What were they smoking?

While Kerry O’Brien and the regular crew are on holidays, I take it the 7.30 Report has been taken over by a crack squad of “fair and balanced” right-wing lunatic propagandists.

How else do you explain last night’s rabid anti-drug, anti-fact reporting on the Mental Health Council of Australia‘s report Where There’s Smoke, a study of cannabis use and mental health?

Technically the MHCA’s report is more of a literature review; it doesn’t contain any original research, just summarises and analyses what other people have already said and makes a series of recommendations. It is, to a fault, conservative and balanced in its findings, using cautious language such as:

  • Cannabis use precipitates schizophrenia in people who have a family history of that mental illness
  • There is a 2-3 times greater incidence of psychotic symptoms among those who used cannabis, however, the epidemiological data shows that cannabis cannot be considered a major causal factor
  • More frequent cannabis use is associated with higher relapse rates for people with psychosis and more severe symptoms were associated with increased risk of cannabis relapse
  • Cannabis can induce schizophrenia-like symptoms in otherwise healthy individuals

The 7.30 Report was not so careful. Where the MHCA report cautiously finds correlation, the 7.30 Report loudly trumpets causation. Will journalists ever learn the difference?!

Borrowing from the phrasebooks of tabloid cousins Today Tonight and A Current Affair, 7.30 Reporter Mark Bannerman plays the anti-drug hysteria card early and often. “Stories like Chris Martin’s simply can’t be ignored,” he warns us. “The real punch in this report is its explanation of the link between cannabis and mental illness. Cannabis effectively changes the brain, and the younger you begin smoking the more profound those changes become.”

To back this claim, the 7.30 Report interviews Dr Martin Cohen from the Hunter Medical Research Institute, who says:

People who introduce cannabis into their sort of daily life routine achieve less academically. They have problems with social relationships, they have problems with their thinking functions. If you have a pre existing vulnerability on top of exposing yourself to cannabis long term then, yeah, you are playing with a loaded gun, in a sense.

See, that’s odd because the report itself says quite clearly:

There is no doubt that heavy cannabis users suffer significant cognitive impairment for up to a week after cessation of use but there does not appear to be either lasting or irreversible cognitive impairment.

And there’s another strange thing. Bannerman claims “the report reviews a lot of research, but none more startling than the work of this man, Dr Martin Cohen”. Only I can’t find any reference to Dr Cohen’s work in the report. Anywhere. Isn’t that interesting?

As for answers, the 7.30 Report looks to the oft-quoted Dr Alex Wodak, Director of Drug and Alcohol Services at St Vincent’s Hospital, who suggests what Bannerman calls a “radical plan” to regulate, distribute and tax the evil weed.

If we had a taxed and regulated system, not only would we be able to have warnings on the packages, but we’d also be able to regulate the people who obtain cannabis from the regulated outlets.

To counter this “radical” idea, the 7.30 Report gives far too much airtime to the prissy Parliamentary Health Secretary Christopher Pyne, a man who makes Alexander Downer look robust and masculine. He minces:

I don’t think you should regulate poison because it would be easier to manage it if you did. This is a poison and it’s destroying our young people. It’s affecting their mental health and the idea that governments should somehow get involved in it, regulate it, tax it, control the strength of it and then spend that money that’s raised in taxation as though it was any other kind of revenue raising tool, I think, is an abomination.

Right . . . because there are no precedents for governments doing similar things with other poisons that are destroying our young people. Like alcohol. Or tobacco. No, it’s an abomination, that’s what it is!

One can only wonder what Mark Bannerman and the 7.30 Report producers have been smoking to let this monumental piece of shite go to air.

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