadily since the nineties, and the rate of growth is more extreme during periods of stricter controls. All drugs do harm but prohibition only makes it worse by imposing legal and social consequences disproportionate to the pharmacology of the banned substance. Those 1,686 people in hospital would be better protected in a regulated cannabis market; we have identified the problem and the solution is in sight.
The third number in my list is simply the number 20, and before I jump in to explain why I need to set the scene. In December 2021, the Island-State of Malta became the first EU country to officially legalise cannabis. Not the half-measure of decriminalisation nor even a state-monopoly but a rather sensible set of rules that allow individuals to grow and consume their own cannabis. Not-for-profit cannabis businesses will be allowed to apply for a license to produce and supply cannabis to their customers, with revenues reinvested for community benefit. During the policy consultations, it was suggested that the law incorporate a nominal limit to the potency of cannabis permitted for cultivation. The initial draft of the Maltese legislation set a cap on cannabis potency of 20%, although the law in its final form has no limit. The decision-makers consulted with cannabis users and recognised that arbitrary restrictions simply create space for the black market to manoeuvre. You may be interested to learn that the average potency of so-called street cannabis in the UK is 20% and in fact the most commonly prescribed potency of legal medical cannabis flower is also 20%. In American states where cannabis is legal we see the same pattern; many thousands of varieties of cannabis, and the vast majority of them are roughly 20% THC. The reason this number gives me hope is that we can recognise it’s significance and in the same breath acknowledge that it's probably not as important as we first thought. Sometimes a number is just a number.
We can hardly discuss the numerical case in support of cannabis reform without mentioning an economic argument, and so I’d like to introduce you to the number 8 billion. That’s the number of dollars spent in California’s illegal cannabis market last year. Despite being available as a medicine for almost thirty years and legal for non-prescribed adult use for five years, 2021 saw record revenue for California’s so-called “Legacy Market”. The legal industry in the Sunshine state is dominated by corporate brands, all of whom compete for dwindling margins from tourist-driven revenue. Meanwhile the number of unlicensed grows has increased exponentially to satisfy the demand from local consumers who want to buy better weed for less money and have it delivered to their door same-day. Small businesses who can’t afford a license can still make a living by catering to the locals. The black market has proved that it has the capacity to tick these boxes and this gives me hope because it shows that the future of the cannabis industry globally requires cooperation between the big players and small fish, and in fact maybe the little guys have the advantage.
The final number I’d like to introduce today is 6.29%, and it represents a reduction in suicides attributable to the legalisation of “recreational” cannabis. A study led by researchers in US analysed data from 50 states over 20 years and found that liberalisation of cannabis law was associated with a reduction in the number of suicides in men age 40-49, who are normally a high-risk group. In a very real sense, there are people alive today who would not have been were it not for the fact that they can visit a cannabis dispensary and safely access products that give their lives meaning.
As jurisdictions around the world legalise cannabis and scientists are freed from the culturally imposed restrictions on their research, I have no doubt that we will continue see more and more evidence in support of legalisation. As scientists look for answers, peering through scientific instruments and devising new formulae to explain the cannabis plant, a world of experience lies just out of reach. For now we are subject to rules and regulations from a bygone era, but the writing is on the wall and the numbers don’t lie.