I’ve just returned from (another) fantastic talk by Professor David Nutt. Below is a short interview I did with him on the future of drugs in the UK. (Click here for my review of a previous talk by Professor Nutt.)
Neurobonkers: Congratulations on your success in founding the ISCD! How has your role changed now that you work independently from the Government?
Professor Nutt: Well, one thing is for sure, it is much easier to say what you think. You don’t realise when you are working for the Government just how you align your thinking to theirs. There is always that subliminal pressure to give them the right answers so it is actually very liberating. The only problem is that I’m doing a lot more because now I’m doing this full time ISCD job as well as doing my academic work so I’m a lot more busy unfortunately… but for a good cause I hope.
Neurobonkers: How do you feel about the Government’s plans under the “Police Reform Bill” to remove from law the need for the quorum of scientists on the ACMD?
Professor Nutt: I must say I am a bit concerned about this. Their arguments are that the statutory number of people with particular positions like vets for instance was cumbersome. If the vet was sick they couldn’t make decisions but I think they’ve partly done it to make sure they can get the kind of decisions that they find most helpful because there are some key things that vets know about that other doctors don’t know about. We learned from the vets when I served on the council that there are quite a few drugs that are important to veterinary practive we could have banned without realising that we would have done a lot of harm to animal health. I think it is unfortunate that they are trying to change it, hopefully we will still be able to hold them to account but I am frightened science may be going out the window here
Neurobonkers: How do you feel about the media’s reporting or lack of reporting of these developments?
Professor Nutt: The media have actually had a very interesting role in the whole saga. Clearly there has been a lot of misreporting of issues relating to drugs but I think the media are wising up now. Some of the broadsheets are becoming a lot more balanced in their attitudes towards drugs and I think that we can with that section of the media have a really mature, sensible discussion and I think it’s only a matter of time eventually before the red tops and the lower end of the media begin to come in line. Because when you see some of the arguments that are out there in relation to the harms of drugs compared to the harms of alcohol any sensible person has got to reason that the costs of alcohol is so enormous that I think that in time things will swing. Also the internet of course has been a huge influence because that really opens the debate up very wide and you can predict that in ten or twenty years the internet will be where all the debates happen and most internet commentators are behind me and sensible policies.
Neurobonkers: What do you consider the impact to be on scientific progress of the recent changes in drug law with respect to analogues?
Professor Nutt: I have to say it is quite concerning for us to go on the route of analogue laws that they have done in the states, it concerns me for a number of reasons. One, of course it is arbitrary and may actually push people down in to a field of less known drugs that could be even more harmful. Also it interferes with medical progress, it stops the development of new treatments and also it potentially stops the development and the use of drugs as sources of pleasure that could be potentially less harmful than the ones we have at present and I’ll talk about this in my talk today in relation to mephedrone and related compounds. I am firmly of the view that we shouldn’t ban something until we know it is harmful.
Neurobonkers: The UK was one of the first countries to have made Mephedrone and its analogues illegal, what do you foresee the impact being as this ban is extended globally?
Professor Nutt: Well Mephedrone is a very interesting case because it was illegal in some countries anyway under analogues legislation and some countries such as Sweden and France did ban it before us but England was the first country in which it was widely used and then became banned and we now know that there is a recommendation to the European council that it be banned widely in Europe. I think like I said in answer to the previous question there are a lot of possible down sides to banning it. You may find that other drugs come along to take over the market or you may find that the ban does nothing at all because maybe the police can’t enforce the ban. I don’t know, it’s going to be a very interesting few years and we’ll see how things shape out.
Neurobonkers: Are there any urban myths regarding drugs that you would like to dismantle?
Professor Nutt: Well, there are so many myths about drugs, one thing we do at the ISCD is try to make people understand that alcohol is a drug and that is the most important one because that is the drug we should really be targeting in terms of reducing health damage and improving health outcomes.
Neurobonkers: Thank you very much David!
Nutt DJ, King LA, Phillips LD, & Independent Scientific Committee on Drugs (2010). Drug harms in the UK: a multicriteria decision analysis. Lancet, 376 (9752), 1558-65 PMID: 21036393
The paper that got the former home secretary in a huff:
Nutt, D. (2008). Equasy — An overlooked addiction with implications for the current debate on drug harms Journal of Psychopharmacology, 23 (1), 3-5 DOI: 10.1177/0269881108099672
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