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Below is a selection of work from the spectacular project by artist Dave Devries at The Monster Engine. Dave accepts drawings from young children, projects a copy on to a canvas and embellishes the image while working strictly within the confines of the original outline in the child’s sketch. Genius!

Out of the box Childrens Artwork ReimaginedBoy by Max Peralta Childrens Artwork Reimagined

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It’s easy for me to go after the tabloids, it doesn’t take a genius to see how the Daily Mail is full of lies or that Fox news distorts the facts to the extend that their consumers are left knowing less than when they started. With the broadsheets it’s a different story. The broadsheets brings with them an air of respectability, a faithful following of educated  intellectuals who trust the newspapers enough not to bother checking their sources, which (when you do some research) often fall apart like a year old muffin. First in the firing line is the Independent. This paper is particularly dangerous because like their sworn enemies the redtops, the Independent is predisposed to shameless hyperbole; unlike the tabloids, most people trust what the paper says.

canop When hyperbole becomes a public health issue

The Independent make a full about turn from their ten year campaign for legalisation

One of the first posts I did on this blog was about how, after a ten year campaign for cannabis legalisation,  the Independent made a full about turn and placed a front page apology for their actions based on only a shred of evidence. The Independent got their facts wrong on a grand scale including wrongly reporting that the ACMD were to recommend cannabis be upgraded (the opposite was true) and wrongly reporting the figures for the the increase in cannabis strength by a factor of thirty times!

Independent pocket money heroin When hyperbole becomes a public health issue

Recently the Independent have continued their campaign of hyperbole filled drug scare stories with a report about Valium that failed to mention the word “Valium”. The report was littered with glaring errors – (edit: now slightly mitigated after my complaint to the PCC – see my report on the similar Hull Daily Mail article and the Metro article, both taken down after my complaints to the PCC). Of key importance is the fact that the article wrongly reports that Valium is used to treat depression when in reality Valium is an addictive anxiety drug that worsens depression. This is a severe editorial failure because the millions of people who read the Independent and who have easy access to Valium (or already use the drug recreationally) would be likely, after reading the Independent article to use the drug to self medicate if they get depressed. Conversely, the addictive nature of Valium is not mentioned in the article. The report also likens the drug to Speed, something which anyone who knows anything about Benzodiazepines will find laughable. Once again, the report seems to be little more than a reworded press release, this time from a rather spectacularly misinformed police force.

Miracle Cure When hyperbole becomes a public health issue

Miracle cures sell papers far better than they cure illnesses

This week the Guardian’s Observer caused somewhat of a storm among the skeptic bloggers after running a fawning article about Burzynski; a controversial cancer doctor in Texas who for the past 30 years has encouraged the parents of children with cancer to send him their children to take part in his “trials”. All for a tidy sum of hundreds of thousands of dollars a pop of course.

burzynski clinic When hyperbole becomes a public health issue

Yet another science story with apparently no background research in to the scientific background whatsoever

Burzynski has never published any peer reviewed research of his findings and his licence is under investigation by US authorities. Rather than tackling his critics with debate or published work he respondents by issuing “cease and desist” libel threats to anyone who criticises him as the Quackometer and Rhys Morgan found out this week. Luckily for Burzynski, the Independent is on hand to send him a few million uncritical hits to add to his army of “placard waving supporters drummed up by PR campaigns”.

Blah When hyperbole becomes a public health issueIn researching this article, I stumbled across the holy grail I was looking for, a rather enlightening piece by one of the Independent’s health correspondent’s Jeremy Lawrence. The “manifesto for failure” is full of choice quotes that explain in detail the pithy reasons given for why journalists don’t bother checking facts. This piece invites the rather spectacular riposte by the target of the article, Dr. Ben Goldacre. Hopefully more of the bloggers that are doing such a sterling job of dismantling the main stream media garbage can get picked up by the major papers. Sooner rather than later please.

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pepper spray Pepper spray and cocaine, a little known lethal combination

Pepper spray compared to natural chili pepper

Yesterday it emerged that a pregnant woman who had been sprayed with pepper spray at a demonstration has lost her baby. This is a shocking claim but it isn’t surprising when you consider the toxicity of pepper spray and the fact that it is banned for use in warfare under Article I.5 of the Chemical Weapons Convention (signed by the US, the UK and almost every other country on the planet).Police “pepper spray” is six hundred and sixty two times more powerful than jalapeño pepper and many hundreds of times stronger than the cans available to ordinary Americans.

There is no debate that being sprayed with pepper spray is extremely dangerous but few know that it is known to cause potentially lethal respiratory failure, especially for asthma sufferers. Most worryingly, the least informed appear to be the US police officers who are prepared to nonchalantly spray it directly in to the faces of peaceful protesters.

Even more worrying is the complete lack of interest by the authorities in the lethal impact that pepper spray has on individuals who have taken stimulants such as cocaine and amphetamines. The active ingredient in pepper spray, capsaicin potentates the toxicity of cocaine astronomically, making cocaine and pepper spray a lethal combination. In the two years following California’s 1992  adoption of capsaicin based pepper spray nineteen of the twenty-six deaths caused by pepper spay also involved the use of stimulants like cocaine (9 involved methamphetamine, 6 cocaine, 3 methamphetamine plus cocaine, and 1 pseudoephedrine), 79% of those deaths occured within one hour (Mendelson et al, 2009). This research is supported by animal research in which capsaicin pushed mortality levels through the roof in rats administered with cocaine (Mendelson et al, 2009).

“The lethal effects of capsaicin administered with cocaine (both compounds administered intraperitoneally) were assessed in 14 groups of 20–40 male mice. capsaicin at 10 mg/kg increased the lethality of cocaine in mice dosed at 60 mg/kg from 13% to 53% (P < 0.01) and for cocaine at 75 mg/kg from 53% to 90% (P < 0.001).” (Mendelson et al, 2009)

pepper spray cop Pepper spray and cocaine, a little known lethal combination

Casual pepper spraying

Footnote: If you think this is a situation that is unlikely to affect you because you aren’t the sort of person to confront a police officer you should take a look at the “crowd management” pepper spray now being developed by a subsidary of BAE and the implementation of pepper spray for crowd management already occurring across the on US a grand scale.

fire extinguisher pepper spray Pepper spray and cocaine, a little known lethal combination

If this ever gets deployed at a rave we'll have a massacre on our hands.


Mendelson, J., Tolliver, B., Delucchi, K., Baggott, M., Flower, K., Harris, C., Galloway, G., & Berger, P. (2009). Capsaicin, an active ingredient in pepper sprays, increases the lethality of cocaine Forensic Toxicology, 28 (1), 33-37 DOI: 10.1007/s11419-009-0079-9

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researchblogging The State of The War on Drugs: The Latest Stats in PicturesYesterday the EMCDDA released their annual report on drug usage (PDF) marking the 50th anniversary of the signing of the UN Single Convention on narcotic drugs which legally binds the leaders of the developed world in to supporting the prohibition. The report uses the most recent data available provided by the EU member states to base it’s estimations which are detailed below.


7283 tonnes of cannabis is currently seized per year worldwide (1261 tonnes of hash and 6022 tonnes of herb).

8 tonne boulder The State of The War on Drugs: The Latest Stats in Pictures

That is equivalent to a large forest or 910 of these boulders

This figure is only the cannabis seized which is a fraction of the cannabis used. The EMCDDA estimates that the amount of cannabis produced this year was 76,000 tonnes (based on ground surveys and satellite imagery of out door crops). Considering the amount of cannabis that was likely to be missed by the satellites or is grown indoors in secret, the real figure is therefore likely to be far higher.

cannabis satellite The State of The War on Drugs: The Latest Stats in Pictures

Cannabis is notoriously different to track down from outer space but techniques are improving

According to the EMCDDA about 10% of cannabis being produced is currently being seized. Interestingly, the EMCDDA reports that cannabis use is decreasing whilst cannabis cultivation is increasing. This supports the long standing theory that prohibition is in the interests of drug dealers because it pushes up the value of an easy to produce commodity to above the weight of hard to mine commodities such as gold and oil. This increases both the incentive for production and the incentive for it’s use by gangs for money laundering. Interestingly despite all of this…

cannabis law The State of The War on Drugs: The Latest Stats in Pictures

"no simple association can be observed between legal changes and cannabis prevalence"

There may be “no simple relationship” but in not one case does an increase in penalty reduce cannabis use! Not one case!



Government crackdowns on safrole production (the precursor to MDMA) resulted in a short term drought in MDMA (in 2009). This was combated in two ways, firstly producers switched to different precursors, namely PMK‑glycidate and alpha‑phenylacetoacetonitrile that are structurally similar. Dealers also began cutting MDMA with research chemicals such as piperazines (e.g. BZP and mCPP), mephedronemethyloneMDVP and PMMA (which as I noted in August has appeared in the UK pill market) demonstrating how the prohibition is raising the health risk to consumers exponentially.

New psychoactive substances The State of The War on Drugs: The Latest Stats in Pictures

"New" Psychoactive substances (new meaning never before monitored by the EMCDDA, not necessarily newly created)

Ironically, the drug war seems to be leading to the exponential increase in the creation, distribution and use of substances never properly researched or tested.

According to the EMCDDA 5.4 tonnes of ecstasy is seized per year. This compares to 732 tonnes of cocaine, 33 tonnes of Amphetamines, 31 tonnes of crystal meth and 0.1 tonnes of LSD.


Mephedrone was banned in the UK in mid 2010 with a European directive going ahead for it to be made illegal across all of Europe in December 2010. At the time of the Europe wide ban there had only been one death formally cited as due to mephedrone and no formal research on the drug. This is where the EMCDDA data gets shaky. The EMCDDA claim that in UK there were 46 deaths in 2010 associated with confirmed mephedrone use but there is no detailed data. The report notes that 65 suspected mephedrone deaths led to the ban but in only 46 cases was mephedrone present in a toxicology sample. It appears likely, due to the lack of deaths formally attributed to mephedrone that mephedrone was not the cause of death in the majority of the 46 cases. It is difficult to reach a conclusion due to the lack of any formal research. Interestingly, there was a sharp and substantial drop in cocaine related deaths in 2009 that it has been noted coincided with the mephedrone boom .

Chemical Masking

mask The State of The War on Drugs: The Latest Stats in Pictures

Chemical Masking

Drugs are being “chemically masked” in order to pass border control undetected. The added health risks of this measure are severe. The EMCDDA report notes that this has now been broadly observed in the Amphetamine market but  fails to give details or investigate the health risks. It has been noted by the USDEA that the worming agent “Levamisole” (a word not mentioned in the EMCDDA report) has been discovered in the majority of cocaine imported in to the US. This is worrying for a number of reasons:

1.) Levamisole causes “agranulocytosis.. a catastrophic crash in a person’s immune system, which can turn a zit, a scratch, or even the bacteria that normally live in and around your body into a life-threatening infection”. In clinical trials levamisole caused 10% of people to develop agranulocytosis. Recently doctors have noticed a rapid rise in cases of agranulocytosis in cocaine users.

2.) Levamisole is very expensive with little to offer in terms of effect (it has been suggested that it may be a potentiating agent but this has not been tested). This indicates how motivated the prohibition is making drug producers to cut their goods with substances that no matter how dangerous are included because they pass traditional chemical testing used by dealers and customers.

3.) Levamisole is being found in the majority of cocaine shipments caught at the point of import to the US. This suggests that cocaine is now being routinely cut at source rather than just by petty dealers. One  such find was a magazine where the pages were coated in a “plastic laminate that was 21.5 percent cocaine, cut with levamisole”.


Levamisole The State of The War on Drugs: The Latest Stats in Pictures

The increasing percentage of cocaine cut with Levamisole


Every single country responding with information spent more on policing than harm reduction or medical interventions.

“‘Expenditure for justice, police, customs and prisons were the items most frequently reported.”

EMCDDA  Annual Report (2011)

Drug related government expenditure The State of The War on Drugs: The Latest Stats in Pictures

Drug related government expenditure

The recession has seemingly had an impact however:

“In 2011, for the first time in a decade, public expenditure (excluding interest payments) in the European Union will fall in real terms.”

EMCDDA  Annual Report (2011)


Technically UN members are legally bound to criminalisation:

“The 1988 UN Convention against illicit trafficof drugs, Article 3(2), requires each state to establish possession of drugs for personal use as a criminal offence,subject to its constitutional principles and the basic concepts of its legal system.”

EMCDDA  Annual Report (2011)


“In the last 10 years, 15 European countries have made changes to their penalties for possession of small amountsof drugs.”

EMCDDA  Annual Report (2011)

Posession map The State of The War on Drugs: The Latest Stats in Pictures

Map of Europe illustrating sanctions for drug posession (Source: EMCCDA, 2011)

Portugal: Decriminalised possession of all drugs for personal use, prioritising health solutions over punitive sanctions.

Luxembourg: Reduced sanctions of first offence use of cannabis to a fine. Maximum penalties for personal possessionof all drugs other than cannabis were reduced from three years in prison to six months.

Belgium: Reduced sanction for cannabis posession from up to five years in prison to a fine.

Estonia: Reduced second offence of possession of any drug from up to three years in prison to a fine or up to thirty days “administrative detention”(i.e. imprisonment without trial, so ups and downs).

Slovenia: Decriminalised possession of all drugs. The maximum penalty was reduced from 30 days in prison, or five days for a small quantity, to a fine.

Romania, Bulgaria and the Czech Republic: reduced sentences for cannabis and/or other “soft” drugs.

Finland: Reduced minor posession sanctions from two years to six months in prison.

Greece: Reduced minor posession sanctions for non-addicted users from two years to six months with no criminal record based on no re-offending.

Slovakia: Widened the limit for posession from one dose to three doses but introduced penalties of home imprisonment and community service.

Countries to increase sanctions were Italy who removed sentencing distinctions between different drugs and and the UK who moved cannabis from class B to C and then back again to B (despite the vocal objections of their own advisory council on drugs and the resignation of the leader of the committee Professor Nutt). Denmark changed the sanction for minor offences from a warning to a fine. France included an adittional sanction of an awareness cause to be paid for by the offender.


Cannabis remains the most popular drug in almost all European countries based upon police reports where it accounts for 50-75% of offences. In the Czech republic and Latvia Crystal Meth is most commonly reported by police and in Malta cocaine is most commonly reported by police (but this may be because softer drugs are ignored by officers).

Drug offenses graph 2011 The State of The War on Drugs: The Latest Stats in Pictures

European Drug Offences Trends


As a result of prohibition prisons have become a breeding ground for initiation in to hard drugs (and needle sharing) with heroin and cocaine being the most used drugs in prisons after cannabis. A study in Belgium suggests a third of drug using prisoners were initiated in to using a new drug (most commonly heroin) inside prison (Todts et al., 2009). There is also significantly more needle sharing in prisons by injecting drug users leading to spread of disease including HIV. Worryingly, data is “unavailable” from countries with the highest rates of HIV with the only countries reporting data being Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Spain, Hungary, Malta, Finland, Sweden and Croatia.

The european monitoring centre for drugs and drug addiction (2011). The state of the drugs problem in Europe Annual Report.

Todts, S., Gilbert, P., Malderen, V. S., Huyck, V. C., Saliez, V.
and Hogge, M. (2009), Usage de drogues dans les prisons
belges: monitoring des risques sanitaires, Service Public Fédéral
Justice, Brussels.

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