So this week I went to an absolutely fascinating lecture by Professor David Nutt where I learned (amongst many other things) that the new government has a (not so) new strategy towards legal highs - ban it, ban it all, ban it now. This change effective from Thursday, effectively extends the gradual removal of the long held right to be “innocent until proven guilty” to new chemicals.
This came in to force on Thursday with 2-DPMP aka “”Ivory Wave“ being banned despite no research ever having been done on the chemical and like mephedrone, no death ever having been confirmed as being caused by it. “Ivory wave” was formerly made with a completely different substance called MDVP before MDVP was made a class B drug in april. This new government policy to automatically and immediately make chemicals being found to be being used as “legal highs” illegal and then review their status after a year, without bothering to commission any research or really require any evidence at all will have a powerful effect on the process of drug discovery. This insane philosophy risks making research in to some new medicines as well as safer recreational drugs near impossible, no pharmaceutical company is going to risk investing in chemicals that are already being legislated against.
Why is this so bad? No drug that has ever been made illegal in this country has ever been made legal again, this despite the fact that many of the “most illegal” drugs such as Cannabis, MDMA and LSD are far safer than their newly banned cousins. This is largely because we understand far more about how they work and in precisely which situations and in which combinations they are safe and more importantly in which they are deadly. Furthermore it is an absolute fact that illegality directly results in the added risks of cheaper and often illegal cutting agents and sub-standard unregulated manufacturing processes. This is very often the cause of drug related deaths rather than the ingredients of the drugs themselves.
This week Professor Nutt published an (open access) paper in the Lancet ranking dozens of highly illegal chemicals as less dangerous to society than alcohol despite the factors arising from their illegality. The most worrying thing about this situation is clearly that young people are forced to experiment with unknown new compounds such as 2-DPMP (still legal to posess but not to sell) instead of relatively safe alternatives such as cannabis, MDMA and LSD due to fear of the law. Worse still it is becoming common practice for the people selling these chemicals not to disclose to the customers what chemical is being sold.
In other news, a loophole in the law allowing patients prescribed medicinal cannabis by doctors outside the UK to import the drug has recently been (semi) closed. Recently patients have been documenting online how they have been emailing airports to notify them that they are bringing cannabis in to the country under the Shengen agreement, Geneva convention and UN Single convention on Narcotics that allows individuals to carry drugs prescribed to them to travel around Europe with their medicines irrespective of local laws.
For a while the airport police scarpered, leaving the “goods to declare aisle” deserted.The home office initially responded, rather logically by saying that this was absolutely fine; these emails were rapidly distributed virally…
By the way, Bendrocan is just the name big pharma has given to Cannabis to avoid conflicting with the negative connotations arising from terms like “Marijuana” and “Skunk” which so many of our governments refuse to accept have medicinal uses. It’s actually exactly the same, it’s quite literally weed in a pot…
Pretty soon people were reporting successful imports left, right and centre and eventually even Frank was so confused by the Home Office message he had to ring up a real drugs charity to ask for advice on the law. The Home Office, has however now retorted that the Shengen agreement will not apply to UK citizens carrying cannabis but only foreign nationals. To date however, no-one seems to have been charged for using this loop hole and no explanation has been given by the home office for this contradiction with EU law. Sadly however, as this email by Peter Reynolds (who has successfully used the loophole) to the guardian demonstrates, mainstream news has totally ignored this issue. If the home office is really prepared to go after patients with prescriptions as it says it is then it’s only a matter of time before we see some brave sole get arrested for this and take it to the European Court of Human Rights… watch this space. (I’m not suggesting anyone else should try this, jail is still a possible outcome, however I’ll be sure to report on it, when it happens)
Professor Nutt will be visiting Bristol UWE in February to talk about his journey through the paradoxical world of researching drugs and working with the Goverment on 21st November 2010.
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