The Whitstable Gazette: “Is Cannabis a Gateway Drug?” and Other Stories

I wrote a column for the Whitstable Gazette from 2009 till 2020. Following are a selection of stories from that publication.

1. Is Cannabis a Gateway drug?

You may have heard the term “gateway drug” with reference to cannabis. It is the idea that cannabis use opens the door to other drugs.

The basis of this is that it can be shown that most people who end up using hard drugs like heroin have, at some earlier point in their lives, also taken cannabis.

This is an absurd argument, of course, since it can also be shown that most heroin users have also previously drunk tea, gone shopping or watched Deal Or No Deal on daytime TV.

Should we make Noel Edmonds illegal then? Does daytime TV drive you to heroin? I wouldn’t be at all surprised.

Of course the only real similarity between cannabis and heroin is the fact that they are both illegal and therefore available from the same source.

In other words it is precisely the status of the two drugs as illegal substances that is most likely to cause an escalation from one to the other. Heroin addicts often fund their addiction by dealing in other drugs.

Plus when people find out that they are not instantly and irrecoverably addicted to cannabis after a few smokes, they begin to disbelieve the official line on drugs as a whole, and to imagine that they can handle heroin in the same way.

This is where they are mistaken. No one can handle heroin. It’s the second most addictive drug on the planet. Unfortunately the most addictive drug is freely available to sixteen year-olds over the counter in almost every corner shop or newsagents in the world.

It is nicotine, more addictive, more dangerous, and far more harmful than heroin.

Ask any heroin addict. Cigarettes are more difficult to kick than heroin. And you’ll notice this too: heroin addicts generally stop taking other drugs. They don’t drink alcohol, and they rarely smoke cannabis. But they all smoke cigarettes.

It’s as if, in having become addicted to cigarettes – something we all consider quite normal – it gives them permission to become heroin addicts too.

So you have to ask yourself, which is the real gateway drug?

2. Where was God?

There was an odd little programme on the TV a few years back, called Tsunami: Where Was God?

It involved the presenter going to a number of places in Southeast Asia where the Tsunami was most devastating, and asking people about God.

This seemed a very strange thing to do and it brought up some quite peculiar responses. One extremist Muslim said that it was a punishment for tight clothing, while the most profound statement came from a Hindu woman whose son had been swept away in the Tsunami. She was grief stricken but resigned. “God has returned to God,” she said.

What struck me was that the question itself is absurd. God just doesn’t come into it. It takes a peculiar form of human vanity to think that God listens to individual human prayers, or that he has a particular preference for one religion over another. The fact is that Muslims, Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, Jews, believers and non-believers, were all carried away in the Tsunami, which made no distinction whatsoever between people or their religious beliefs.

This took place on the second anniversary of the Tsunami, but the first anniversary of the Gaza massacre in which 1,400 Palestinians were trapped in their cage and killed, a large percentage of them children.

It seems odd that the second anniversary of one tragic event was so extensively covered, but that the first anniversary of another was so completely ignored.

The difference being, of course, that the first was a natural occurrence over which human beings had no control, while the second was entirely man-made.

Even more notable is that while the rebuilding of the coastline of South East Asia continued, the people of Gaza still labour under an economic blockade which stops building materials from crossing the border, and so are unable to even begin the process of rebuilding their devastated country.

A saner anniversary programme might have been called Gaza: Where Is Our Humanity?

3. Believe it or not

My Mum told me this story.

She said went into a shop and bought some items and paid for them with a £10 note, but the woman behind the counter gave her change for £20.

There were several people lined up at the counter waiting to be served, and, not wanting to embarrass the shop assistant, Mum waited till the queue had cleared.

“Excuse me,” she said eventually, “I think you’ve made a mistake. You’ve given me the wrong change.”

“No I haven’t.,” said the woman behind the counter, very curtly.

“Yes you have,” said my Mum, getting ready to hand the extra £10 back.

“No I haven’t,” said the woman, raising her voice, obviously annoyed that anyone was questioning her point of view.

My Mum tried a few more times, each time being interrupted by an increasingly angry shop-assistant before she had even completed her sentence.

“OK if you say so,” she said finally, and put the extra £10 note into her purse. Later her and my sister went out and had lunch on the money.

People believe a lot of things that aren’t necessarily true. In the case of that shop-assistant, she had obviously rung the wrong figure into the till, and when offered a choice between what the till was saying and the word of a customer, preferred to believe the till.

Machines don’t lie, of course. But when provided with faulty information they will give you faulty answers.

The problem with human beings is that once we get a belief stuck into our head it’s very difficult to dislodge it.

Sometimes some of our beliefs make some sort of sense. But often they don’t. Some of our beliefs have been inculcated into us since early childhood. They’ve been repeated so often we take them for the truth. Our whole world is built around received belief-systems such as this.

Personally I always retain a healthy scepticism about anyone’s beliefs… and that includes my own.

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