Gone to pot?

A report by a group of leading academics will controversially push for changes in cannabis laws, allowing the state to prepare and distribute marijuana for recreational use. Amanda Fielding, the founder of the Beckley Foundation,  “a charitable trust set up to promote the investigation of consciousness
and its modulation, and the science of drug use, from a
multidisciplinary perspective” will present the findings of their report to the UN Commision on Narcotic Drugs, who will in turn report to the UN general assembly at a meeting that will decide the international drug control policies for the next decade.

The findings of the Beckley report show that cannabis damages the health of heavy users as is to be expected, including increased risk of psychosis, lung and heart problems. Around 40% of Americans admit to having tried the drug and 3.9% of teenagers worldwide use marijuana regularly, compared with just a single per cent of the world population that uses other illegal drugs. Teenagers have an increased likelihood of dropping out of school early, and being in traffic accidents.

The potency of cannabis is also getting higher (pun definitely intended :p) as levels of THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol), the chemical that gives the user a high, are treble the levels that were present 10 years ago. Similarly the levels of cannabidiol, believed to help prevent psychosis, are falling, and are absent in certain strains.

Comparison of the dangers of different drugs - Hennigfield & Benowitz
Comparison of the dangers of different drugs - Hennigfield & Benowitz

There are obviously dangers associated with the drug, however the Beckley commision concludes that “the damage done by prohibition is worse than from the substance itself.” The drug is thougt to be less harmful to users and society than other illicit drugs, and far less damaging than legal drugs like alcohol and tobacco. Each year 2.5 million deaths are attributed to alcohol and 5 million to smoking. To date there have been just two documented deaths from marijuana overdoses.

Many of the harmful consequences stem from the fact that cannabis is illegal, the Beckley commision claims. University of Maryland Criminologist Peter Reuter, a co-author of the report said “If you don’t think being arrested is a harm, you’re unpersuadable, in the US, 750,000 people were arrested in 2006, and I think that’s a substantial harm.”

A study by the National Drug Research Institute in Perth, Western Australia, in 2000, came to the same conclusion. Cannabis possession here attracts a criminal conviction, although in South Australia this is not the case. It was found that 32% of those ‘criminalised’ had severe employment consequences, compared with just 2% of those ‘infringments’ in Southern Australia.

The Beckley report is recommending that cannabis should be subject to strict standars to ensure that it is not strong enough to cause psychological problems and sold through government outlets. This will ensure that children are unable to buy the drug and that the criminal element that currently profit from drugs are slowly pushed out.

Fielding accepts that it is a controversial proposal, but I for one think it seems well thought out and potentially beneficial. The key seems to be moderation, for me, as with all things in life. People will always take drugs, if we can help make this safer for the user then, that can only be a good thing. It would obviously need to be proven that the weaker strains discussed are genuinely safer, and a large-scale information campaign would be required, but it has to be better than the alternative.

Needless Bureaucracy FTL (of live music)

Save our live music
Save our live music

Ordinarily I don’t concern myself with the goings on in London, there’s a mutual understanding there; they have no idea who I am, and I think they’re all insufferable gobshites. However, occasionally things start in London and go on to affect other places, which is why we need to nip this one in the bud.

I’m referring to form 696, or as I like to call it, the harbinger of death to live music.
Form 696 already applies in 21 London boroughs, and requires licencees to submit 8 pages of information on live music performers, including names, addresses, phone numbers and the ethnicity of it’s potential audience. Failure to comply will result in a fine and possible loss of licence.

The metropolitan police have stated that this is in response to incidents involving guns in 2006 and is designed to provide safety at the venues and pinpoint troublemakers, but almost instantly makes open mic nights impossible, and creates serious problems for small venues. I’m not a musician, but I would question why my privacy was at risk for performing live music, and a detterent such as this hardly encourages our musicians, which are sadly one of our few remaining exports.

Feargal Sharkey, of The Undertones fame is campaigning, as the head of UK Music, against form 696 and a petition has been started that I urge you all to sign. Furthermore there are fears this information allows the police to focus on music enjoyed by black and asian young people since the type of music and the likely audience needs to be disclosed. Mr Sharkey had this to say:

“In explicitly singling out performances and musical styles favoured by the black community we believe the use of Risk Assessment Form 696 is disproportionate, unacceptable and damaging to live music.”

The old year is dead long live the New Year… 2008 in lists

Well one of us had to…

2008 was the year that:

  • I got back on the horse only to get kicked straight back off
  • I gained independance only for it to bite me in the ass
  • I had my first holiday in a decade when I really should have scratched the idea

So yeah, kicked scratched and bitten throughout the year, but I’m strangely optimistic about 2009. Maybe its a mix of a crappy end to the year and the sights of good things to come. I guess in fairness 2008 did have it’s up sides:

  • Finally understanding the relevance of ‘Swallow Tattoo’
  • Picking up a pen again
  • Renewing old friendships and making some new ones.

My most listened albums:

  • Los Campesinos – Hold on now youngster
  • Kings of Leon – Only by the night
  • Placebo – Black Market Music

Favourite Gigs:

  • Futureheads
  • Long Blondes
  • BOTY Final

Fabourite Books:

  • Duma Key – Stephen King
  • The Threat to Reason – Dan Hind
  • The Name of the Wind – Patrick Rothfuss

Love is an Addiction

Poets carve a life from it; musicians often try to evoke the feeling; bookshops have whole sections devoted to it and websites are there for people that don’t have it. Even Plato said that ‘the god of love lives in the state of need’, and it can feel that way, like a need for water and food, so hard to ignore, but what is love?

Love is an addiction, beginning with cravings, growing with tolerance levels leaving you wanting more and more. Once the drug is gone we feel withdrawal and occasionally relapse. A song comes on the radio and you are hit with memories and feelings you would rather keep buried.

The same region of the brain that responds to cocaine is at work in people that are in love, an area called the Ventral Tegmental Area (VTA) near the base of the brain responsible for our reward system, part of what is termed the ‘Reptilian Core’ releases dopamine in response to the subject of our emotions. This is why we can’t help but think of another; or as an 8th century Japanese poet put it ‘My longing has no time when it ceases’.

A study by Helen Fisher of MRI scans of people who had recently been dumped had some interesting findings; the area associated with intense romantic love was firing strongly; the feelings of love are as strong when we can’t have the object of our desires. Terence Thereaux put it better; ‘The less my hope the hotter my love’. Similarly the area responsible for gambling and calculating odds, gains and losses was active; a likely source of the ‘what went wrong?’ questioning that comes after a break-up. It’s not just flowery prose to say that love is lifes greatest prize. Finally the area responsible for the sense of attachment to another was active; We just can’t get that person out of our head.

A questionairre of American college students contained the questions ‘Have you ever been rejected by someone you really loved?’ and ‘Have you ever dumped anyone who really loved you?’. Over 95% of both men and women answered yes to both – there is no escaping the pain associated with love. Emily Dickenson said ‘Parting is all we need to know of hell’.

So why do we love one person over another? Studies have shown that we generally love someone of similar intelligence, looks and socio-economic background but that doesn’t really explain it. If we were at a party full of people matching these criteria why would we not be attracted to everyone there? There must still be an x-factor; something that just ‘clicks’. Will science ever find it? Will that destroy the magic of love?

Dead Space Redux

I’ve always been a fan of survival horror games, so I was pleased that I got to play the opening half hour or so of Dead Space last week. This time of year tends to bring the behemoths out to play in the console Christmas wars and the likes of Dead Space are often overlooked, which would be a terrible shame.

Granted, I only saw the early sections of the game, but what I saw definitely whet my appetite for the rest of the game, from the stunning lighting effects to the creepy opening death the game sets itself up as ambitious and dark. The plot is perhaps a little tired, “hmmm lets go investigate that abandoned spaceship…” but the visceral nature of the gameplay and its limb-loosing arsenal should make up for it.

I’m something of an achievement whore and the points up for grabs here seem well balanced and fun with a minimum of pointless iterm collection, a focus on weapon use and definite replay potential.

With Hallowe’en around the corner Dead Space could be just the thing for a genuinely creepy experience, especially if you are a fan of Resi/F.E.A.R.

What price trust?

Some people give it away cheaply, others it has to be earned. We all trust people, many of which we have never met. We trust our favourite authors enough to spend £15 on their books, but that trust was developed through good and bad experiences of reading many books over many years. We trust our favourite tv producers enough to forgive the odd episode, storyline, or even series, trusting that things will get better. Musicians, Actors, Reviewers, Directors, the list goes on.

We also learn who not to trust, my friends and I trust Ewe Bolle to make bad movies, not many people want to be in Gary Glitters gang anymore and we trust England footballers to disappoint at every opportunity. Why count on them when I have ten fingers and ten toes.

The amount we have invested in a given relationship is often an indicator of the level of trust and the risk that trust portrays. It’s easy to trust a comic book writer with our £2 and 15 minutes for one book, start to read the book regularly and the risk increases, usually meaning you either drop the book when it continually dissapoints or read it to the end. It’s a simplistic analogy but the same is true of relationships with people. Casual acquaintances acrue more trust as they penetrate our lives deeper, opening us up to a schroedingers box of joy or pain.

Which brings me to a proposition. I want your trust. I know that, generally speaking, anyone who say ‘trust me’ winds up being the villain of the piece, but I’m gonna use Stupor Collider to call people out on their bullshit, help you decide where your trust is misplaced and let you know what deserves closer attention. Ultimatley the trust is only yours to give.