The highly regarded neurologist, psychologist and author Oliver Sacks has released a podcast with the New Yorker and a video on his blog (embedded below), describing some of his experiences with cannabis, amphetamines and LSD. In the podcast Sacks describes the inspiration and insights he gained from using the drugs, including the effect on his writing and the increase in his ability to be empathic with patients, but in the video Sacks issues a stark warning in which he describes amphetamines as “the most dangerous drugs physiologically” due to the powerful impact on the reward pathway and the cardiovascular system.
The media coverage comes in the run up to the release of Sacks’ new book “Hallucinations” (due for release in November), which if his previous writings are anything to go by should prove to be a truly fascinating read. If Sacks’ work inspires you to want to know more on the topic, Henry Lester a professor of neuroscience at California Institute of Technology (Caltech) is coincidentally unveiling an introductory course on “Drugs and the Brain” this November which is completely free and available right from your home computer.
Alcohol is the fourth most dangerous drug after heroin, crack and crystal meth and the second most damaging to society, according to a study published today in the British Medical Journal (PDF). It is the largest ever study of its kind. This follows Prof. Nutt’s controversial lancet paper which in 2010 rated alcohol as the most dangerous drug to society.
This latest study is a pretty weighty verdict, the study used responses from 292 individuals sourced from responders from the membership list of the Royal College of Psychiatrists in Scotland as well as a range of addiction professionals. The parameters used were:
(a) physical harm caused by acute, chronic and parenteral use.
(b) psychological harm; physical harm and intensity of pleasure linked to dependence.
(c) social harm from intoxication; other social harms and associated healthcare costs.
It’s worth noting that the study only assessed the drugs listed and doesn’t address research chemicals that are increasingly moving from the grey market to the black market as a result of recent government bans. The authors make a damning indictment of the recent bans of research chemicals, citing evidence that the mephedrone ban has done nothing to affect use and “may only act to drive up the price”. The authors do not mention that a ban has a range of knock on effects inherent to black market supply such as effects on purity, the “gateway” effect of having to visit an illegal dealer and the societal implications of criminalising the user. Only today, London police have issued a blanket drug warning after one person has died and two remain hospitalised after taking a white powder that still has not been identified. The authors state that drug use should be treated as a medical issue and “should be separated from the criminal justices system and associated penalties”.
Taylor M, Mackay K, Murphy J, McIntosh A, McIntosh C, Anderson S, & Welch K (2012). Quantifying the RR of harm to self and others from substance misuse: results from a survey of clinical experts across Scotland. BMJ open, 2 (4) PMID: 22833648(PDF)
Two reports have been published today, both describing in exquisite detail the havoc reaped by the war on drugs. The first, by the multi-national anti-drug-war organisation Count The Costs, preempts the official UN Office on Drugs and Crime’s 2012 World Drug Report that is currently due for release and attempts to calculate the full costs of the war on drugs, as opposed to the official version which focuses on the cost of enforecement. The unofficial “Count The Costs” report is supported by a list of NGO’s as long as your arm, I have pasted the press release below.
The second report is by the Global Commission on Drugs (a collection of former government drug tsars, former world leaders and experts) and outlines the catastrophic direct effect of the drug war on the HIV pandemic. Watch the full one and a half hour press conference below.
Scroll down to read both reports in full.
Count the Costs Press Release:
Alternative World Drug Report exposes destructive nature of $100 billion a year global war on drugsPosted on: 26/6/2012
Author: George Murkin
A new report, launched to coincide with publication of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime’s 2012 World Drug Report, exposes the failure of governments and the UN to assess the extraordinary costs of pursuing a global war on drugs, and calls for UN member states to meaningfully count these costs and explore all the alternatives
After 50 years of the current enforcement-led international drug control system, the war on drugs is coming under unparalleled scrutiny. Its goal was to create a “drug-free world”. Instead, despite more than a trillion dollars spent fighting the war, according to the UNODC, illegal drugs are used by an estimated 270 million people and organised crime profits from a trade with an estimated turnover of over $330 billion a year – the world’s largest illegal commodity market.
In its 2008 World Drug Report, theUNODC acknowledged that choosing an enforcement based approach was having a range of negative “unintended consequences”, including: the creation of a vast criminal market, displacement of the illegal drugs trade to new areas, diversion of funding from health, and the stigmatisation of users.
It is unacceptable that neither the UN or its member governments have meaningfully assessed these unintended consequences to establish whether they outweigh the intended consequences of the current global drug control system, and that they are not documented in the UNODC’s flagship annual World Drug Report.
This groundbreaking Alternative World Drug Report fills this gap in government and UN evaluations by detailing the full range of negative impacts resulting from choosing an enforcement-led approach:
- Wasting billions and undermining economies
- Harming international development and security, and fuellingconflict
- Threatening public health, spreading disease and causing death
- Undermining human rights
- Promoting stigma and discrimination
- Creating crime and enriching criminals
- Causing deforestation and pollution
The report also describes the other options for controlling drugs, including health led approaches and legal state regulation and control. It ends with a call on UN member states to count the costs of the war on drugs, and properly explore all alternatives that might deliver better outcomes.
Count the Costs spokesperson Martin Powell said:
“This powerful report exposes the skewed and incomplete nature ofUNODC’s annual World Drug Report by telling the other half of the story, laying out the unsustainable costs of pursuing an enforcement-led approach to the drug problem.
The ‘war on drugs’ is a policy choice. There are other options that, at the very least, should be debated and explored using the best possible evidence. For the sake of their citizens, UN member states have a duty to make sure that now happens.”
Carel Edwards, Former Head of the European Commission’s Anti-Drug Coordinating Unit said:
“This important report comes at a crucial time in the campaign for drug policy reform, with countries in Latin America no longer willing to blindly support a war on drugs that has cost them so dearly. The evidence brought together in this report is a serious indictment of the current regime, and supporters of this initiative are right to call upon heads of UN member states to count the costs of the war on drugs, even if that reveals failure, and to explore alternative options. Only then will we have the evidence to make informed judgements about how best to deal with one of the most pressing concerns of our time.”
Global Commission on Drugs Press Release:
Count The Costs (2012). The Alternative World Drug Report (Public Report) [PDF]
The Global Commission on Drug Policy (2012). The War on Drugs and HIV/AIDS: How the Criminalization of Drug Use Fuels the Global Pandemic (Public Report) [PDF]
Update: Post mortem has confirmed that the Miami cannibal was not high on bath salts, LSD or synthetic cannabinoids.
The USA yesterday booted a host of previously unregulated drugs in to the “schedule 1″ bracket. The move appears to be a knee-jerk reaction to recent events such as the “bath salt zombie attack”, believed by the police (apparently based upon nothing but pure guesswork) to be related to “bath salts”, the name euphemistically given to unscheduled drugs when it is not clear from the packaging what chemical(s) a drug contains. If you think that sounded confused, you’d be right – in classic McCarthyist style, a whole host of drugs have been banned despite there having been no research in to their effects whatsoever.
The newly classified schedule 1 drugs are as follows, effective October 1st 2012:
‘(i) 5-(1,1-dimethylheptyl)-2-[(1R,3S)-3-hydroxycyclohexyl]-phenol (CP-47,497);
‘(ii) 5-(1,1-dimethyloctyl)-2-[(1R,3S)-3-hydroxycyclohexyl]-phenol (cannabicyclohexanol or CP-47,497 C8-homolog);
1-pentyl-3-(1-naphthoyl)indole (JWH-018 and AM678);
1-pentyl-3-[(4-methoxy)-benzoyl]indole (SR-19 and RCS-4);
1-cyclohexylethyl-3-(2-methoxyphenylacetyl)indole (SR-18 and RCS-8); and
It’s not surprising to see MDPV on the list, as MDPV is a primary culprit in many drugs marketed in the US as “bath salts”. MDPV, often likened to PCP, is a drug known for a range of thoroughly unpleasant side-effects. Some of the other drugs on the list are somewhat more surprising however. It is particularly bizarre to see the 2C* family described as “new” drugs by the US DEA, the 2C* family was of course first synthesised by Alexander Shulgin over three decades ago and has been known for its unusual blend of psychedelic and aphrodisiac qualities ever since. Like many psychedelics, the 2c* family is also known for its relatively low-risk toxicity profile (it is highly active at doses on the miligram range while relatively high doses have been reported with few ill effects). The US DEA have cited only one instance of overdose through improper use of 2c-E as justification for the ban of the entire 2c* family.
Paradoxically, the newly listed Schedule 1 drugs are to be defined as having:
“A high potential for abuse.. no medical use in treatment in the United States; and lack an accepted safety for use of the drug”
This is an ironic definition considering that not only is there a complete lack of human research for most of the drugs listed above, but now that these drugs are scheduled it is near impossible for US scientists, like UK scientists before them, to study these drugs to determine whether there could ever be a medical use for any of the drugs. It doesn’t take a genius to see how this vicious cycle could end badly. We will likely witness the chemicals above rapidly dumped on the underground market, to risk being mislabelled and sold as cutting agents. There is now little incentive for pharmaceutical companies to investigate relations of the drugs as they are now likely controlled under analogue legislation. Furthermore, there is now every incentive for underground drugs manufacturers to develop new drugs, with new unknown risks and contraindications, to be unleashed on the next generation of guinea pigs – and the self-defeating logic of the drug war once again prevails.
Update: Post mortem has confirmed that the Miami cannibal was not high on bath salts, LSD or synthetic cannabinoids.
A freak attack described as drug induced “zombie face eating” has hit international headlines this week. Until the results of a toxicological analysis emerge, the drug(s) involved is unknown and open to speculation. This has not stopped the newspapers, who understandably have gone absolutely bat-shit over the story. The Daily Mail has claimed the attacker was “high on LSD”, while the Guardian initially claimed the assailant was “under the influence of a potent LSD-like drug called bath salts”, the Guardian went on to make the bizarre claim that the assailant had taken “the delirium-inducing drug, which is similar to cocaine and other forms of LSD” – as if cocaine is a form of LSD. The Guardian have now “corrected” the piece to state that “the delirium-inducing drug, which can have effects similar to cocaine and LSD” – as if the effects of LSD and cocaine are similar. Reading a local news report goes some distance in helping us understand how matters have been confused, a head of Miami police has stated: “We have seen, already, three or four cases that are exactly like this where some people have admitted taking LSD and it’s no different than cocaine psychosis”, clearly misinformed local police have also reportedly used the phrase “bad LSD”. It’s unclear precisely what previous cases of acid-fuelled-zombie-face-eating the Miami police are referring to, it seems the media and the Miami police have jumped on LSD with zero evidence, apparently confusing LSD with the disease in 28 days Later. It seems far more probable that if this attack is connected to drugs, the attacker was in a severe state of stimulant induced psychosis as opposed to being under the influence of psychedelics.
Just in case it isn’t clear from the two reports above, the proposal that the assailant had consumed the famously tranquil hallucinogen depicted below is pure uninformed speculation, the idea that this could be the result of a “bad batch of LSD” is completely nonsensical and appears to be based on utterly uniformed conjecture.
A closer reading of the news reports reveals that rather than LSD, a chemical listed as one of the safest psychoactive drugs in relative terms (Nutt et al, 2010), it is now being reported that the assailant was under the influence of an unspecified drug known as a “bath salt”. Bath salts are not unique to the US, in some areas of the UK, a study (Measham et al, 2011) found that self reported use of “bubble” was higher than for mephedrone or amphetamines. 18% of people asked reported having taken “bubble” whilst amphetamine use in the past month crashed to 3% compared to 9% for bubble. “Survey respondents were not only unclear about, but also apparently unconcerned about the speciﬁc chemical identity of the stimulant white powders they consume”… “a considerable number of respondents were adamant that they had never heard of mephedrone but that they had taken Bubble”.
Both the danger and sudden prevalence of unknown white powders is a direct result of government restrictions on the precursors of relatively safe drugs such as LSD and MDMA and the clamp down on labs producing pure alternatives such as Mephedrone. The end result is that drug developers are rushing endless new drugs on to the market place in order to stay ahead of legislation and now more worryingly, producers are avoiding labelling their produce in an attempt to help distributors stay at least one step ahead of the plods on the ground. This vicious circle is unhealthy in the extreme and is being entirely fuelled by zero tolerance legislation. The zombie case may prove to be just one possible result of what can happen when a policy of harm reduction becomes a policy of harm maximisation.
The million dollar question remains, what were the chemicals in the “bath salts” that are reported to be involved? It is worth noting that this incident is clearly an unusual occurrence, the incident can certainly not be described as typical of any single drug. Far from LSD or even formerly popular legal chemicals such as mephedrone, the consensus among speculators appears to be that the “zombie face eater”, in addition to likely having an undiagnosed pre-existing mental condition, may have been in a state of severe drug induced psychosis and/or may have taken something more along the lines of a PCP analogue. This is obviously pure guess work, however PCP is known for its astounding ability to precipitate psychosis, bizarre behaviour and extreme violence. It has even been linked to cases of cannibalism in the past, cases such as this are of course rare and heavily publicised but the fact that people are now taking drugs blindly as a matter of course, the contents of which may contain substances they are utterly unprepared for is extremely worrying. Another key factor pointing to PCP is that it is well known that PCP users are prone to getting naked and becoming violent. Another popular guess that may be more grounded in reality is that the drug could be MDPV, a drug with a thoroughly unpleasant reputation that has been known to be marketed as bath salts in the past. These guesses are of course, absolute speculation based on the apparently unfounded claim that “bath salts” were involved, judging by the fact that the event occurred in down-town Miami it seems perhaps more logical to propose that the attacker might have been using old fashioned nasties such as crack or crystal methamphetamine. We will not discover what the drug was that the “zombie face eater” had taken until after a forensic investigation, this goes to once again underline the danger of “bath salts”, until they are tested we simply do not know what is in them. It is certainly worth taking this particular horror story with a pinch of salt, the assailant had previous convictions for beating his own mother in 1994, on this day he was the first person to ever be tasered by his local police force. It therefore seems clear that whatever drug he took, it was not the only factor at play.
Measham,F. Moore, K. Østergaard, j. (2911). Mephedrone, “Bubble” and unidentified white powders: the contested identities of synthetic “legal highs”, Drugs and Alcohol Today, 11 (3), 137-146 (PDF)
Nutt, D., King, L., & Phillips, L. (2010). Drug harms in the UK: a multicriteria decision analysis The Lancet, 376 (9752), 1558-1565 DOI: 10.1016/S0140-6736(10)61462-6 (Subscribe to the Lancet fore free for access)
Subscribecontact directly by simply hitting reply to the email. You will never receive spam under any circumstances and you can unsubscribe at any time with one click. Alternately, use the link below to subscribe via RSS or your favourite reading platform.
Africa America Bad Science BCI Brain Computer Interfacing breaking news Cannabis Censorship Cocaine Copyright Counterfeit Drugs Daily Fail DailyFail daily mail Daily Mail Demolition Squad Drugs EEG Emotiv Fake Drugs FMRI Health Hoax Independent Misinformation Music Neuroscience Open Science Procrastination Psychology Rat Brain Robot Review Satire Science sex Skepticism Statistics Student Loans Crisis Susan Greenfield Synaesthesia Technology The confederacy of dunces Video walking War on Drugs Wikileaks