Today I made a tough decision, I decided to accept google ads so I can upgrade my servers. I was horrified to see the first advert to appear was for an American company spreading misinformation about drugs, I find this particularly offensive because I’m aware that misinformation about drugs may well kill infinitely more people than drugs themselves. I’ll provide the evidence for that statement in this blog post and  I’ll also explain why a multi-billion dollar industry is paying advertisers to feed you misinformation about drugs.

drugs are bad Public Service Announcement: <STRIKE>Drugs</STRIKE> Misinformation Kills

My instinctive response was to block the advertiser but I can’t censor every unscrupulous advertiser that Google pops on my site so I’ve decided to be up front about this, give you the facts and let you join the dots.  If a product has to be marketed heavily you should already be suspicious, if information has to be marketed you should be down right terrified. By all means see what they’ve got to say, but never trust claims that are not backed up with evidence that is reported elsewhere and always check the sources. Internet advertising is not like television advertising which has basic quality controls. Anyone can pay to put an advert online and you must consider what their motivation is. I’ll do my bit by ensuring all adverts are clearly labelled  so you don’t get them confused with content.


Red Bull, Pilsner and The Tragic Case of Leah Betts

Misinformation Kills3 1024x207 Public Service Announcement: <STRIKE>Drugs</STRIKE> Misinformation Kills

Leah Betts died in 1995 from water poisoning after drinking 14-15 pints of water in 90 minutes. She did this after being misinformed that it is essential to drink  large amounts of water after taking ecstasy.  After her death newspapers wrongly reported that she was killed by contaminated pills (to this day the guilty newspapers never corrected these lies). The alcohol and energy drink industry who  were afraid that ecstasy was damaging their market share quickly jumped on the case. The makers of Red Bull and Pilsner funded a £1 million bill board campaign. Since it just displayed a picture of a dead body with no explanation of who was behind it, the general public naturally assumed it was run by the health service, this was very far from the case.  The PR company that Red Bull hired for £5 million aimed to market Red Bull as a  “substitute for taking ecstasy”. This was largely done with a million pounds worth of pictures of a dead girl’s body. The campaign perpetuated the lies that led to the death of Leah Betts and did nothing to prevent the incident happening again. Millions take ecstasy every weekend and the few deaths that happen every year are in most cases caused by severe dehydration or drinking excessive amounts of water, neither of which are a result of ecstasy but symptoms of misinformation.

If you take ecstasy you should just drink normal amounts of water and use the toilet as normal. Ecstasy is an anti-diuretic which makes you feel like you don’t need to use the loo. Avoid alcohol which is a depressant so actually negates the effect of ecstasy, it also puts unneccessary strain on the liver and dehydrates you. The required dose of ecstasy is extremely low, less than a tenth of a gram. This is all information that no ad campaign bothered telling people. Meanwhile a £1.8 Million US Government funded study this year concluded there are no long term effects on the brain caused by ecstasy use. The elephant in the room? Alcohol on the other hand has long been a confirmed a neurotoxic drug with far greater potential for addiction and greater potential for harm than ecstasy. Alcohol kills many times more people in a week than ecstasy does in a year. The drinks industry doesn’t spend millions on misinformation campaigns for nothing, the prospect of a drug that can make someone capable of drinking water at a nightclub makes them absolutely piss themselves (please excuse the pun).

How Mephedrone got confused with Methadone

Mephedrone or Methadone Public Service Announcement: <STRIKE>Drugs</STRIKE> Misinformation Kills

Mephedrone is a recently synthesised drug that was initially quite unpopular due it’s relatively unpleasant after effects. To date no only one coroner world wide has ever formally attributed a death to Mephedrone. In 2008, a profoundly ridiculous story by vice magazine popularised Mephedrone after the reporter claimed to insuffulate six grams of the drug. For a start this was criminally irresponsible as this drug has never been tested on humans and this is nearly a hundred times the dose recommended by users (who will recommend it to be taken orally anyway). Not even Charlie Sheen would go “banging seven gram rocks” of this stuff let alone suggest it in a magazine read by those with a collective reading age of a boiled egg. For the record no one should “bang” seven grams of anything, ever, unless they happen to be a beetle (the bugs not the rockstars).

Charlie Sheen Banging Seven Gram Rocks Public Service Announcement: <STRIKE>Drugs</STRIKE> Misinformation Kills

Despite these crazy reports, despite the substance being shipped by the kilo after it’s shoot to star status by the red tops, despite the excesses never seen with ecstasy, no coroner in the UK has ever attributed a death to mephedrone. In March 2010 two men died after taking Government issue heroin substitute, Methadone. The Daily Fail wrongly reported this as Mephedrone and the red tops followed suit. If this was a typo it was a very convenient typo that was never corrected. The police swallowed the tabloid bait hook, line and sinker and disregarded desperate pleas by drug experts to wait for the post-mortem and held an international press conference that day declaring parliament must act to make mephedrone illegal. Like lap dogs the Government got right down to it, basing the decision on evidence which by that point had been confirmed by their own police force, coroner and Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) to be misinformation. By the point of the decision so many of the remaining Goverment experts on the ACMD had resigned in protest that the council was completely legally defunct. (Which actually technically makes the ban defunct according do the Misuse of Drugs Act. Don’t quote me on that, I’m not a lawyer. This is incidentally, why the law is being changed to make the ACMD irrelevant)

The government responded by taking a blunderbus approach and banning mephedrone and a shedload of other chemicals that just happen to look like mephedrone. All these chemicals, many of which don’t even exist yet are effectively permanently written off for medical research despite most probably having completely different properties to Mephedrone. Well what do you expect when you have politicians that think they’re chemists?

wormhole Public Service Announcement: <STRIKE>Drugs</STRIKE> Misinformation KillsHere is a picture of a wormhole to illustrate the infinite stupidity of making a range of chemicals that don’t even exist yet permanently illegal because their chemical formula looks  like a chemical that sounds (nothing) like another chemical that killed two teenagers because they mixed said other chemical with alcohol.

Edit: Some people thought the above was a joke. This is no joke. Endless chemicals and their hypothetical derivatives that do not exist yet are now illegal only because if they existed they would be similar to drugs that are far safer than alcohol and tobacco and in the case of mephedrone because it sounded like methadone. There was no scientific consultation and no research is planned.  Intelligent, honest, hard working people who care about their personal health are rapidly being pushed either in to the criminality of illegal drugs or the unknown artificially accelerating frontiers of “legal highs”. This policy has the unfortunate side effect of categorically preventing new frontiers in medicine.

Fun fact: While mephedrone was legal cocaine deaths dive bombed for the first time in history.

Misinformation Campaigns  Actually Promote Drug Use

Below is a report by the RSA that references a wealth of research that demonstrates that the Government’s current method of restricting information and promoting the “Just Say No” message actually increases drug use. It concludes that the only way to reduce the dangers of drugs is to provide accurate and balanced information on drugs.

Illegal Drugs, Communities and Public Policy – Drugs – Facing Facts

Accurate and honest information on drugs can be found on the website of the Independent Scientific Committee on Drugs, made up of former members of the ACMD who resigned in protest at the lies they were expected to tell. Due to the fact that academic research on recreational use is effectively prohibited by law and the Government’s FRANK website doesn’t actually contain any useful information, the crowd sourced data bank “Erowid” remains one of the only sources for drug information.

Halpern JH, Sherwood AR, Hudson JI, Gruber S, Kozin D, & Pope HG Jr (2011). Residual neurocognitive features of long-term ecstasy users with minimal exposure to other drugs. Addiction (Abingdon, England), 106 (4), 777-86 PMID: 21205042

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

Below is a viral ad from an unaffiliated sponsor

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  • Johan

    Great post and a very good blog! Just curious about the statement “To date no coroner has ever attributed a death to Mephedrone”.

    On EMCDDA’s site under Synthetic cathinones I found this line:

    “The first toxicologically confirmed fatal case directly linked to mephedrone use was recorded in Sweden in 2008″.

    Since I know Swedish, I have checked the source and the medical information provided in this specific case looks pretty solid. The person who died was an 18 year old woman whose friends told the paramedics that she had taken mephedrone and smoked hash. No traces of alcohol or ‘other narcotic substances could be found’ in her blood, which sounds a little big odd if she really had been using cannabis before (which I guess we can’t know for sure if she had). This of course has implications since her assumed poly drug use might overrule the direct link between death and mephedrone in of itself.

    Maybe this is the first and only reported case, who knows, but it’s still a report attributing mephedrone to a death. I’m not saying that this case should justify criminalization of meph or the moral panic around this substance, I’m just curious what you base your statement on, since I agree that factual information about drugs and their effects are imperative.

    • Neurobonkers

      Thanks for that Johan. I read a while back that the Sweden case was inconlusive but no, it certainly appears you are correct. I just checked the report you referred to and yes according to Interpol one death in Sweden was cited as due to Mephedrone. I’ve corrected that line and added a bit more to make even clearer that it’s certainly not the most pleasant of drugs! It definitely appears to be more dangerous than ecstasy.

      For Reference

      http://www.emcdda.europa.eu/attachements.cfm/att_102496_EN_Europol-EMCDDA_Joint_Report_Mephedrone.pdf

  • Kevin

    Who else was greeted by the highly ironic advertisement at the bottom?

    Good article ;)

  • Adam

    Liked the article so much I retweeted it and clicked your **. I suggest everyone do the same.

    Admin: Thanks for that, sorry but I was forced to censor the suggestion. Google are very stringent with their T&C’s regarding what can and can’t be suggested regarding their advertising and that even applies to user comments. Thanks for the thought though!

  • http://www.divatology.com/deeper/ Diva

    Excellent post!

    I wrote an online letter to parents here in the U.S. a few years ago, about marijuana’s status as a “gateway drug” (http://www.divatology.com/deeper/?p=922).

    Essentially, it is a gateway because we lie to our kids about it from the outset – don’t do it, it will kill you, blah blah blah. Then, when they try it, (like me) they wonder what all the fuss was about and what *other* drugs are nothing like they’ve been told.

    It’s so hard to get governments to listen to reason where innocuous drugs like pot and ecstasy are concerned. Thanks for trying – I’m bookmarking and sharing this page for future reference.

  • VBM

    Excuse the grammatical mistakes; I wrote this up rather quickly, as well as replace any references of “that author” etc with this author:

    While I agree misinformation against anything kills, there are still issues not being addressed such as social stigma and the fact that any politician, most of whom are probably using or misusing both legal and illegal drugs would be political suicide; so to say to name call (at one point liking them to a rabbit with a pancake on it’s head) them is a bit underhanded and wrong as anyone faced with their job security and essentially livelihood for themselves and family or potential family or to represent a demographic which has a very negative association as a direct by product of the aforementioned social stigma will almost always choose the former. Also extrapolating data such as:

    Fun fact: While mephedrone was legal cocaine deaths dive bombed for the first time in history.

    Is counter-intuitive to the author’s advise to check the source, as if you follow the link and read the evidence given you see that the author of the original article he/she is referring to actually says:

    It is too early to draw any definite conclusions. Thanks to registration delays we do not yet know how many cocaine-related deaths occurred in the second half of 2009. The question is: will the 28 per cent decrease in cocaine-related deaths in the first half of 2009 be reinforced in the second half of 2009, corroborated internationally, and not matched by an increase in mephedrone-related deaths?

    Also, the author of that article never checks to see any other cultural/social trends that may be correlated to this decrease in deaths. For example, what if the recession of 2008 caused an increase in drug use and/or concious or unconscious suicidal tendencies related to drugs. Even further, one should look at the fact that perhaps those same users who upped their usage during the recession as a method of coping with jobless via an alternate state of mind had started realizing their fiscal savings were being drained to the point of near poverty or even bankruptcy.

    Also comments like this:

    Here is a picture of a wormhole to illustrate the infinite stupidity of making a range of chemicals that don’t even exist yet permanently illegal because their chemical formula looks like a chemical that sounds (nothing) like another chemical that killed two teenagers because they were stupid enough to mix it with.. alcohol.

    Shows poor tact on his part, not only is he again resorting to inappropriate tactics for a debate, he’s also showing completely callous behaviour to the two victims (Louis Wainwright and Nicholas Smith). Would his children be in their coffins he would be probably be angered by someone making such a statement.

    Also the analogue banning of synthetic chemicals is fair enough as the likelihood of the chemical labs behind most of the mephedrone would more than likely have created substance derived from that chemical structure, the question is how similar is too similar which I must agree is an issue that I think should be looked at. My previous statement is based on the fact that for example made by the 2C family:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2C_(psychedelics)

    That being said, I do agree that mephedrone does seem to have gotten unfair media attention and what seems to be unfair banning as the 2C family has been around for a large enough period of time and in America, while not widely used, is still used. The question remains should it have been banned? I am not sure that any of us, the author of that article included, is knowledgeable enough as he said it himself it is a research chemical that had not been around for a long enough period of time to be tested for neurotoxic potential.

    • Neurobonkers

      Thanks for the feedback, apologies if I proceed to get a bit worked up, I genuinely do appreciate you taking the time to comment. I’ll try and respond to your points individually:

      1.) The link to the rabbit with a pancake on it’s head is my 404 page for when a server crashes. My bad. The broken link is fixed now.

      2.) Indeed this is far from a comprehensive list, it is meant to be a comedy article to raise awareness.

      3.) It was confirmed to me in a recent lecture by a reliable source (the author of cited) that the fall in cocaine deaths continued until Mephedrone was banned. Please go ahead and try to find that data, I assure you it’s not an easy task and that is partly my point.

      4.) In response to your comment and out of respect I have removed the word “stupid”. The reason I used that word was not to cause offence but to ram home the point that mixing Methadone with Alcohol kills. This is well reported information that is confirmed every week when people die drinking on methadone. I find it a far greater insult to the families of these two dead boys that the Government gives this drug out like it’s Calpol and it doesn’t educate people to the fact that it it will kill them if they wash it down with a few beers. The Government even restricts access to this life saving information by hosting a publicly funded “education website” that fails to mention this simple fact on their “information” page for the drug. http://www.talktofrank.com/drugs.aspx?id=194

      To cap it off it has made a totally irrelevant drug to this issue illegal by pretending they are the same thing. That sir, is an insult to the memory of those two dead boys.

      5.) I could not agree more how extremely important it is for us to research if the mephedrone family could be neurotoxic. The law currently prevents this. Please see the ISCD campaign on this issue. Their cited materials also rather eloquently explain why the banning of analogues is such a tragedy. http://www.drugscience.org.uk/minimumdataset.html

  • Carl

    ‘misinformation about drugs kills infinitely more people than drugs themselves.’ ‘Daily Fail’, pictures of wormholes and Charlie Sheen only serves to devalue your point. In the words of the man of the hour.

    PLANBETTER

  • http://rashellereid.wordpress.com/ Rashelle

    Great article and totally agree. People are not stupid and when they see all around them evidence that contradicts the propaganda they will be more likely to dabble and find out for themselves. Thanks for providing such a well referenced article. I look forward to reading more of your posts. Rashelle

    • VBM

      Did you guys even look at this reference and what it states?

      Specifically: http://www.straightstatistics.org/article/banned-drug-may-have-saved-lives-not-cost-them

      He referenced a Charlie Sheen Dub Step remix of his interview on youtube (seriously? is that even plausible in any way shape or form? even it was the real interview referencing a drug addled human being who has just been fired from his job and has exhibited so much reckless behaviour [although comical I must admit] is hardly productive to your case [even in sarcastic tone]), a sensationalist daily mail article, the same wiki article twice, a BBC article that corrects the blame and looks at the possible implications, the RSA PDF, and self reference. Out of all of those only 3 are valid, and they’re not well referenced ( do you see proper citation of any form?), they’re just referenced. In an academic setting this would not only be open to scrutiny it would be dispelled almost immediately.

      This is equally sensationalist as the daily mail (daily fail as the author puts it) article.

      People with this mentality are, strictly in my opinion, a negative impact towards legalization. You preach looking at the root source and cross checking, yet you fail to do it. This article by no means makes any strive towards it’s goal and I feel completely annoyed by the sheer fact that it even gets positive reception in any form. This blog should not read A Humorous Dose of Psychology and Science as it does not administer psychology or science facts, nor is it funny; unfortunately the latter part is completely subjective.

      • Neurobonkers

        Can you make your point a bit more explicit? As far as I understand what you are saying is you found a reference that supports my article and you somehow interpreted this as being a bad thing?

        You have failed to notice the two academic papers I cited that I chose because they are open access. I cite wikipedia in text whenever possible because it provides a summary and a selection of references and I’m aware not all my readers can have access to restricted journals.

        The fact that you appear to think I referenced a Daily Mail article seems to suggest you’ve missed the entire point of this entire article. I would never reference the Daily Mail as a source. It is standard procedure in the UK blogging community to reference the paper as the Daily Fail to make explicitly clear we don’t read it and are just commenting on it’s ineptitude. Search hastag #DailyFail. Sorry you didn’t get the Charlie Sheen joke, it wasn’t an academic point and it certainly wasn’t a “reference”.

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  • Joshua

    Don’t forget about Bluelight.ru :)

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  • Archer Sully

    The situation is analogous to “abstinence only sex eduction” that some localities practice here in the States. Whenever misinformation is given on a subject in a futile attempt to keep children from engaging in certain behaviors, the behaviors inevitably increase. Which is why the “Bible Belt” leads the country in both teen pregnancy and divorce.

    Sadly, rubbing the idiots’ noses in bad ideas is no more effective at changing their thought patterns than rubbing a puppy’s nose in his pooh is at housetraining. What the world needs is a way to get politicians to respond to reason instead of money. I’m not holding my breath.

  • http://www.facebook.com/robert.johns2 Robert Johns

    The problem as I saw it never was Mephedrone, or mopst other recreational drugs – it was the shit drug-dealers cut it with that caused problems, as ever, and the bigger the supply chain gets the bigger the chances it has been cut with something nasty or that the combinations of substances it’s cut with becomes dangerous, unless you are going to build a lab & make your own you just can’t trust dealers at all, they don’t give a shit if you don’t wake up tomorrow.

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