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Recovery Plus 52 Feb 2016 Prevention: look after the next generation Article 33 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child says that “States Parties shall take all appropriate measures, including legislative, administrative, social and educational measures, to protect children from the illicit use of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances as defined in the relevant international treaties”. I was a biology teacher in a school for boys for over 30 years and introduced health education. Children always want and need explanations for everything, so I decided to show them exactly how drugs can affect the body, particularly brain cells, using simple scientific diagrams and reasoning. My talks would be factual, nonpatronising and regularly updated. Watching the faces of children change as understanding slowly dawns as to how drugs work is very rewarding. My greatest concern was then, and is now, cannabis. It’s the most commonly used illegal drug – 2-3million users in the UK, 3.6million daily users in the US – and its dangers are constantly downplayed. Up-to-date research findings are ignored, disputed and challenged by people, some of whom are users. Most don’t read all or even any of the literature. Some cherry-pick the occasional paper to suit their purpose, constantly quote it and argue that it proves their point despite many others that find otherwise. The normalisation of drug use is indefensible. Only about 3% of the adult population in the UK regularly use drugs so about 97 % do not; in the US, 1.1% of the population are daily users. Drug use is clearly not the norm and this must be constantly emphasised. How does cannabis affect children’s bodies? The first thing is to look at the brain cells. Cannabis receptor sites (C1) are in many areas of the brain and (C2) in other cells of the body. So its effects are many, widespread and varied. Messages pass along nerve fibres as tiny electrical impulses and cross the gap – the synapse – between nerve cells as chemicals called neurotransmitters. These are the brain’s natural drugs and there are dozens of them. Each neurotransmitter molecule has a specific shape that fits into its own receptor site on the next cell, as a key fits a lock. Mind-altering drugs operate at these synapses. They can mimic the neurotransmitters by shape, increase the rate at which they are released, block them or prevent them being recycled. The substance that gives the “high”, THC – tetrahydrocannabinol – mimics anandamide (Sanscrit for ‘bliss’), a neurotransmitter. Receptor sites for anandamide, and so THC, are in many areas of the brain and other cells of the body. Unlike most other common drugs, THC is fatsoluble so persists in the fatty membranes of brain cells: 50% will be there after a week and 10% a month later. Traces are found in hair and urine for weeks after that. This “clogging up” of the cells by THC interferes with the transmission of other neurotransmitters so functioning of the whole brain is impaired. Potency has increased since the 19602/1970s. In the 1960s/1970s, the average THC content of herbal cannabis was about 1-2%. In the UK’s last potency report in 2008, the THC content of


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