Saturday, May 28, 2011

War-weary lawmakers send Obama a message

WASHINGTON – War-weary Republicans and Democrats on Thursday sent the strongest message yet to President Barack Obama to end the war in Afghanistan as the commander in chief decides how many U.S. troops to withdraw this summer.

A measure requiring an accelerated timetable for pulling out the 100,000 troops from Afghanistan and an exit strategy for the nearly 10-year-old conflict secured 204 votes in the House, falling just short of passage but boosting the hopes of its surprised proponents.

"It sends a strong signal to the president that the U.S. House of Representatives and the American people want change," Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., said shortly after the vote.

Obama will begin drawing down some of the troops in July, with all combat forces due out by 2014. McGovern and others fear that the initial reduction will be a token cut of some 5,000, numbers they argue fail to reflect that Osama bin Laden is gone and the United States can't afford spending $10 billion a month on the war.

An Associated Press-GfK poll earlier this month found 59 percent oppose the war and 37 percent favor it, with significant support for Obama's plan to start removing troops this summer.

"Five thousand on July 1 and nothing else, that won't fly," said Rep. John Garamendi, D-Calif. "That will create a great deal of anger."

Twenty-six Republicans joined 178 Democrats in backing the Afghanistan measure. Eight Democrats and 207 Republicans opposed it. In the Democratic-controlled House last July, a similar measure got 162 votes. The tally on Thursday reflected the increasing exasperation in Congress with the costly war, even among the typically more hawkish Republicans.

But among the measure's foes, Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo., said the accelerated timetable "would pull the rug out of the entire strategy," and Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, said "the sacrifice of blood and treasure will be thrown away for considerable impatience."

The divisive issue was part of three days of debate on a broad, $690 billion defense bill that would provide a 1.6 percent increase in military pay, fund an array of aircraft, ships and submarines and increase health care fees slightly for working-age military retirees. The bill meets the Pentagon's request for $119 billion to fight wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The House passed the military blueprint for the budget year beginning Oct. 1 on a vote of 322-96.

In another sign of exasperation with war, the House overwhelmingly backed a measure barring any taxpayer dollars for U.S. ground forces or private security contractors in Libya with the exception of those involved in rescue missions of U.S. service members. The vote was 416-5.

Obama angered lawmakers with the amount of consultation with Congress before launching air strikes against Libya in March. Several members also have complained that Obama violated the 1972 War Powers Resolution, failing to seek congressional authorization for the U.S. military role in Libya.

Obama recently said the U.S. involvement is limited in the NATO-led operation. He also has said he would not send ground forces.

Despite a veto threat, the Republican-controlled House moved ahead with several provisions in the bill that limit Obama's authority to reduce the size of the nuclear weapons arsenal and decide the fate of terrorist suspects. The bill also would delay implementation of the president's new policy allowing gays to serve openly in the military and revives an extra engine for a new fighter aircraft that the Pentagon doesn't want.

The Republican-led House bill must be reconciled with a Senate version that is unlikely to include many of the divisive provisions. The Democratic-controlled Senate Armed Services Committee will begin crafting the bill the week of June 13.

The administration opposes language in the bill revising the authorization to use military force established after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Republican proponents say the provision mirrors what the Obama administration has spelled out as its justification for prosecuting various terrorist cases. Critics say it would give the president unlimited authority not only to detain terror suspects and prosecute them in military tribunals, but also to go to war

The American Civil Liberties Union said the provisions "authorizes a worldwide war against terrorism suspects and against nations suspected of supporting them."

Republicans said the threat has changed since 2001 and Congress needs to respond. An effort by Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich., and several Democrats to eliminate the provision failed on a vote of 234-187.

The bill would limit Obama's authority to transfer terrorist suspects from the U.S. naval facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to installations in the United States, even for trial. It also would make it difficult for the administration to move detainees to foreign countries. The dispute over the fate of 170 detainees at the U.S. naval installation elicited the fiercest debate between Republicans and Democrats.

The House added another provision on Thursday, voting 246-173 to require that all foreign terrorist suspects be considered enemy combatants to be tried in military tribunals.

The bill includes a provision that would prohibit money to the administration for removing nuclear weapons from operation unless it reports to Congress on how it plans to modernize the remaining arsenal. The bill also says the president may not change the target list or move weapons out of Europe until he reports to Congress.

Last December, the Senate ratified the New START treaty, signed by Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in April 2010. The pact would limit each country's strategic nuclear warheads to 1,550, down from the current ceiling of 2,200. It also established a system for weapons inspections.

START stands for Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty.

In threatening a veto, the administration said it objected to the bill's onerous conditions on its ability to implement the treaty. The White House also said the legislation "raises constitutional concerns as it appears to encroach on the president's authority as commander in chief to set nuclear employment policy — a right exercised by every president in the nuclear age from both parties."

In writing the military bill, the House voted to eliminate the Institute of Peace, the independent organization which works to prevent and resolve violent international conflicts and has operations in Afghanistan, Iraq and the Korean peninsula.

Rep. Chip Cravaack, R-Minn., said as the nation struggles economically, it can't afford a duplicative agency whose work can be done by the State Department, Peace Corps or the Defense Department. The Institute got $39.5 million in the current budget.

Jurors reject pharmacist’s self-defense plea; convict him of murder

Yesterday, a jury rejected an Oklahoma pharmacist's plea that he was acting in self-defense when he killed a man in an attempted robbery, and sent him to prison for first-degree murder.

According to Tulsa World, two employees at Reliable Discount Pharmacy testified that Jerome Jay Ersland saved their lives and was a "hero" for shooting at the two masked robbers two years ago, killing one.

But prosecutors played the store's surveillance video to argue that he was acting in cold-blood when he shot the 16-year-old masked robber, left the store to chase the other robber, returned, grabbed another gun, and then shot the unconscious man five more times

War-weary lawmakers push Obama to end Afghan war

U.S. President Barack Obama greets troops at Fort Campbell in Kentucky May 6, 2011. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

War-weary Republicans and Democrats on Thursday sent the strongest message yet to President Barack Obama to end the war in Afghanistan

WASHINGTON, May 25, 2011 (Reuters) — War-weary lawmakers pushed President Barack Obama to wind down the 10-year-old conflict in Afghanistan on Wednesday as the House of Representatives began debating a bill to authorize $690 billion in defense spending for the next fiscal year.

Republicans and Democrats aiming to ramp up pressure on Obama introduced 18 amendments on Afghanistan, some demanding the start of a phased withdrawal and others seeking a radical shift away from the military's current troop-intensive counterinsurgency-style strategy.

The anti-war amendments had little chance of winning the 217 votes needed for passage if all members vote. Supporters were hopeful of topping the 162-vote high that similar measures have received in the past in order to send a message to Obama ahead of his decision on troop withdrawals in July.

"We're trying to put some wind at the president's back so that in July there will be more than just a token drawdown," said Democratic Representative Jim McGovern, who expressed concern about reports that only 5,000 service members might be withdrawn.

"It'll help empower the president to do what I think in his heart he knows is the right thing to do -- and that is to bring this war to an end," McGovern said.

Pressure to wind down the war came as the House began debating the bill that would authorize defense spending for the 2012 fiscal year, including a $571 billion base budget for the Pentagon and $119 billion for overseas contingencies, mainly the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

A final vote on the bill could come as early as Thursday.

Although the bill authorizes expenditures, it is primarily a means for Congress and the administration to set defense policy. Actual spending levels are established by appropriations bills and other measures.

The bill being considered by the Republican-controlled House would impose restrictions on the Obama administration's effort to implement the New START nuclear arms treaty with Russia and undermine the repeal of a ban on gays serving openly in the military.

It also seeks to force the administration to continue several military programs eliminated to reduce costs at a time when the government is under pressure to cut its $1.4 trillion deficit and pay down its $14.3 trillion debt.

The House was considering more than 150 proposed amendments to the bill, dealing with everything from military use of alternative fuels and contractor oversight to the repatriation of remains of 13 sailors killed in the First Barbary War of 1804 and buried in a mass grave in Tripoli.

Many tried to influence U.S. war policy in Afghanistan, pressing for early withdrawals, ending aid to Pakistan or demanding a change in strategy.

Representative Jason Chaffetz said during debate late on Wednesday his amendment to switch to a counterterrorism mission with fewer people in Afghanistan was needed to avoid "mission creep" that was promoting "nation-building."

"It's trying to bring our troops home. Nobody should be disappointed in that," he said of the amendment.

But opponents said counterterrorism alone would not produce the results the administration is seeking -- a politically stable Afghanistan that will not again become a base for attacks against the United States.

"We would not ... have been able to run the mission against bin Laden that we did if we didn't have the broader support in Afghanistan," Representative Adam Smith said. "If we pull out and think that we can run a counterterrorism mission with a government that is collapsing around us and that does not support us, then we kid ourselves."

Representative Mike Coffman, a former Marine infantry officer, said, "If in fact we do inexpeditiously withdraw and revert to counterterrorism, there will be many lives lost unnecessarily due to our conduct here tonight."

Dutch government to ban tourists from cannabis shops

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) – The Dutch government on Friday said it would start banning tourists from buying cannabis from "coffee shops" and impose restrictions on Dutch customers by the end of the year.

The Netherlands is well known for having one of Europe's most liberal soft drug policies that has made its cannabis shops a popular tourist attraction, particularly in Amsterdam.

Backed by the far-right party of anti-immigrant politician Geert Wilders, the coalition government that came into power last year announced plans to curb drug tourism as part of a nationwide program to promote health and fight crime.

"In order to tackle the nuisance and criminality associated with coffee shops and drug trafficking, the open-door policy of coffee shops will end," the Dutch health and justice ministers wrote in a letter to the country's parliament on Friday.

Under the new rules, only Dutch residents will be able to sign up as members of cannabis shops.

Dutch customers will have to sign up for at least a year's membership and each shop would be expected to have only up to 1,500 members, a justice ministry spokesman said.

The policy will roll out in the southern provinces of Limburg, Noord Brabant and Zeeland by the end of the year and the rest of the country next year, the spokesman said.

Amsterdam, home to about 220 coffee shops, is already in the process of closing some in its red light district. Some officials have resisted the measures, saying they will push the soft drug trade underground.

Some Dutch border towns including Maastricht and Terneuzen have already restricted the sale of marijuana to foreigners.

(Reporting by Greg Roumeliotis and Gilbert Kreijger; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

Chinese prisoners forced to play World of Warcraft, make money for guards

It's a common practice for Chinese labor camps to force prisoners to bust boulders and dig ditches, but a former inmate has recently come forward to shed some light on a little-known practice that goes on behind the scenes: virtual labor. Liu Dali spent three years in one such labor camp, and claims that after a hard day's work was completed, he and up to 300 of his fellow detainees were forced to make virtual money in online games like World of Warcraft, for the benefit of prison guards.

The guards would then use the virtual cash for their own means, including trading it for real-world money. Dali claims he overheard guards bragging that they could make close to $1,000 a day off of the efforts of the inmates, none of which ever made its way into the hands of the workers. He also claims that certain quotas were set, and that those who didn't raise enough virtual cash would be physically beaten.

Raising large amounts of credit in online games through the use of multiple accounts and individuals is known as "gold farming." The practice is typically frowned upon due to the nature of the work and the fact that those involved are usually paid very little. The problem is especially widespread in China, where the government was forced to ban the practice in 2009, though it continues to be an issue to this day. Chinese officials have denied the allegations, and insist that because playing an online game would constitute "contact with the outside world," prisoners would never be allowed to engage in such activity

Margo Dydek, 7-foot-2 ex-WNBA player, dies at 37

BRISBANE, Australia (AP)—Margo Dydek, a 7-foot-2 former WNBA player who led the league in blocks nine times, died Friday after being placed in a medically induced coma following a heart attack a week ago. She was 37.

Her death was confirmed to The Associated Press by Cathy Roberts, operations manager of the Northside Wizards in the Queensland Basketball League, where Dydek was the coach.
FILE - This Sept. 11, 2008, file photo shows Los Angeles Sparks ' Margo Dydek, left, protects the ball as Atlanta Dream 's Katie Feenstra, right, defends during Dream's 83-72 victory in a WNBA basketball game, in Los Angeles. Dydek has suffered a heart attack and is in a medically induced coma in a Brisbane, Australia hospital. Basketball Australia said Friday, May 20, 2011, that the 37-year-old Poland-born Dydek suffered the heart attack on Thursday.
FILE - This Sept. 11, 2008, fi…
AP - May 20, 9:24 am EDT

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The Poland-born Dydek, pregnant with her third child, was stricken with a heart attack May 19 and collapsed at her home in Brisbane. Dydek was early in her pregnancy and the fetus died, Roberts said.

Dydek was once said to be the tallest active professional female basketball player. She was the No. 1 pick in the 1998 WNBA draft by the Utah Starzz. She also played for San Antonio, Connecticut and Los Angeles.

“She was a tremendous person, role model and athlete who touched the lives of her many fans and made an indelible mark on women’s basketball around the world,” WNBA President Laurel Richie said.

Dydek held the record for most blocks in a WNBA career (877 in 323 games) and led the league from 1998 to 2003 and again from 2005-07. In 2008, Dydek signed with the Los Angeles Sparks following time away from basketball to give birth to her first son.

“Not only was Margo a great basketball player, she was one of the kindest people I had the opportunity to play against and later work with,” said Sparks general manager Penny Toler, who also played with Dydek.

“I was saddened to hear about her passing at such a young age. Her memory will live on, not only with the Sparks but with the entire WNBA. Our deepest sympathies go out to her family.”

Tina Thompson, a former teammate on the Sparks, said on the WNBA’s Twitter feed: “My condolences to the family of Margo Dydek, may she rest in peace!”

According to Dydek’s Facebook page, she was born to a 6-7 father and 6-3 mother. Her oldest of two sisters, Kashka, used to play for the Colorado Explosion of the now defunct ABL, and in Poland.

The Brisbane-based Wizards said on their website that Dydek died “peacefully and surrounded by her family.”

“Always in our hearts—Margo. … You were a much-loved member of our community and we will miss you greatly,” the team said.

She is survived by her husband, David, and two sons, David, 3, and Alex, 7 months.

Beer Gardens Everywhere

The Loreley beer garden in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, is among many blooming across the city

THERE are some who thought, prematurely, that 2010 was New York’s summer of the beer garden, what with the World Cup and the opening of a half-dozen outdoor, German-style drinking establishments. But not unlike some genetically altered superweed, these ale-and-oompah joints have continued even this year to crop up everywhere you look. They have grown so thick, so fast, that certain neighborhoods (Astoria in Queens and Williamsburg in Brooklyn come to mind) could, with the proper vantage and the help of several pilsners, be mistaken for Bavaria.

It would seem that last summer’s sprouting of beer gardens is about to turn into this summer’s beer garden jungle.

There are now no fewer than 54 beer gardens in the city, according to Beer Gardens NYC, a nine-month-old iPhone application dedicated to tracking the phenomenon, and that does not include some that have been announced but are not yet open.

There are classic beer gardens (Hallo Berlin), hipster beer gardens (Radegast Hall), beer gardens catering to frat boys (Studio Square) and a beer garden in a former Brooklyn auto-body shop (Mission Dolores). There are also temporary beer gardens, like the one that Colicchio & Sons plans to run this summer under the High Line in Chelsea, and another that will soon supplant the riverside bar at the South Street Seaport’s Water Taxi Beach.

Beer gardens have achieved such cultural ascendancy that even grand masters are getting into the act. Recently, Joe Bastianich and Mario Batali announced the opening of La Birreria, an outdoor Italian-style drinking establishment, on the roof of Eataly, their Italian food megamall on 23rd Street. The beer garden offers an Alps-influenced menu and craft beers seasoned with fresh thyme picked, by hand, from the hills outside Rome.

All of which demands a question: How many beer gardens can one city — even a fiercely pro-beer-garden city like New York — possibly have?

“Basically, this is too much,” said Larry Spacek, manager of the Bohemian Hall and Beer Garden in Astoria, the 100-year-old paterfamilias of the New York beer garden world. “Everybody sees our success and is copycatting us. I don’t know if it is progress, but probably we are reaching an era of beer gardens.”

According to Mr. Spacek — he pronounces his name SPAH-check (“I am not related to Sissy”) — a successful beer garden requires both the beer and the garden, and if there also happen to be bratwurst, schnitzels and enough communal tables to, as he put it, “sit around with 600 other fellows singing karaoke,” that’s all to the good. The problem, he suggested, resides with those beer gardens lacking foliage. It is true, he acknowledged, that some of these less-than-green newcomers have cut into the Bohemian Hall’s business.

“But sooner or later,” he said, “the fact that we are in a real park, with real trees, will bring people back. This is very important.”

Michael Momm, meanwhile, who helped open Zum Schneider on Avenue C in 2000 and now owns two Loreley beer gardens (one in Brooklyn, the other on the Lower East Side), claimed to be unbothered by the current beer-garden glut, competition being the natural outgrowth of capitalism. Mr. Momm said, somewhat shockingly, that in the recent past some of his rivals have spied on his establishments (“We’ve had people come in, talking to the staff, like where did you get your furniture and so forth”). But he chalked this up to the constant search for a tactical advantage in the dog-eat-dog beer garden trade.

“That’s how it goes,” he said. “I don’t necessarily see it as a threat.”

It is difficult to trace the precise genealogy of the city’s beer gardens — the first of which was said to be Castle Garden, which opened on July 3, 1824, in a former Army fort in Manhattan’s Battery Park. (It later preceded Ellis Island as New York’s primary immigrant processing center.) In the early 20th century, German sections of the city —Yorkville on the Upper East Side, for one — had several beer gardens, but they eventually suffered from anti-Teutonic sentiment during the two world wars.

Of the city’s extant beer gardens, the Bohemian Hall, owned and operated by the Bohemian Citizens’ Benevolent Society of Astoria, stands in a class by itself. Under it are the middle-aged beer gardens: Hallo Berlin on 10th Avenue (“New York’s wurst restaurant”); Killmeyer’s on Arthur Kill Road in Staten Island (sauerbraten, 57 different bottles of German beer); and Zum Schneider (fake trees, pretzels, St. Pauli Girl waitresses). Then, of course, there are the arrivistes: places like Berry Park in Williamsburg, with its D.J. booth and Tuesday night poker games, and Studio Square in Astoria, with — Was ist das? — sushi and panko-crusted chicken schnitzel fingers.

There is no doubt, however, that Mr. Batali’s La Birreria — which, its brew master said, will be the first beer garden in America to employ firkins, nine-gallon, old-English-style carbonation casks — represents the epitome of an increasingly baroque, gourmetized trend. One of its ales will be bolstered by ground Italian chestnut powder. Talk of the establishment is said to have begun six years ago at a “slow food” conference in Turin.

“I hear beer garden and it connotes oompah bands and picnic tables,” said the brew master, Sam Calagione, the founder of the Dogfish Head brewery. “But La Birreria will be a place for super-rustic, unfiltered, naturally carbonated beers accompanied by super-rustic, fresh-ingredient, Alps-inspired food.” Not to mention, he added, “The view is just epic.”

How did this come to pass?

Perhaps it’s no coincidence that New York’s drinking zeitgeist has passed, in succession, from the Belle Epoque-ish wine bar to the pre-crash Jazz Age cocktail lounge, to the Weimar-flavored biergarten, with its whiffs of hyperinflation and the Munich Beer Hall Putsch. Of course, it is also true that people like beer and will tend to drink it in large amounts, while sitting outside at long, communal tables in the sun.

“It’s a recession-friendly outing,” said Hope Tarr, who runs Beer Gardens NYC with her partner, Raj Moorjani. “If you take a date out in Park Slope or Manhattan, even to a modest restaurant, it’s a not inconsequential amount of money. But at a beer garden, you can get good beer for two to three dollars and, once the season starts, most have a grill menu, too. There’s probably still room for the market to grow. I don’t think we’ve reached the saturation point.”

That may seem like a difficult draft to swallow when — aside from the 8,000 square feet La Birreria takes up and the 3,500 square feet occupied by Bierhaus NYC near Grand Central Terminal and the 6,000 square feet currently consumed by Spritzenhaus, in Greenpoint, Brooklyn — there is Local West, another 6,000-square-footer, which will open next month at 1 Penn Plaza, near Madison Square Garden.

“People think that if they do this, they can get success,” Mr. Spacek said. “But they forget: It is not just about big wood benches and selling beer. It is about the environment you create — and how you feel.”

Student brings fake Uzi to class, promises to 'start shooting' then gets arrested, classmate says

Read more: http://www.nydailynews.com/news/ny_crime/2011/05/27/2011-05-27_student_brings_fake_uzi_to_class_promises_to_start_shooting_then_gets_arrested_c.html#ixzz1NdNoMQ3Z

High school students in Queens got the scare of a lifetime Friday when a classmate brandished a realistic-looking toy Uzi and promised to "start shooting."

A 15-year-old freshman has been charged with criminal possession of a weapon after he flashed the fake gun in English class at Flushing High School and promised to take revenge on classmates who teased him.

"He said it was going to happen in the hallway after class," said a classmate who wouldn't give her name.

"He promised he was going to start shooting," said the terrified girl, whose parents pulled her out of school after the incident.

The troubled teen who showed off the fake weapon was a frequent target of other students who teased him and called him "scarecrow" for being too skinny, the classmate said.

During third period, the teen pulled the gun from his book bag and displayed it for the frightened students. A witness said the teacher never noticed.

A school aide recevied an anonymous call about the gun and told a dean, who enlisted the help of a school safety agent to track down the teen.

Cops were alerted, and after a canvass of the building, the teen was located and arrested. He is being charged as a juvenile.

Police said the boy painted the toy gun's red barrel black so it looked real. Cops also found a box cutter in his backpack.

"I'm glad police got him, but I still don't feel safe at school," said the girl who witnessed the incident.

School officials said administrative action against the boy is pending

NYPD Daily Blotter

A 30-year-old St. Albans man is fighting for his life with a gunshot wound to the back of the head, cops said yesterday.

Shot at 7:05 p.m. Thursday outside his 188th Street home near Liberty Avenue, he was in critical condition last night at Jamaica Hospital.

Investigators last night were seeking both the shooter and a motive.

A fire believed to have been sparked by a faulty extension cord killed a pregnant 21-year-old in her Prospect Heights apartment early yesterday, the FDNY said.

Choy Barrington's body was found in her bed on the third floor of 767 Washington Ave. once the 3:30 a.m. blaze had been extinguished.


A student accidentally dropped a container of sulfuric acid, causing three classmates to suffer minor burns in Meyer Levin JHS 285 yesterday, authorities said.

The caustic chemical splashed on the kids' feet and lower legs at 9:42 a.m. in a science lab at the East Flatbush school on Beverly Road near Ralph Avenue, the FDNY said.

The students were treated at Kings County Hospital.

The woman pictured above is wanted for allegedly snatching a 34- year-old woman's purse in Brighton Beach.

Police say she grabbed the bag at 10 a.m. on May 21 near Brighton Beach Avenue and Brighton 4th Street.

The crook was aided by a male accomplice who distracted the woman during the caper, cops said.

Cops are looking for the cross-dressing hell-raiser pictured above, who allegedly helped trash a Greenwich Village Dunkin' Donuts.

Mark Wright has been identified as one of the nearly dozen suspects who went on a rampage in the Christopher Street shop on May 16.

The wolf pack tossed chairs and a table, destroyed a coffee machine and caused nearly $2,500 in damage, cops said.


A man in a clown suit sparked a security scare yesterday morning as he walked across the Manhattan Bridge.

Cops stopped him and a male pal wearing a dress after a motorist reported seeing them wandering aimlessly in the bridge's Brooklyn-bound roadway at 7 a.m.

Officers found the men on the footpath, breaking no law, and allowed them to continue on their merry way.

Staten Island

An ex-con who stole $85,000 during a violent home invasion 10 years ago has been busted for violating parole, authorities said yesterday.

Kyriakos Evangelou, 28, of Castleton Corners, failed three drug tests, was "disruptive" during treatment counseling and did not make restitution payments on time after gaining his release from federal lockup, court documents say.

He spent 84 months in prison for a 2001 robbery during which he and two accomplices duct-taped and pistol-whipped a jewelry dealer in her Greenridge home before taking a duffel bag full of money from her attic.

Arrested Wednesday at his Merriman Avenue home, Evangelou allegedly told US marshals that his drug relapse was due to difficulties in dealing with stress and insomnia.

Cannabis and mental health
Other sections

Risks of getting stoned
Risks caused by how you get stoned
Risks caused by the law
The ins and outs of surviving prohibition - risks summary

The logo of the Cannabis and mental health conferences
of 2004 and 2007

Over the past few years there have been a lot of reports in the media about cannabis and its effect on mental health problems, especially schizophrenia. Despite the simplistic and often frankly alarmist reports in sections of the media, politicians and some ill-informed campaigners, it's a complicated and very real issue.

Are there links between cannabis and mental health? Does cannabis cause mental illness?
Does it have any effect on existing mental illness making it worse or better? These are important questions and the answers aren't as simple as the more rabid tabloid press would like you to believe.

Information on this page has been compiled with the help of the mental health charity RETHINK
In this section

Brain care and under 18's binge toking
Is cannabis a drug?
What is mental illness?
Are there links between cannabis use and mental health problems?
Cannabis, drugs and young people

UKCIA would like to thank RETHINK for help in writing this page and also Boojam, a cannabis user who has long had problems with manic depression, for his thoughts.
Brain care

You get stoned because of a combination effect of several active chemicals which we call drugs, they're "active" because they do things in the brain.

By design or accident some of the chemicals in cannabis are the same shape as chemicals which occur in the brain that regulate the way the brain works.

Most drugs used for fun or escapism - perception changing - work in something like this way, so if you don't like the idea of altering the way your brain works, don't do drugs - simple as that...

Out of your head - Lifeline info

Manchester based Lifeline's "Out of your head" leaflet gives a good description of mental health problems and the way cannabis might complicate them. It Contains some good information about how cannabis works and what the symptoms of mental illness can be. Download PDF

Under 18's and binge toking
The thoughts of Boojam - 1

It's not so much the altering of perception that's potentially harmful to developing teenagers, it's the constant, unrelenting alteration of perception. We're still learning to be "us" at that age, we're not yet who we are destined to become, and it's probably not a very good idea to derail that process by getting hammered every single day.

You can't learn to be "you" if you never get the opportunity to be "you", you can't forge your adult links with consensual reality if you're never in touch with consensual reality. You can't get a handle on your own personal perception of the world if that perception of the world is always altered.

Cannabis isn't a problem in itself, but heavy and habitual use of any substance that alters your perception of reality during the late developmental stage of the minds growth cannot be anything but a bad idea.

You've got to anchor the good ship 'Mind' before you go diving to explore the depths.
Young people under 18 are best advised not to get stoned - at least not very often - because their brains are still growing and developing. This is good advice not only for cannabis but also for any drug. Getting stoned is an adult thing, don't give it to young people under 15.

Back to top
Is cannabis a drug?
I thought it was a herb

Cannabis is a herb - one that contains many different chemicals, some of which are drugs. This does make it different to most things that people call "drugs" and it's a very important distinction.

When people talk about "drug use", they usually mean one specific chemical such as Ecstasy, LSD, cocaine, nicotine, caffeine or alcohol. Cannabis isn't like that, getting stoned isn't the effect of just one active chemical, it's the combined effect of several which all do their thing at once.

It's important to understand that cannabis can have very different effects depending on the variety or "strain" of the plant because of the ratio of active chemicals is different for each strain.

Different types of cannabis are different and hash made from cannabis grown for making hash is different to weed which was grown to be used as herb.

So with cannabis there are two important things to be aware of: how strong and what variety it is - but because of prohibition, there's no way of knowing either for most users.

Some of the strains sold as "skunk" might contain a lot of THC but very little CBD, whereas the traditional forms of hash we used to get a lot of before the war on drugs seem to have had getting on for equal amounts of both chemicals. This is a part of the reason some people say modern cannabis is different to what it used to be.

Cannabis compounds

The "active chemicals" in cannabis are complex hydrocarbons, which means they're made mostly of carbon and hydrogen with some extra oxygen molecules. The shape of the chemicals is what's important. In the drawings below there's a carbon atom at the point where the lines meet, each one having four "bonds". The spare bonds (not shown) have hydrogen atoms fastened to them.

Tetrahydrocannabinol THC

THC molecule
Cannabis is famous for containing a chemical called Tetrahydrocannabinol - THC. This is the one which gives the near psychedelic side to getting stoned. It's the chemical you'll hear most about, but it's only one of many cannabis contains.

Cannabidiol CBD

CBD moleculre

It's less well known for containing another substance called CBD or cannabidiol. It's almost, but not quite, the same shape as THC and because of this it doesn't fit into the same receptor in the brain that THC fits like a key in a lock.

CBD seems to have good anti-psychotic properties and, although it doesn't make you stoned, it does affect the way THC works.

There are a lot of other similar chemicals in cannabis (see wikipedia for some more info) and this is why cannabis is a complicated substance which needs to be understood, it's not just "dope".
Learn about cannabis and the different types. If possible buy cannabis from people you know who grow their own and take a pride in what they grow. Stronger doesn't mean better.

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What is mental illness?

Mental illness is a wide term meaning illness that affects the mind.

1 in 4 of the population experience some kind of mental health problem of one kind or another at some time in their lives, although for most it's a minor thing.

One thing that ill people do have in common is that they often experience an irrational stigma from a lot of people. Mental health is still a subject many people don't like to talk about, which is the fear the press plays on.

Mental health care for seriously ill people is covered by the mental health act and in extreme cases ill people can be taken into hospital for compulsory treatment, this is called "sectioning".

This is different from physical illnesses, in that people can't be treated for any physical illnesses (even contagious ones) if they don't want to be.

Support is mostly offered through community care but the mental health services in the UK are grossly under funded and this is one reason why, shockingly, a significant number of mentally ill people are caught up in the prison system.

Are there links between cannabis and mental health problems?

Claims of links between cannabis and mental health aren't new but it wasn't until 2004 - a year after cannabis was reclassified to class C - that the issue started to hit the headlines.

Mental health campaigners who wanted to raise the issue were concerned that the risks are not known and were not considered adequately when reclassification happened.

Unfortunately the issue was been taken up by prohibition campaigns and the tabloid press as a campaign to increase punishments for cannabis use, rather than to help understanding.

The campaign for information and further research about cannabis and mental health has been led by the mental health charity RETHINK, some of whose members have direct experience of mental illness and the effect cannabis has on ill people either as ill people themselves or carers of people with mental illness.

A lot of people with mental health problems use cannabis. In some cases it seems to help but in others this use makes the illness worse.

In addition to this complicated situation, some of the effects of cannabis which many people enjoy seem similar to the symptoms of some illnesses, but in fact aren't connected with mental illness at all. To make it even more complicated, they are the very effects some people enjoy the most about getting stoned.

In the event the government used the mental health issue as an excuse to move cannabis back to class B and the education campaign RETHINK were after never happened.

Perhaps the worst of the brain problems, it's often called a "split personality" but that's wrong.

It's better to think of schizophrenia as meaning "split from reality", ill people hear voices which aren't there, suffer hallucinations and, put simply, don't always experience the real world around them correctly. Schizophrenia usually affects young adults in their late teens and early 20's, there is also a form which affects old people known as "late onset schizophrenia", which is usually less serious.

People can suffer degrees of the illness and no two people's illness are the same

Many people recover from schizophrenia, but others do not get the help they need and have a low quality of life, are socially excluded or find their symptoms unmanageable.

The symptoms of schizophrenia are called a "psychosis", which means ill people experience paranoia attacks, sometimes feeling they are being watched and people are talking about them.

For more information on what Schizophrenia is, see the RETHINK site:

The charity "mind" also has a page:
"Understanding schizophrenia"

UKCIA looked at some of the research in our section
Cannabis and mental health

Rethink logo

Where to get help and what to do

RETHINK give advice on what to do if you think you or someone you know is developing a mental health problem. Download "Cause for concern" here (pdf document)

Never be afraid to talk to people about your feelings - especially if you feel scared or frightened when you get stoned.

If these feelings keep coming back never keep it a secret, don't ignore them and don't carry on getting stoned, hoping they will go away.

Cannabis isn't for everyone, never feel forced to use it just because all your mates do

Does cannabis make mental illness worse or does it help?

For those who have schizophrenia cannabis is extremely
likely to make the condition worse and delay recovery

But like many of the issues about cannabis and mental health, it's complicated and some people with certain conditions insist cannabis helps them cope.

People who have schizophrenia are more likely to use cannabis than the population in general, in spite of advice not to do so. This might be because use of cannabis gives temporary relief from the voices, but the evidence seems to be that they use cannabis and other drugs pretty for much for the same reasons as anyone else - not just enjoyment, but relaxation, to socialise and so on.

There is also recent research that suggests that CBD (see above) has antipsychotic benefits, although THC (the main active ingredient) is generally accepted is harmful to people with schizophrenia. Studies are underway to see if medicines can be made from cannabis, but these are early days.
Most cannabis users have the occasional"session" - when a lot gets smoked and everyone gets very stoned. But if you know someone - especially someone young - who's doing this a lot, perhaps to the exclusion of most other things it might be an idea to check out what's going on. Cannabis isn't for children.

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Does cannabis cause schizophrenia?

Cannabis isn't a cause of psychotic conditions like schizophrenia in the sense that it directly leads to psychosis. That's obvious - we all know people who've smoked for years and haven't got schizophrenia; we also know people who have psychotic symptoms who haven't used any drugs. Research has also failed to show any increase in rates of psychosis which would have been expected if cannabis did cause the illness, given the use of cannabis has increased so much over the past half century.

But this is a hot potato of a question because it depends on what's meant by "cause". There are no specific causes as no single cause has been identified. Theories of a genetic link (the COMT gene) haven't been supported by more recent work, in all honestly its still not known what makes schizophrenia happen. It's better to think of "risk factors" - factors which increase the risk of it developing. Some people put birth complications as the main causal factor in about 40% of cases of schizophrenia, stress is another risk factor and there are many others.

The thing is that if more than one risk factor is present, the chances of developing a psychotic condition goes up, or as researchers put it, the risk factors interact.

Cannabis use might be one of these risk factors, especially for children or young teenagers and especially if they use a lot of it - the more smoked, and the younger the user - the bigger the risk.

One large study carried out in Denmark in 2008 seems to show that people who react badly to cannabis with psychotic symptoms may be likely to develop the illness anyway. The authors write:

"The results agree with those of other studies that show that cannabis predominantly causes psychotic symptoms in those persons who are predisposed to develop psychosis or show signs of psychosis in the absence of cannabis use".

they also say

"Psychotic symptoms after cannabis use should be taken extremely seriously. It is recommended that individuals with a cannabis-induced psychosis ... be treated as though the condition is a first sign of schizophrenia, regardless of predisposition to a psychiatric

In other words, a bad reaction to cannabis might be an early warning that a person is likely to develop schizophrenia

If you suffer from schizophrenia, cannabis is extremely likely to make your illness worse or delay your recovery

Cannabis, drugs and young people
Some research seems to show that perhaps cannabis and certainly other drugs may be a significant risk factor in the development of schizophrenia in young people.

Some drugs such as alcohol, speed (amphetamine) and cocaine are known to be very significant risk factors, but all drugs can have some effect including cannabis.

No-one knows who is vulnerable to developing schizophrenia before they get it and if cannabis could be a trigger it makes sense not to use it when you're young and your brain is still developing. In short, the harder, the younger, the stronger you cane it, the greater the potential risk.

Of course it would make sense to use laws to protect young people from these potential dangers, but this isn't possible whilst cannabis remains illegal.
Cannabis is not for everybody - be supportive of people with schizophrenia for whom it can do harm.
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Bipolar depression

People with bipolar (manic) depression can swing from moods of deep depression to periods of overactive, excited behaviour, this is called "mania".

Between these severe highs and lows there may be relatively stable times, although this isn't always the case. Some people also see or hear things that others around them don't (known as having visual or auditory hallucinations or delusions).

One form of treatment for this illness is to use antipsychotic drugs, so it's no surprise that cannabis can have quite an effect on depression.

But, despite the scare stories in the papers, far from making things worse there are many sufferers of depression who claim cannabis helps their condition.

The fact is, there are different types of depression and cannabis may help with some, but not others and of course, there are different types of cannabis...
Cannabis contains psychoactive drugs and its role in mental illness can be complicated. Many people can have many different takes on the subject

The vast majority of people with mental health problems are also heavy tobacco smokers. Because tobacco seems to relieve some of the symptoms in ill people, it isn't generally seen as a problem.

However, illnesses such as schizophrenia are thought to be linked with the regulation of a brain chemical called dopamine and tobacco is known to disrupt that balance.

If you smoke a lot of cannabis with tobacco, you're also going to be smoking a lot of tobacco. Tobacco is also addictive and you could end up smoking cannabis simply to have a joint to satisfy a tobacco craving.

We strongly advise you not to smoke cannabis with tobacco.
Never try to talk someone into getting stoned who doesn't want to.

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