Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Public Enemy No.1: Horse Riding or Ecstasy?

By Mowgli.

‘The government ban on substances like cannabis and MDMA seems simply to be in
place to stop young people having fun’ says Professor David Nutt, a psychiatrist and
neuropsychopharamacologist (fuck), as he talks to a packed out crowd of students who
are probably only there to get their minor drug habits supported by science.

The talk Professor Nutt gave was immersed in the politics of government and their
Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD), from which he was fired after his
claims that, statistically speaking, ‘riding a horse is more dangerous than ecstasy’. Lad.
One of the biggest revelations of his talk was how politicians had completely ignored
concrete evidence from researchers at the ACMD when they declared the rationale for
their drug policy. For instance, Gordon Brown reclassified cannabis from Class C to
B in 2009 under the guise that it caused schizophrenia, despite the ACMD stating that
their evidence was completely against this claim. Even more staggering was the research
that went into the decision to ban mephedrone, when the ACMD was asked to prepare
a risk assessment of the drug two days before the vote for its illegalisation; essentially
banning something where the pharmacology had never been investigated, and the actual
physiological effects were completely unknown.

Important issues about the slant in the press were highlighted as well. Drone was only
banned because newspapers reported that it had led to the deaths of a number of young
people, though coroner’s reports often declared alcohol poisoning was the cause of
death. It was just a coincidence that these kids had taken mephedrone; you wouldn’t ban
Radio 2 because its playing when a drunk-driver crashes into a wall. Research into what
newspapers actually report found only a fraction of alcohol-related deaths were reported,
while every single ecstasy made into the tabloids somewhere.

But for all his merits, Nutt was clearly biased in his view, because for some time at least
he was the government’s bitch. He was just a bit aggy about it. An important thing to
take from him though is that governments don’t ban things because they are dangerous.
Huge numbers of people die from alcohol, but you can get a Kestrel from any corner
shop for £1. But drugs that are illegal, in effect, are still just pharmacological agents. Some are actually quite useful. Aside from the obvious pain-relieving effects of cannabis in horrific conditions
like multiple sclerosis, experimental work with controlled substances is proving fruitful.
One of the tutors here at Oxford is pioneering the use of psilocybin (the active ingredient
in shrooms) to treat depression.

So all in all, it seems that we are back where we started.

Looking at the concrete figures in the mess of unsubstantiated claims, I can only really
make one informed recommendation:

If you’re gonna pop some pills, don’t ride a fucking horse.


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