Sunday, 4 August 2013

Caffeine, Cannabis and Jane Austen’s Caroline


I usually get to my desk at about 06.00 every morning. In order, I switch on my lap-top, turn on the shared photocopy/printer, and make a cup of coffee. Possibly before other people begin to arrive I will have made and drunk another cup of coffee. For the rest of the day I tend to drink fruit teas, ginger and lemon being my favourite.  In the evening I go back to coffee, possibly drinking 2 or 3 cups before going off to bed. All of which, perhaps explains my growing midriff.  

According to a paper published last week in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, research carried out by Australian and Malaysian academics, reported that 5 cups of coffee a day could cause obesity. However, the study involved mice and not people, and the chemicals found in coffee, not coffee itself. Their assertion appeared to the consequence of a little over enthusiastic discussion of the potential implications of the research. Still a medium latte with whole milk weighs in at 290 calories, more than 10% of the daily recommended calorie intake. It is also true that drinking 5 or more cups of caffeinated coffee a day can lead to symptoms such as irritability and insomnia.

Whilst coffee might be the ‘drug’ of choice for many people, so it seems is cannabis. 2m people in the UK smoke cannabis, and 50% of all 16 – 29 year olds have tried it at least once. There are about 400 different chemical compounds in the average cannabis plant. When cannabis is smoked, it is these compounds that rapidly enter the bloodstream and are transported directly to the brain, particularly to the brains receptors that influence pleasure, memory, thought, concentration and time perception. The National Institute of Drug Abuse in the US has ranked the relative addictiveness of 6 substances (cannabis, caffeine, cocaine, alcohol, heroin and nicotine). Cannabis was ranked the least additive, closely followed by caffeine, and nicotine the most addictive. The United Nations claims that cannabis is the most used illicit drug in the world.

Regular use of the drug appears to double the risk of a psychotic episode and or long-term schizophrenia and depression. Long term studies from Australia, on school children aged 14 – 15 years have found that adolescents who used cannabis daily were 5 times more likely to develop depression and anxiety in later life, and they started smoking before the age of 15, they were 4 times more likely to develop a psychotic disorder by the time they were 26 years old.

Interesting then that last week Uruguay took another step closer to legalizing the sale and use of cannabis. The illegal cannabis market is estimated to be about £48m a year. It is this money that feeds widespread organised drug trafficking crime, and a 7% rise in murders in the last 12 months. Whilst 63% of the population is opposed to the proposed changes, Uruguay is no stranger to early adoption of sometimes controversial new legislation. In 1913 it became the first country in the region to grant divorces to women who requested them. In the UK, up until 1923, women had to prove that their husband had committed adultery and also his cruelty, incest or rape!

Women, murder, rape and money were also in the news for other reasons last week. Caroline Criado-Perez received rape and death threats from Twitter users after she successfully campaigned for a woman’s picture to be used on the new £10 note when it is introduced in 2017. She organised an on-line campaign to persuade the Bank of England to use a picture of Jane Austen on the new note. However, according to the Guardian newspaper last week, she may need to continue the campaign to make sure the quote to be used is a little less ironic. The quote is from Pride and Prejudice; ‘I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading!’. Unfortunately this quote is uttered by Caroline Bingley as she tries to impress Mr Darcy. She has been described as one of Jane Austen’s most deceitful characters who had no interest in books at all. It’s not known if she had any interest in coffee or cannabis.