With the advent of the internet, we are now able to reach, educate and influence people across the world from the safety of our own computers, a power that has both proven to be positive in the right hands, as well as harmful in others. Powerful news stories, celebrity gossip, and controversial opinions travel across continents in just a moment’s time, quickly making the news with our own local media sources.
This is what happened recently following some very controversial claims made by British psychotherapist Louisa Philips Kulukundis on a BBC documentary. While discussing drug use and the impact that it has on society, Kulukundis stated:
“I would say give me a room full of heroin addicts than skunk addicts… I remember saying to my older son I would prefer you to take heroin than to smoke skunk… There will be generations of kids with severe mental health issues.”
For those unfamiliar with the term, Kulukunis is referring to ‘skunk cannabis,’ or ‘skunk weed.’ This term carries a slightly different meaning in the U.K. than it does in the United States. Here, it simply refers to a strain of weed that carries a particularly strong and noticeable scent when smoked. In the U.K., however, the term ‘skunk’ refers to all high-THC cannabis varieties. Recently ‘skunk’ has attracted a significant amount of popularity in their mainstream media, with some news sources even implying (inaccurately) that it is a new drug hitting the area.
While one may, at first glance, find the psychotherapist’s comments to be mildly entertaining, the backlash that it has caused has outraged cannabis activists, potentially setting back their efforts to change the stigma surrounding cannabis in the country and creating a concerning impression on youth undermining the dangers of heroin use.
Activist Peter Reynolds, from the organization CLEAR, expressed his frustration in a blog post, saying, “It would be easy to launch into a tirade against Ms Kulukundis but her words and their crass stupidity speak for themselves. I wonder how many kids, listening to her recommendation on the BBC’s ‘yoof’ channel will think ‘Well I’ve smoked weed loads of times with no trouble, now this woman who’s an expert says heroin is safer, maybe I’ll see if I can get hold of some.’”
The concern regarding the validation of heroin use is one that should also be taken seriously here in the United States, where heroin use has seen an increase across all social groups according to a recent article from The Guardian. The lead author of the research that the article refers to, from Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, Silvia Martins explains, “There are more people in the US using heroin, there are more people that meet criteria for heroin addiction, and we are seeing increases in all different social strata, in different age groups, in both sexes.”
Experts surveyed nearly 80,000 Americans and concluded that approximately 1.6% of those surveyed admitted to having used heroin at some point in their lives. This was up from 0.33% just 10 years ago. What does that number work out to? When extrapolated to the population of the United States that would estimate that 3.8 million Americans have used heroin, a frightening statistic!
While Reynolds holds Kulukundis responsible for her comments, he also places some blame on the BBC for including these harmful statements in their documentary, releasing them for public viewing. The network, he explains, has a history of painting cannabis in an incredibly negative light, stating, “It still seems incapable of recognizing that most of the three million regular cannabis consumers in the UK are not relics of the hippie era but hardworking people with families and ‘ordinary’ lifestyles.”
He is calling on the BBC to publish an apology for the misinformation, correcting the information that they have made public by broadcasting a full explanation of why this particular claim is dangerous to the general public and carries no scientific backing. Unfortunately, however, he doesn’t believe that the network will answer his requests, saying, “Sadly, it will almost certainly have to be dragged kicking and screaming to provide any meaningful response at all.”