Jeremy Laurance: Looking for clarity about drugs? Don't hold your breath

Best headline on a press release from last week? It has to be this from the University of Bristol: "Cannabis causes cognitive chaos in users".

In my day we called it getting stoned – but who am I to stand between a scientist and his research grant? Still, it is always comforting to have one's beliefs reinforced. Two other studies seemed to do the same. One, by a team at Oxford University, found taking the contraceptive pill for 10 years almost halved the risk of ovarian cancer. Good news, no? But as another expert from Newcastle University pointed out, the Pill is known to slightly increase the risk of breast cancer, which is much more common. Thus, among 100,00 women taking the Pill for 10 years there will be 12 fewer ovarian cancers – but 50 extra breast cancers. Result: cognitive chaos for patients.

The second study confirmed another long-held belief – that aspirin protects against cancer. The evidence has been growing for decades, but this by Oxford University was the first randomised controlled trial, medicine's gold standard, showing that for people at high risk of bowel cancer a couple of the little white pills daily cut their risk by over 60 per cent.

Impressive. But the trial was done in people with a genetic pre-disposition to the disease, who number one in 1,000 of the population. For the rest of us, the calculation is more difficult. Aspirin protects against heart attacks and stroke, as well as various cancers, hence its "wonder-drug" status. Professor Sir John Burn, author of the study in The Lancet, said he takes it himself.

But I remain impressed by a conversation with an expert who pointed out that internal bleeding caused by low-dose aspirin – one of the two commonest causes of adverse drug reactions – accounted, in all, for one in 15 hospital admissions. Who was that? Professor Sir Alasdair Breckenridge, chairman of the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency which oversees the safety of medicines in the UK.

Those who hope for cognitive clarity on drugs are whistling for the moon.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden and Edwina Currie are joining the I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here! camp
tv
News
i100
Life and Style
fashion
News
videoJapanese prepare for the afterlife by testing out coffins
Arts and Entertainment
Harrison Ford attends Blade Runner at Target Presents AFI's Night at the Movies at ArcLight Cinemas on 24 April, 2013 in Hollywood, California
film... but Ridley Scott won't direct
Sport
Hughes is hit by a bouncer from Sean Abbott
cricketStephen Brenkley on batsman's tragic flaw that led to critical injury
Sport
Dejected England players applaud the fans following their team's 3-0 defeat
football

News
people

Actress isn't a fan of Ed Miliband

News
The Bounceway, designed by Architecture for Humanity
newsLondon to add 'The Bounceway' to commuting options
Life and Style
Stefan Gates with some mince flies
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Rooney Mara plays a white Tiger Lily in forthcoming film Pan
filmFirst look at Rooney Mara in Pan
Life and Style
Customers browse through Vinyl Junkies record shop in Berwick Street, Soho, London
tech
Life and Style
health

Do you qualify – and how do you get it?

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Sales People & Team Managers - UK Wide

    £67200 - £96000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Self-employed Sales People and ...

    h2 Recruit Ltd: Business Development Manager - IT Outsourcing - £70,000 OTE

    £30000 - £40000 per annum + £70,000 OTE: h2 Recruit Ltd: London, Reading , Sou...

    Recruitment Genius: Kitchen / Interiors Designer - Maternity Cover

    £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A rapidly expanding company with a fast ...

    Recruitment Genius: Trade Sales Counter Assistant

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This Market Leading Kitchen and joinery suppli...

    Day In a Page

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

    Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
    Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

    Putin’s far-right ambition

    Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
    Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

    Escape to Moominland

    What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?
    Nightclubbing with Richard Young: The story behind his latest book of celebrity photographs

    24-Hour party person

    Photographer Richard Young has been snapping celebrities at play for 40 years. As his latest book is released, he reveals that it wasn’t all fun and games
    Michelle Obama's school dinners: America’s children have a message for the First Lady

    A taste for rebellion

    US children have started an online protest against Michelle Obama’s drive for healthy school meals by posting photos of their lunches
    Colouring books for adults: How the French are going crazy for Crayolas

    Colouring books for adults

    How the French are going crazy for Crayolas
    Jack Thorne's play 'Hope': What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

    What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

    Playwright Jack Thorne's latest work 'Hope' poses the question to audiences
    Ed Harcourt on Romeo Beckham and life as a court composer at Burberry

    Call me Ed Mozart

    Paloma Faith, Lana del Ray... Romeo Beckham. Ed Harcourt has proved that he can write for them all. But it took a personal crisis to turn him from indie star to writer-for-hire
    10 best stocking fillers for foodies

    Festive treats: 10 best stocking fillers for foodies

    From boozy milk to wasabi, give the food-lover in your life some extra-special, unusual treats to wake up to on Christmas morning
    Phil Hughes head injury: He had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

    Phil Hughes had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

    Prolific opener had world at his feet until Harmison and Flintoff bounced him
    'I have an age of attraction that starts as low as four': How do you deal with a paedophile who has never committed a crime?

    'I am a paedophile'

    Is our approach to sex offenders helping to create more victims?
    How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

    How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

    Serco given Yarl’s Wood immigration contract despite ‘vast failings’
    Green Party on the march in Bristol: From a lost deposit to victory

    From a lost deposit to victory

    Green Party on the march in Bristol
    Putting the grot right into Santa's grotto

    Winter blunderlands

    Putting the grot into grotto
    'It just came to us, why not do it naked?' London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital

    'It just came to us, why not do it naked?'

    London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital