Lords to study cannabis risks

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The Independent Online
THE scientific risks of taking cannabis for medical and recreational purposes are to be examined by a Lords investigation, it was announced yesterday. Lord Perry of Walton, who said the committee of peers had agreed not to discuss whether any of them had taken the drug, told a press conference the investigation was not expected to result in a call for legalisation.

But it would offer an informed scientific assessment of the balance of risks relating to the drug. The inquiry by the Lords Committee on Science and Technology, half of whose members are medically qualified, will be advised by Leslie Iverson, visiting Professor of Pharmacology at Oxford University, who specialises in the effects of drugs on the brain. The two key questions to be addressed are: "How strong is the scientific evidence in favour of permitting medical use?" and "How strong is the scientific evidence in favour of maintaining prohibition of recreational use?"

Lord Perry, a Liberal Democrat peer who is a former Professor of Pharmacology and founding vice-chancellor of the Open University, said: "The recreational use of alcohol and tobacco are attached by risks. There is no ban on either at the moment.

"The question then arises, at what level of risk should people be allowed to make their own judgment about whether they're prepared to take that risk? It's a question of whether the risks that are obtained in evidence are regarded as sufficient to warrant a government ban, or whether they are risks that individuals might be expected to take for themselves - like tobacco, like alcohol, like any of the things, like coffee, like tea. They're all drugs that have risks."

Asked what drugs he took himself, Lord Perry said: "We did discuss this in committee and decided that what we took was private." When pressed, he said he did drink coffee and tea, and occasionally drank alcohol, but did not smoke tobacco.

The committee had discussed cannabis and members' personal use of it. "We decided not to make public ... that that was not a matter we were going to make public." The committee, which will take written submissions as well as evidence in public sessions, starts its hearings with the Advisory Council on Misuse of Drugs on 7 April, with evidence later in April to be taken from the British Medical Association and the authors of its report on therapeutic use of cannabis; the Alliance for Cannabis Therapeutics; and the Multiple Sclerosis Society.

Evidence is to be sought on a number of questions, including: "What are the physiological effects (immediate, long-term and cumulative) of taking cannabis, in its various forms? What are the psychological effects? How do these effects vary with particular methods of preparation and administration? To what extent is cannabis addictive? To what extent do users develop tolerance to cannabis?