Evidence piles up that cannabis harms us. Yet our laws have never been softer. Are we, asks Peter Hitchens, soft in the head?


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When you hear the word ‘soft’, you tend to feel comfortable and safe. Who wouldn’t take the soft option, given the choice? Soft cops are kinder than hard cops. Soft furnishings are more attractive than hard chairs. Spies take the soft route into the enemy country. You’d give a child a soft drink, but never hard liquor.


And so we come to soft drugs, particularly cannabis, the subject of the most brilliant marketing campaign in modern times, so organic and herbal that many teenagers don’t think it’s a drug at all.


But what is really soft about cannabis? I personally know one young man, Henry Cockburn, who smoked cannabis in his early teens and is now permanently on powerful antipsychotic medication, his life changed out of all recognition. I’m told that correlation is not necessarily causation. But then again, correlation is not necessarily *not* causation.


Now, perhaps for the first time, comes news of research which strongly suggests that teenage use of supposedly ‘soft’ cannabis may damage the brain irreversibly, causing an eight per cent drop in IQ.


In short, dope can make you less intelligent than you would otherwise have been, for the rest of your life. You don’t get your lost wits back, ever.


Eight per cent may not sound much, but it means worse exam results, less chance of going to a good university, less hope of a good job, or perhaps of getting a job at all.


Researchers found this worrying fact by looking for it. It helped that IQ is a generally-accepted objective measure – unlike mental illness, which is hard to define and has ever-shifting boundaries. But the truth is that our society, in which dope-smoking is considered virtually normal by the Sixties generation, hasn’t looked very hard for evidence that cannabis isn’t soft.


‘It never did me any harm’, I have often heard them say. Well, how do they know? What if, without it, they would have been smarter than they are, smart enough to know that the young need to be protected from this danger, and warned seriously against it.


And yet our society treats it as a trivial joke, a thing ‘the kids’ can be expected to do. Schools and the government assume that teenagers – who are most vulnerable to its dangers – will take it. Instead of abstinence, they preach ‘harm reduction’.


And, just as evidence begins to pile up that cannabis may be hard as nails, and hard as a life of needless disappointment and failure, our laws against it have never been softer.


Are we soft in the head?



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  • Living in loopy, drug-soaked California, how I wish we had a ‘prophet’ who spoke the truth as you do. God has probably abandoned us to our desires. We hear but we don’t listen.

  • Barry, let’s be honest, it takes a lot to be locked up for drug-related offenses in Britain. If you’re a cocaine dealer, yeah, maybe you’ll be locked up, but the penalties for marajuana-related crime is next to a slap on the wrist. Naughty boy, go home and don’t let me catch you doing that again.

    Regarding stricter laws, yes, strong laws are not foolproof preventatives. And? I’m not aware of any comment which Mr. Hitchens has made to that effect. Does this mean we should just ditch all laws because some choose to flout them? You can’t deny that if the penalties were large enough, you would at least pause to weigh up the consequences of your actions.

    And please don’t resort to crude Ad-Hominem just because someone disagrees with you, for goodness sake.

  • I love the way some attempt to put a positive spin on this news, as if irreversible mental damage is less serious when seen in a restricted sense. That makes it okay.

  • As an ex user of canabis as a teenager I can oNly hope my brain was not damaged. I wish that I had never smoked it however making the stuff illegal just makes it more attractive to the young. The “war on drugs” is lost! Education is the key as proven by reduced tobacco consumption.

  • Hitchens claims absurdly there is no “war on drugs” when there are thousands of people locked up for drug-related offences.
    He claims stricter enforcement will reduce consumption when he himself took drugs when there were much stricter laws so they didn’t put him off.
    He claims cannabis causes mental illness and stupidity when in spite of a massive increase in consumption in the last 20 years there has been no massive increase in either.
    But hey – don’t let facts get in the way of plugging a book – what an insufferably pompous individual he is.

  • How can a scientist makes such an unequivocal statement? But I’m glad Mr Reynolds accepts that there is a risk to the under-18s. I hope to hear him emphasising this a lot.

  • You have this story back to front.

    The report shows that cannabis can be harmful to children but this is not news. It just reinforces what we already know. The REAL NEWS is that Professor Terrie Moffitt, of the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College London, has said, unequivocally, that: “…cannabis is safe for over-18 brains”.

    This is the REAL NEWS!

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