Dr Christian Jessen says watching the effect of ‘skunk’ marijuana on the human brain was “quite frightening” and that Channel 4 newsreader and guinea pig Jon Snow “didn’t have a pleasant experience at all”.
The Embarrassing Bodies presenter told RadioTimes.com that the second of his Drugs Live programmes – in which viewers will see Snow smoke two “huge balloons of skunk” – affirmed his believe that cannabis is dangerous.
“Slightly naughtily I had already made up my mind about whether the drugs would be ok or not,” Jessen says. “As part of my medicine training I was working in addiction and it was always really clear to me that we weren’t getting our drugs laws right.
“So although I’m supposed to be impartial, you can’t be if you’ve studied it quite a lot.”
In the NHS-supported drugs trial filmed for Channel 4, some volunteers were given normal cannabis – “the kind of stuff your dad might have smoked in the 60s” – while others some smoked skunk, a far stronger strain. Experts then compared the brain’s reaction to both substances.
Snow said yesterday that he’d experienced more terror on skunk than when he’d been in a war zone. “I felt as if my soul had been wrenched from my body. There was no one in my world. I felt I had lost all control and had only the vaguest awareness of who I was and what on earth I was doing.
“I cascaded into a very, very, dark place, the darkest mental place I have ever been. I was frightened, paranoid, and felt physically and mentally wrapped in a dense blanket of fog. I lost all sense that I was being filmed by Channel 4.
“I’ve worked in war zones, but I’ve never been as overwhelmingly frightened as I was right then – and as I emerge from the scanner you see me blearily sitting up and hugging young Dr Rebecca for my dear life, as if she was my mother.”
Asked why he wanted to make another Drugs Live programme after the controversy surrounding the first – an ecstasy trial in 2012 – Jessen responded: “Everything I try and do, I want to get people talking and drugs are a classic example. People are always opinionated about those before they’ve even read the facts, so a show which makes you question that is good.
“We’d like to do another one but we’re so limited on whether the Home Office will give us permission to make telly programmes because lots of drugs are illegal. It’s really difficult. We’d like to do something about mushrooms.
“I enjoy making the shows but it’s always quite nerve-wracking getting the science and the facts right – Twitter will go bonkers if you get one thing wrong.
“With the ecstasy programme we got some complaints that it was a bit too positive on ecstasy but that’s because there isn’t a lot bad to say about ecstasy. Every newspaper headline is ‘X has died from ecstasy’ but when you look into the science of it, it’s never strictly true.”
Drugs Live: Cannabis on Trial is on Channel 4 on Tuesday 3rd March at 10pm