In Germany, the possession and cultivation of cannabis could soon be exempt from punishment. Yet it is not a harmless stimulant - and endangers young people in particular, say experts.
“We are flooded with requests for cannabis detoxification”, says Thomas Klein.
He is a senior physician in the department of general psychiatry, psychotherapy, social and addiction medicine at the Christian-oriented Hohemark Clinic. The reason for the rush: fewer and fewer clinics offer detoxification for cannabis addicts because health insurance companies often refuse to cover the costs. Yet there are severe cases among cannabis addicts, says Klein.
In its coalition agreement of 2021, the government coalition of Germany, known as ‘the traffic light coalition’ (Ampelregierung) has stipulated the legalisation of cannabis. In October, Federal Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) presented the government’s paper with the key points on the issue. According to this document, cannabis - parts of the female hemp plant - and the active ingredient tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) contained in it should no longer be legally considered narcotics.
The paper wants to allow the possession of 20 to 30 grams of cannabis and the private cultivation of the hemp plant. Three plants per adult would be allowed. Cannabis is to be sold in licensed shops. The govnerment wants to prevent the intoxicant from being contaminated with other substances.
Legalisation should ultimately serve the protection of youth and health, the proponents say. The THC contained in cannabis affects the human central nervous system and has a muscle-relaxing, calming and pain-relieving effect.
Since 2017, products containing cannabis can be prescribed by doctors for medical purposes in Germany.
Thomas Klein warns against cannabis use. It is true that the “toxicity” of alcohol is significantly higher than that of cannabis. But some users are more sensitive in their disposition than others. They are then in danger of slipping into a psychosis: Delusional states, fears, hallucinations - for months after the drug is gone from the body.
The earlier one starts smoking pot, especially in youth, the more the development of personality and emotional maturity is impaired. Again and again, this leads to a standstill in the development of the person concerned, who, as an adult, is still emotionally in puberty.
According to studies, the risk of an adolescent suffering from a schizophrenic psychosis if they use cannabis regularly before the age of 15 is up to six times higher. Almost every tenth cannabis user becomes dependent.
Research has documented cognitive impairments. Cannabis users show above-average impairments in abstract thinking, attention, memory, learning and psychomotor functions. Young people, whom the government’s proposal is intended to protect, are therefore particularly at risk from cannabis use.
In the so-called Göttingen Study, psychiatrist, psychotherapist and psychoanalyst Rainer Matthias Holm-Hadulla warns against considering cannabis as a harmless recreational drug and denying the risks. He also resists the cited comparison of cannabis and alcohol consumption. The number of people who drink alcohol without any harm is many times greater than those regularily consume cannabis, he said.
Michael Lenzen, director of the Christian drug rehabilitation ministry Neues Land, is also against the legalisation. He fears that similar to shisha smoking, there will be a consumption trend because cannabis will be classified as harmless and then products “under the counter” with stronger THC content than intended will be offered. The passing on of cannabis by adults to minors – as it happens with alcohol - cannot be ruled out.
Michael Lenger is in favour of legalisation. He works for the Salvation Army as a street social worker in Hamburg. Cannabis is not unproblematic, especially for adolescents, he says. However, he sees the positive side of legalisation in the fact that drug-related crime would decrease and that it would also be guaranteed that the officially sold cannabis would not be laced with toxic substances. And: “prohibition has never worked”, he tells PRO. Today, you can get the substance on every corner.
Studies have shown that cannabis use impairs driving ability and intoxicated drivers are more often involved in accidents. When occasional users smoke a joint with 0.30 grams of cannabis and 10 percent THC content, most people will be below the current limit of 1 nanogram (one billionth of a gram) per cubic centimetre of blood only after 8 hours.
Neither lawyers nor medical experts have yet decided which limit should apply in the future. They merely recommend that the currently applied limit value for THC concentration be raised appropriately.
Lawyers are critical of the plan, because the government is going against international law with the proposed law. They expect that the law will be overturned by the European Court of Justice.
Uwe Heimowski, the policy officer of the Evangelical Alliance in Germany (EAD), started smoking pot at 16. “When I listened to certain music to it, cannabis triggered panic attacks in me”. If he had smoked a lot one weekend, he would fall into depressive holes the next few days.
When Heimowski became a Christian, he kept his hands off drugs. Instead, he got involved in Christian rehab work in Gera. “Young people came there who had started smoking cannabis when they were eight or nine years old”. He thinks nothing of the argument to legalise cannabis because that is already the case with alcohol and cigarettes. “From my own experience I say: the state should make access to alcohol and cigarettes more difficult instead of legalising cannabis”.
Senior medical doctor Thomas Klein identifies a fundamental trend. Thanks to the smartphone, people are closer to each other than ever before, and yet many suffer from loneliness. “More and more people are trying to manipulate their negative feelings so that they no longer feel them. Yet the Bible tells us to be sober”. That means more than just the absence of drugs, he says.
Klein also has nothing against a glass of wine. But when people use substances like alcohol or cannabis to treat their problems like a medicine, something goes wrong. This danger is greatly underestimated in the socio-political debate.
This article was first published by the German Pro Medienmagazine (authors: Nicolai Franz, Norbert Schäfer and Martin Schlorke) and re-published with permission.
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