The phenomenon of cannabis psychosis has been headline news again in the UK just recently – as various medical studies and lab tests have reopened the debate as to whether cannabis usage actually causes psychosis…and, if so, whether that usage needs to be both prolonged and heavy to trigger such a response or if light, casual usage may still cause a psychotic reaction in already susceptible individuals. As ever, a number of voices are stridently proclaiming certainty in the on-going debate. I do not propose to suggest a definitive answer (I am neither a chemist nor an advocate of illegal drug use!) – although I would certainly concur that heavy usage CAN cause psychosis in some people…and it is that specific observation that underpinned much of my debut novel, RUDE BOY, as one of its key themes. Thus, the reappearance of the phenomenon of cannabis psychosis as front page news reminded me that I have (lately) been somewhat neglectful in promoting my first novel. This blog post is, then, an attempt to redress that balance in relation to my own books – whilst, of course, reflecting just a little on the currently topical ‘cannabis psychosis’ debate.
Cannabis psychosis is indeed a theme in RUDE BOY. As the novel (which is set in London in the early 1980s) progresses and the protagonist, Kenny, spirals ever downwards, he becomes victim to increasing levels of high anxiety and plagued by uncontrolled thoughts (such as “Where do our thoughts even come from?…Are we just like radios passively receiving them or do we actually create our own thoughts for ourselves?” etc). Although not made explicit, it is intended that part of Kenny’s downward spiral (specifically the runaway thoughts and a heightened susceptibility to paranoid fantasy) hints at the phenomenon of cannabis psychosis. However, cannabis psychosis is by no means the sole cause of Kenny’s problems – he suffers sufficient personal misfortune earlier in the book to unbalance him regardless of his growing drug use. He has plenty of trials and tribulations to overcome that would just as likely send a teetotaller over the edge! That being said, as an author, I did fully intend that the specific manifestations of some of Kenny’s psychological problems at the end of the book would unequivocally allude to cannabis psychosis.
Back in the 1980s (when RUDE BOY is set) the main varieties of ‘dope’ (cannabis) that could be readily and commonly bought on London’s streets were ‘Black’ and ‘Leb’ – both varieties of cannabis resin that would be crumbled into ‘joints’ (self-rolled cigarettes) and mixed with regular tobacco (from commercial cigarettes). Occasionally some stronger leaf-based cannabis (known as ‘Home Grown’ or, rarely, the highly potent ‘Thai Grass’) was available but most of the time it was simply cannabis resin – ‘Black’ or ‘Leb’. (NB For an exploration of the precise differences between Black and Leb – see my novel!).
The point I am making is this – the type of ‘dope’ available in the 1980s was (generally) far less potent than that being sold now (‘Skunk’ and other 21st century varieties are far more ‘pure’ – for which, read powerful). And yet, the phenomenon of ‘cannabis psychosis’ (although rare) was both known and documented in the 1980s – with initial research having begun in the late 1960s. Now, in 2012, with stronger dope varieties (containing greater concentrations of the THC chemical – chemists please correct me if I am wrong!) the incidence of ‘cannabis psychosis’ seems to be on the increase…and the connection with higher levels of THC would seem to make logical sense as an explanation. Having said that, a number of other medical studies have suggested that cannabis use is not in itself a trigger for psychosis (merely one of several contributing factors) – and further studies have highlighted the positive medical uses of cannabis (ironically in combating post-traumatic stress disorder plus its ability to provide relief from some of the side effects of both glaucoma and MS). As ever with this endlessly controversial issue, the debate continues and no definitive scientific verdict has been reached.
I hope my novel’s treatment of the issue has been both well-handled and thought-provoking – as these were my intentions. In addition, I have tried to be entertaining – the book is also filled with a black humour that, I hope, causes many laugh-out-loud moments…even at times of high drama or at unexpected moments! Anyway, those are my hopes. Readers – do please let me know! Feedback is always welcome.