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Book Reviews

The Cruel Hoax: Street Drugs in Australia - Elaine Walters


Reviewed by - Bill Muehlenberg

Today drug use/abuse is not confined to the fringes of society. It is becoming mainstream, glamorised in films, music and magazines. Elaine Walters new book `The Cruel Hoax” is most timely. This book dispels many of the myths concerning legalisation debate, and provides a wealth of information on the harmful effects of drugs. A well financed international body of pro-drug advocates have been steadily laying the groundwork for decriminalisation over the past few decades.


They use terms like `responsible use of drugs’ and `harm minimisation’ – terms which are dangerously deceptive. The Cruel Hoax exposes the fraudulent claims being made, and shows that there can be no responsible use of illicit drugs, and that legalisation will not minimise harm but instead cause greater harm. Elaine Walters argues that prevention is far better than cure. Sweden is held up as a model in this regard (something the Penington report overlooks altogether). The Swedish policy is that of a drug-free society. Its philosophy reads in part: ~We do not accept the integration of drugs in society, and our aim is a society in which drug abuse remains a marginal phenomenon. A drug-free society is a vision expressing optimism and positive view of humanity: the onslaught of drugs can be restrained, and drug abusers can be rehabilitated’. The pro-drug lobby maintains that legal sanctions are not effective. Yet as Mrs Walters points out, in Australia about one in two 16-18 year olds have tried marijuana, but in Sweden, where sanctions are among the strictest in the western world, only one in 20 have tried it. The kind of information parents and educators need is in this book. It is filled with facts and information. The book deserves to be distributed and read widely. The 245 page book, including postage, costs $35.



Reviewed by - Leader Newspaper 1996: Janet Blair reporter

Mrs Walters has adopted a meticulous approach to her research of drug use and control around the world. The result is her latest book The Cruel Hoax, an expanded version of her previous books, Marijuana – An Australian Crisis and The Cannabis Connection.


Mrs Walters said she first became interested in drug issues while listening to a talk-back radio program 15 years ago. The parents of drug-addicted children were calling in.


“It was just one of those things.” She said. “I felt really moved. I thought, that’s a terrible thing. It’s a pity they can’t get together. So I thought I’d phone up the station and ask these people to contact me and invite them here and give them a cup of tea and let them share their experience with each other.


“People have a strange perception about the parents of drug-addicted children. They feel that they must be dysfunctional families, or there’s something wrong with the parents to have let the children get into trouble like that.


“But all of the parents I have met have been exceptionally lovely people and broken-hearted about their children’s problems.”


Mrs Walters said of the six or so who turned up to her support group, two were mothers of marijuana-addicted sons. On comparing notes, the mothers found that both boys had experienced the same problems.


“The parents believed, as I believed, and some people still believe, it was a soft drug and not to worry too much.”

Mrs Walters said.


“But as the years went by they saw their boys’ deterioration physically and mentally. They started to have mood swings and memory loss: they lost interest in hygiene.


“Both had left school and got good jobs, and then they lost their jobs and their girlfriends and their whole social life disintegrated. Everything collapsed around them.”


Mrs Walters said she was at first sceptical about the women’s claim that marijuana was the major cause of their sons’ problems. But as the support group (Relatives Against the Intake of Narcotic or RAIN) grew, and she met more parents of marijuana-addicted children she became convinced that the drug was more dangerous than commonly believed.


After a few years of involvement with the group, she decided to investigate the issue further by talking to “the experts” – doctors, health administrators, social workers and drug counsellors.


“They all said to me, `Look there’s been no research into marijuana, it’s basically a soft drug, there’s nothing to worry about. The parents are either dysfunctional or over-reacting: just don’t worry about it.” Mrs Walters said.


“They were very condescending, very off-putting. It’s an attitude I picked up then that I didn’t like and they’ve still got that attitude now.”


Not content to accept the view of the so-called experts, in 1988 Mrs Walters won a Churchill scholarship to research the issue overseas.


She investigated drug use and control in several countries, including Egypt, Spain, the Netherlands, France, Hong Kong and Sweden.


It is her study of overseas experiences that has led Mrs Walters to the conclusion that the “harm minimisation and “normalisation” (that is legislation) approach to drug problems advocated by the Premier’s Drug Advisory Council and some drug agenises and drug counsellors in Australia, will only lead more to young people succumbing to addiction.


Mrs Walters said there was plenty of evidence demonstrating the insidious and devastating effects of marijuana on long-term users: it was de-motivating, caused paranoia and mood swings, triggered serious mental illness in some people and promoted passive, inward-turning personalities.


It was doubly difficult to understand the committee’s legislation proposal when most countries around the world were reaffirming the need for legal sanctions against drug use, she said.


While acknowledging that it was impossible to eliminate drugs completely from society, Mrs Walters said a drug-free society should nevertheless be our goal. She said international experience had shown that the prohibition of drug use combined with comprehensive and good quality education of children and the rehabilitation of addicts could go a long way towards achieving this aim.


She said Sweden, which had adopted this approach, had been far more successful in reducing drug abuse among its citizens than the Netherlands, with its liberal approach to marijuana use. Only one in 20 Swedes had ever tried the drug compared with one in two Australians.





Marijuana - An Australian Crises - Elaine Walters

Reviewed by: Sue Trethowan Age Newspaper 1993


A new book is challenging widely held beliefs on “soft” drugs.

Marijuana - An Australian Crises is the result of a decade of research by its author, Elaine Walters and many years of working closely with families and children who are victims of drug abuse.

     The Health Minister, Marie Tehan, launched the book at the International Federation of Parents for Drug Free Youth fundraiser at Government House.

     Marijuana - An Australian Crises challenges many policy makers who appear “soft” on the growing drug problems in the community.

     Marijuana is frequently described as a recreational or soft drug which may confuse community attitudes.

          This book questions the marijuana theories espoused by researches and treatment agencies. The book claims that Australia is distancing itself from the rest of the world when it comes to recognising the dangers of marijuana use.

     Elaine Walters is expertly armed to write on this subject. She is recognised as one of Australia’s leading authorities on the subject.

     Working voluntarily counselling families whose children suffer drug addiction prompted her to establish a drop-in centre in Melbourne for distressed families of young addicts.

     She became annoyed at the findings about marijuana given to her from the Health Department and other professionals and pursued information from overseas.

     Mrs Walters was awarded a Churchill Fellowship to extend her research in Egypt and Europe.



Reviewed by - Dr. Joseph Santamaria MBBS. FRACP. M.Med. FAFPHM

At a time when governments are faced with developing strategies to deal with alcohol and drug abuse, it is critically important that decisions are based on facts and not on mythology or ideological stances. Slogan and selective use of data frequently masquerade as expert opinions whilst the voices of those profoundly disturbed by the effects of drug abuse are set aside by those who do not listen.

     Elaine Walters started off by listening to those voices, by counselling parents and others who were disillusioned with the `establishment’ of experts. In order to further her knowledge and experience, she travelled abroad, assisted by a Churchill Fellowship, and consulted widely with internationally recognized researchers, treatment agencies, policy makers and the top echelons of the World Health Organization.

     This book focuses on the drug cannabis – its effects, its sociological and political dimensions and its relationship to other mind altering drugs. It is written to instruct both the lay readership and the scientific community. The author disseminates this information in a series of responses to common questions that are asked so that it serves two major purposes, to identify the controversial issues and to serve as a ready reference for those who have specific areas of interest. It is written in a lucid style and its contents have been deeply researched as indicate in the bibliography. It deserves to be widely read by all members of the adolescent and adult community, especially by those in positions of authority.




Reviewed by Robert Thomson  48 – BRAINSTORM – DEC/ JAN 1991

Reading this book is like discovering that there is a war on in your own country and so few of us are prepared.

     Elaine Walters’ account of the effects of marijuana is clear, concise…and devastating. I felt impelled to let others know what I now know.


Everything written in the book is essential information.For me, four points stand out:


1. Marijuana physically affects every cell in the body. The effects of constant use are cumulative and destructive to an individual’s motivation and capacity to act. In other words, the drug induces apathy.


2. Marijuana is illegal because it is harmful. Therefore, it should not be classed as a recreational drug nor should it be decriminalised or legalised.“As a co-signatory to the UN 1961 Single Convention Treaty, Australia is not free to select for recreational purposes any drug that has been classified as illegal without being in violation of the convention.” Ms Walters gives examples from other countries where decriminalisation has failed.


3. The spread of marijuana abuse in Europe, North America, Australia and New Zealand has the character of an epidemic. This means that what initiallybegan “in an isolated group prone to experiment in deviant behaviour” is now spreading to “broad groups of the normal population …involving the most vulnerable youth.”


4. There are solutions: “When parents join together and take a united stand against drug abuse, they become much more effective than if they act separately. The philosophy of the parent movement is the belief that the universal instinct of parents to protect their young is society’s best defence against the expansion of the commercialised drug culture.”


Pertinent extracts of medical and UN reports are printed in the book, and at the back are nine pages of general references so that the reader can verify any information. I heard about this book on listening to a radio interview with Elaine Walters. It marked the end of my ignorance. Buy this book, read it, talk about it, act on it. We can do something about this crisis, once we know it is a crisis. Who else will?




Reviewed by - Robin Powell Vogue Australia, May 1992

Reopening the Marijuana debate


The received wisdom in Australian psychiatry circles is that marijuana may trigger schizophrenia in a percentage of the percentage of people who are likely to get it anyway. In other word, they don’t think it’s important. But Elaine Walters does. She works full-time in counselling young people with cannabis problems and in collecting and disseminating information from around the world about cannabis.

     Elaine’s interest in marijuana started in 1983 when she formed a self-help group for families of heroin addicts. Two of the families who turned up to the first meeting weren’t troubled by heroin, but by cannabis. Their children smoked a lot of dope and had been diagnosed schizophrenic. They believed there was a link, but had been ridiculed by the professionals from whom they sought help.

     Walter’s decided to help them track down some more information. The road led her to Atlanta, Georgia, in the US where an international conference spent a full week discussing the effects of cannabis. “I couldn’t believe how far Australia was behind in this,” she says, “and how much we hadn’t been told and what resistance there was in Australia to real information about cannabis.”

     A Churchill Fellowship in 1988 extended the range of her research and led to a book, The Cannabis Connection, which Walters published herself, following rejections from major publishers. In the book, she quotes a pamphlet produced by the United Nations Commission on Narcotics: “Marijuana is very dangerous. Extensive research has indicated that marijuana impairs short-term memory and slows learning: interferes with normal reproductive functions: adversely affects heart functions: has serious effects on perception and skilled performance and greatly impairs lung and respiratory functions. A marijuana cigarette contains more cancer-causing agents than the strongest tobacco cigarette.”

     Taking this and other studies to heart, the National Swedish Board of Health and Welfare writes in The Hashish Book, “Hash psychosis can bring paranoia, anguish, sensory hallucinations, hyperactivity or chronic passivity. More and more young people are today undergoing treatment in psychiatric clinics for the effects of hash smoking.”

     Walters contrasts these and other official views overseas with that published by the Health Department of Victoria. “The long-term effects of regular use of cannabis are still being investigated, but there is some evidence that it is linked with respiratory problems, such as bronchitis and asthma.”

     You get the feeling we’re missing out on something here. Walters’s research has also vindicated the beliefs of those concerned and patronised parents she met in 1983. A Swedish study, which followed young conscripts for fifteen years, found a six-fold greater incidence of schizophrenia in hashish smokers as compared to a control group. Swedish psychiatric hospitals fill a third of their beds with people suffering cannabis-related problems. This figure aligns with research in the US.

     Dr Doris Milman, professor of paediatrics in the State University of New York, says. “The psychological effects of cannabis have been known since antiquity. The most obvious of these effects is, of course, the cannabis-induced psychotic reaction, with its delusional symptoms including disorientation, hallucinations, paranoia and feelings of depersonalisation and derealization. The psychosis may present acutely or insidiously, may be transient and wholly reversible, or it may be prolonged and chronic. When chronic, it is clinically indistinguishable from chronic psychosis of the schizophrenic and paranoid type”.

     Walters’s effort to have these views give some balance to the Australian “expert” opinion that marijuana is essentially a benign drug is starting to show effects. Doctors are referring cannabis-addicted patients to her for counselling, while health workers contact her for information and also help.

     “In another ten years,” she says, “what I’ve been saying – that marijuana is dangerous- will be accepted in the same way people accept that cigarettes are dangerous.”



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