Tuesday, 26 January 2010

David Nutt Visits Reading for a Talk on Drugs

Yesterday (Monday 25th January 2010) David Nutt visited Reading University for a talk organised by the Reading University Liberal Democrats.

For those that don't know is a psychiatrist and neuropsychopharmacologist specialising in the research of drugs which affect the brain. He served on the Committee on Safety of Medicines and was sacked as Chairman of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) after he disagreed with the reclassification of cannabis from Class C to Class B. He also received a lot of stick in the press for saying that "Ecstasy was statistically no more dangerous than an addiction to horse-riding". A statement which is infact true. Jacki smith and Alan Johnson have often misplaced the word Ecstasy or Cannabis with the word Drugs thereby misrepresenting what David Nutt actually said.

There was a number of bloggers there (Duncan Stott from Split Horizons and Mark Reckons and myself). Mark was chairing the meeting. It appears that if you want to be covered on a blog then Reading is the place to come.

The lecture room was packed, after an introduction from Mark Thompson (Mark Reckons) David Nutt kicked off his interesting and for me surprisingly funny talk (David Nutt has a great sense of Humour).

David Nutt broke his talk down into a number of stages;

The Law on Drugs and its History
The ranking system
Media reporting and Bias
Drugs and Politics and Science
Then Questions and Answers

The Law on Drugs and Its History and the Ranking System

David stated that in the UK there is no evidence based drugs policy and no independent drugs committee (something that David Nutt has now addressed).

David said that the Misuse of drugs Act 1971 introduced the ranking system based on harm under 3 categories which he thought was a good idea. He does not agree with the penalties however (more later).

Some drugs are not covered by this grid as they have not been accessed

Drugs in each class are;

Class A

Heroin, cocaine, ecstasy, methamphetamine, LSD and psilocybin mushrooms

Class B

Cannabis, amphetamine, codeine and methylphenidate ('Ritalin')

Class C

GHB, ketamine, diazepam, flunitrazepam and most other tranquillisers, sleeping tablets and benzodiazepines as well as anabolic steroids.

Of which Cannabis is the only drug to of ever been down graded as this is politically very difficult.

The penalties for these drugs are;

There is also an number of international obligations but this generally mean that drugs must be illegal but this could involve any kind of penalties such as fines rather than prison for example.

Media Reporting and Bias

See the graph below.

As you may of expected the media reporting does not reflect the fact as with so many things.

He also explained the cycle of media reporting fuelling the political reaction and legalisation on drugs and how criminalisation leads to worse and worse outcomes in a feedback loop. I.E. harder and harder drugs and more and more crime.

He also explained that the effect of reducing cannabis imports had lead to the cannabis home grown industry and in turn has led to stronger forms of cannabis such as skunk. This is because the precautionary principle is not always the right one as this can lead to other side effects. An example of this was the MMR vaccine and how this has led to an increase in measles cases see here.

He also suggested that the name of Ecstasy has an effect on its class A classification as it was once called Empathy.

Cannabis is a drug and does have side effects for example mental health problems effect 1 in 5000 for men and 1 in 8000 women, but this is not as bad as the effects of other drugs such as Alcohol.

He said that the ACMD had commissioned a Mori poll in the 2008 report on cannabis showed that 2/3rd of people surveyed wanted to keep the penalties as they are or have no penalty at all (this is when cannabis was class C)

Drugs and Politics and Science

The government asked for advice on Mushrooms categorisation for which the ACMD was only given a few days to decide. After the ACMD advice was taken they place it in class A even thought this was not the advice.

David now believes that politicians act on what they believe the public think rather than evidence.

The audience was shown how companies that sell alcohol have an investment in other safe drugs not being legally controlled as this would reduce the use of alcohol. I think this billboard below explains the link.

There are not many examples around the world of drugs legalisation but where the law has been relaxed such as Portugal, results have been favourable when it comes to crime and harm to others see here in Scientic American. In 2001 it decriminalized the use and possession of heroin, cocaine, marijuana, LSD and other street drugs. Focusing on treatment and prevention instead of jailing users to decrease the number of deaths and HIV infections.

He also said that Margaret Thatcher did make some sensible moves on drugs such as providing needles to combat the spread of HIV. David Nutt thanked Evan Harris Lib Dem MP for defending his position on evidence based drug policy and said that the Lib Dems were much more progressive on drug reform then the other two parties.

During the questions I asked if he thought this new Independent Drugs Advisory Committee could influence drug legalisation. He believed that there studies will be taken on board given time. He said they will have to be considered as they will be fully independent of Government and business and based on evidence based science.

I myself do not know a lot about illegal drugs myself as I don't take them but I do know a fair bit about the local problems of drug use within my community, as there is a fair amount of drugs raids and users where I live and I also talk to users.

I also know that the illegal drug industry is the 2nd biggest after the oil industry (The UN report said the global drug trade generated an estimated $321.6 billion in 2003). It is controlled by many very bad criminals and drugs are cut using a number of substances (which normally causes the actual self harm) as they are not controlled. Many people are dying around the world from armed battles with crime organisations, gangs or armed forces and police. Fighting drugs cost the world a lot of money see the New Scientist here.

All this means that the current policy is not working, We need to control it and take it out of the hands of criminals, we need to stop teenager being criminalised for the rest of their lives for experimenting and control this too. Plus we can use the tax money from this control (say if used and brought in controlled environments) to pay for rehabilitation and to reduce future crime to feed a habit. We need to try something new.

Currently there are no record of recorded deaths of cannabis use.


More details are on estimated drug harms are reported at Crime and Justice here

United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime here

I have also blogged about David Nutts Sacking here Looking Behind The Professor David Nutt Headlines.

Im expecting a few other bloggers to write there blogs on this event and when they do I will list them here.

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Update: Mark Reckons has his blog on Professor Nutt event in Reading here

He also has an interesting interview with him here


  1. Did they have any drugs for sale? or where they free

  2. Would you care to come and help our cause on Face book. The link is below:


  3. Great blog.Things you might not have thought of-

    1)Forcibly segregating drugs,drug cultures and drug consuming collectives into licit/legal vs Illicit/illegal is a blatant act of Apartheid discrimination -A policy of social segregation placed on individual and collective coverings(heids),defined by differential and/or preferential treatment.ie- drugs and alcohol policies, written by those who know that the recreational, psychoactive drug ethane hydroxide is not a drink (even though they try to label it as a drink, just like tri-methyl-xanthine liquid drug forms), but they like to keep their drugs socially segregate from other drugs of choice, under the buzzwords 'legal' and 'drinks/beverages' and, of course, "medications".

    2) When Governments/ Law Enforcements target drug plant genera for selective eradication ie Cannabis, Coca, opium poppy etc, they are actually committing a blatant act of genocide defined as 'the targeting and committing of murder of a genus or part of that genus'.

    3)Why don't ethanol and caffeine drug dealers state the truth.."We don't like any competition to our drugs being dealt in our drug dealers, which is why we call in Police to persecute and eradicate any drug that we and our legal drug dealing collectives don't have a stake in".

    4)Why don't Governments state the truth? "We don't wage war against drugs. We wage war between our drugs and our drug's competition, and who gives a damn about the innocents who suffer? This is about drug supremacy, this is about cash flow. This is about drug recruitment, and not allowing anyone else to have any form of justice for all/ a fair chance in life/ a fair go for all.

    5)All around the World people are locked up for drugs of choice in Countries that legally deal, manufacture and traffic medicinal and recreational, psychoactive drugs locally, nationally and world wide. And, they're trying to deal the drugs to everyone, including those they're locking up for not choosing their drugs, only.

    6) Last, but not least, druggies hunting druggies does not make good policy, only social segregation, slavery and dictatorship.

    Yours with respect,
    Dave from Australia

    p.s. If you're interested, you are invited to our websites and join us on Twitter (Medcanpoet & Medcanaware)



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