Press Release WHO/26
19 February 1998
WHO DID NOT BOW TO POLITICAL PRESSURE IN PUBLISHING A REPORT ON CANNABIS
Contrary to what is claimed in the latest issue of the magazine New Scientist, the World Health Organization (WHO) did not "bow to political pressure" and expunge from a recent report an analysis indicating that cannabis would be safer than alcohol or tobacco.
This document, entitled "Cannabis: a health perspective and research agenda", was published as a result of an Expert Working Group on Health Effects of Cannabis Use, which met in Geneva in May 1995.
The information contained in the final report reflects a summary of those aspects of the background papers which were considered to be scientifically sound. Section 13 refers to the analysis of the possibilities of comparing licit drugs, such as alcohol and tobacco, with cannabis. However, the consensus was that due to lack of reliable epidemiological studies such comparisons were more speculative than scientific.
There was therefore no attempt to hide any information, and the decision not to include such a comparison in the final report was based on scientific judgement and had nothing to do with political pressure.
WHO is concerned about the negative health consequences of all psychoactive substances independent from their legal status. It is known that there are 1,1 billion tobacco users in the world and that 3,5 million people die every year because of tobacco. It is also known that alcohol causes at least three quarters of a million deaths every year and that the overall harm it causes in societies is enormous. With regard to cannabis, such global assessments are not possible due to the lack of reliable information. It is obvious, however, that the use of cannabis causes a number of health problems and that an increase in its use would make the situation worse.
The background paper entitled A comparative appraisal of the health and psychological consequences of alcohol, cannabis, nicotine and opiate use, whose conclusions were dropped from the summary report, contained several contradictions and conclusions which were not scientifically sound. For example, it says: "... we have not attempted to provide estimates of the health risks of cannabis if its prevalence of use were to approach those of alcohol and tobacco. All that can be said with any confidence is that if the prevalence of cannabis use increased to the levels of cigarette smoking and alcohol use, its public health impact would increase. It is impossible to say by how much with any precision."
Yet the authors finish their paper by stating : "there are good reasons for saying that [cannabis] would be unlikely to seriously rival the public health risks of alcohol and tobacco even if as many people used cannabis as now drink alcohol or smoke tobacco".
Both the background paper and the report are available upon request from the Division of Mental Health and Substance Abuse, WHO, Geneva, tel. (41 22) 791 4791.
For further information, journalists can contact Philippe Stroot, Coordinator Media Relations, WHO, Geneva. Telephone (41 22) 791 25 35, Fax (41 22) 791 48 58. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
All WHO Press Releases, Fact Sheets and Features as well as other information on this subject can be obtained on Internet on the WHO home page http://www.who.int/