To sum up the past couple of days:
- Nature, Time, the BBC and just about every other science publication and news outlet covered Dr. Nutt’s latest research and it’s promising findings for possible clinical use of psilocybin, provoking academic debate on the restriction on study of illegal drugs for clinical use.
- UK law took a small yet definitive step forward, reducing sentences for medical use of drugs, small time users and drug mules (Telegraph, Guardian, Sky, sentencingcouncil.judiciary.gov.uk/guidelines/forthcoming-guidelines)
- Richard Branson gave evidence at the Government’s select committee on drugs (Guardian, video – skip in about three minutes for the start, Branson’s blog).
- The legal developments are based on evidence emerging from states such as Portugal who have successfully decriminalised drug use and are reaping the benefits (rigorous, balanced analysis of the stats here).
So what did the Daily Mail run with today? This time my commentary is not even needed. I’ve simply taken the liberty of literally highlighting the blindingly obvious flaw in this ridiculous excuse for a news article.
Hughes CE, & Stevens A (2012). A resounding success or a disastrous failure: Re-examining the interpretation of evidence on the Portuguese decriminalisation of illicit drugs. Drug and alcohol review, 31 (1), 101-13 PMID: 22212070
On Monday we once again witnessed the Daily Mail’s full contempt for the truth when they published the wrong pre-written Amanda Knox verdict complete with made up quotes pulled out of the sky. Admittedly, this sort of thing now happens with such frequency that it is no longer surprising that many an Enlishman now call the paper the “Daily Fail” with no sense of irony or exaggeration. Only last week the Daily Mail told us that “most Brits oppose gay marriage” when the statistic is in fact the precise opposite way round! This week the Daily Mail’s shameless misinformation has reached new heights. David Cameron went on the BBC to argue his case for the axing of the Human Rights Act. His justification for this was a tale of a prison van being driven “100 miles to be used to transport a prisoner 200 yards” because of the Human Rights Act – a story literally cobbled (or should I say cobblered?) together the week before by the Mail! Ironically, the actual reason for the prison van being used was the fact that the prison was privatised! (a famous past time of the Conservatives.)
- Mail Watch – An article dedicated to exposing day by day the lies told in the Daily Mail.
- Mail Watch Twitter - Live updates of Daily Fails.
- Stop DailyMail Twitter – Another source of Daily Fails as they happen.
- The Anti-Daily-Mail Coalition – Facebook discussion group with tens of thousands of members before facebook archived it. Full of worrying links.
- Daily Mail Oncological Ontology Project - “An ongoing quest to track the Daily Mail’s classification of inanimate objects into two types: those that cause cancer, and those that cure it”.
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.
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
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 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).
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?
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 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.
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
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Update: Raabe has now been sacked due to the public uproar.
Thanks to Neuroskeptic for the update. Thanks to the public for the uproar.
The Government announced this week the list of individuals it has appointed to be on the new Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD). The home secretary is still forced to include scientists on the ACMD by law but this last bastion of hope is to be removed by the Police Reform Bill which will allow for an ACMD with not a single scientist or medical professional. So who has Theresa May appointed to advise her on what may be last ever academically qualified advisory council on drugs?
Dr Hans-Christian Raabe, prominent anti-abortion, anti-contraception and anti-homosexual campaigner and daily maily rent-a-quote is sure to cause a stir. In his spare time Raabe contributes to the Maranatha Community, a bizarre religious group that offers “Gay Affirmative Therapy” to cure homosexuality.
Dr. Raabe is a strange choice for someone who is supposed to be an evaluator of evidence. He has made it very clear that he has a strong religious conviction that all forms of drug use are morally abhorrent and that “harm-reduction actually encourages rather than prevents drug misuse“. He has been in serious trouble with the government before for deceitful behaviour motivated by his rigid moral code. He was found to have formally submitted medical advice to a select committee on abortion without disclosing his involvement in numerous anti-abortion campaign groups. He was even the “medical director” of the Christian anti-abortion pressure group “Council for Health and Wholeness” which coincidentally also managed to submit a separate dossier for the same abortion review. None of this was disclosed when Raabe gave his “medical” consultation on abortion law in which he claimed abortion can cause breast cancer despite there being no real evidence for this and this being completely outside his remit of expertise as a paediatrician. In 2009 Raabe stood for European parliament for the Christian Peoples Alliance Party on a zero tolerance on drugs platform. It is Raabe’s opinion that users of cannabis should be treated no differently to users of heroin.
Raabe’s “medical” opinion on drugs, quoted from his formal comment on the a BMJ article on the benefits of regulation of cannabis:
“The only way of stopping people from dying from drug-related deaths is to prevent drug use in the first place!” Dr Hans-Christian Raabe (10 October 2010)
I challenge you to find another doctor anywhere who can not think of a single intervention to stop drug related deaths. Welcome back to the dark ages.
The withdrawl of harm reduction mechanisms for problem drug users is an extremely dangerous element of Raabe’s belief system. This belief system has directly resulted in promoting the AIDS epidemic in Africa through the banning of contraception on moral grounds, allowing this highly containable blood born disease to reach our shores. If this belief system is ever to be imposed on the harm reduction practices that currently are in place to stop needle sharing amongst our tens of thousands of problem drug users we can expect an explosion of AIDS in this country overnight. The evidence for this is clearly presented in this BMJ paper describing how Russia’s zero tolerance drug law has directly resulted in the AIDS epidemic it is now experiencing. Ironically, as this paper describes, the imprisonment of problem users is another main cause of AIDS in the developed world. It is common practice for a needle on a sting to be passed from cell to cell in prisons turning them in to incubators for the HIV virus.
2009 Aids Map
It is all very well for Dr. Raabe and his fundamentalist companions to act on a moral code in which they believe drugs are wrong however it is time for them to realise that this code has devastating implications for the whole of the of society including the vast majority who have never even dreamt of going near heroin or crack cocaine.
In the words of Andy Lewis, “(last year) we were angry that government was ignoring the advice of its advisors. Now we find ourselves hoping they do.”
This weekend I went to a talk by Professor Susan Greenfield, titled “Brain of the future: The impact of new technology on how we think and feel”. I had very high expectations considering that Susan is a professor of
psychology Physiology at Oxford University and was being delivered to the British Psychological Association. I went with the intention of hearing some hard evidence to support Susan’s shock-horror theory that technology is destroying our ability to maintain attention and worse, to interact with other people normally and is even “anaesthetising” us against sadness. All of this written in such reputable outlets as ahem, the Daily Mail. I’ve also been following her (rather one sided) feud with Dr. Ben Goldacre who has been calling for her to provide evidence for her ideas or publish them in a scientific journal for a very long time with no response. I highly recommend you read his article on the topic before reading on so you are aware of the long back story to this debate. So I arrived at the lecture hall with bated breath ready to hear the evidence for her shocking suggestions of the powerful effects of modern technology. Unfortunately I left none the wiser. Prof. Greenfield presented a compelling recitation of the basic theoretical framework of how we understand neuronal connections to be flexible, a concept known as neural plasticity. This is something I would have greatly appreciated in my first year of Psych 101 but leads me no closer to understanding why technology per se’ can cause permanent negative changes in the brain. It seems only logical that the evidence presented by Prof. Greenfield for the theory of neural plasticity, though fascinating in it’s own right, suggests the total and utter opposite. Our brains are highly flexible to adapt to new and varied environments, and back again. There was also much talk of new “2D” ways of communicating and an apparent belief that social networks used by young people are an end in their own right rather than a means to an end. This seemed to be based on an assumption that communicating online means not communicating in real life… Once again I find the total opposite is in fact true in the lives of most people I know, young and old. From my experience, being more connected means seeing more of people in real life. Worst of all, there was however not a single reference to any experiment having been done to directly support her ideas about negative effects of technology on the brain. So much for science. Professor Greenfield did however mention in passing, a review of research on the effect of use of computers on the young mind, published in Neuron in September. This article is very well researched and I highly recommend it. It is still open access, PDF here. I was however, (not so) shocked to discover that the review is overwhelmingly positive, here are just a few of the many findings from studies cited in the review, none of which Professor Greenfield addressed:
- Owners of computers are seven percent more likely to graduate school (after controlling for confounding factors such as home environment)
- Interactive programming on television can improve language (whilst programmes like the “tellytubbies” damage language skills)
Playing action video games is associated with a number of enhancementsin vision, attention, cognition, and motor control
The lecture warned of the possible devastating effects of games and computers and the new “sensory environment” on the mind while blissfully ignoring the evidence which in more cases than not appears quite the opposite. Of key importance in the neuron review that Professor Greenfield cited is the suggestion that technology is going to be vital in preparing us to survive in the 21st century economy. To follow the advice that Prof. Greenfield alludes to and deprive the young of access to computers may deal them a profound blow in their ability to compete in the brave new world. Footnote: I’m pretty sure I don’t need to add that there was of course no mention of Baroness Greenfield’s own “Mindfit” brain training computer game priced at £88 that was slammed for false advertising claims and very dodgy supporting research (no control group being just one of the flaws). Nor did she mention the oh so relevant recent findings that Brain Training Games are, at the moment no more beneficial than random web browsing. A finding that probably has more implications for random web browsing than anything else. So rest assured, if anything is making you stupid, it’s not the internet. Now that’s out of the way, here’s a far more rational and balanced look at the issue…
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