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.

BMJ Drug harms 20121 The largest ever study in to drug harms places alcohol in the top four

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)

Follow Simon on TwitterFacebookGoogle+RSS, or join the mailing list.

The Alternative World Drug Report Two Major Reports Slamming The Drug War Released in One Day

Global Commission Two Major Reports Slamming The Drug War Released in One Day

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 drugs

Posted 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]

Follow Simon on TwitterFacebookGoogle+RSS, or join the mailing list.

 Obamas Personal Cannabis Policies: Interception and Total AbsorptionNews broke yesterday that while smoking cannabis himself, Barack Obama observed somewhat different rules to the ones that the US population suffer. According to the leaked pages of a soon to be published biography, members of Obama’s “Choom Gang” would hold in smoke for as long as possible to ensure “total absorption”. Under Obama’s rules “anyone who exhaled prematurely lost his next turn at the joint”. Obama was apparently known for working under a different modus operandi to the traditional “pass to the left hand side”, according to the LA Times, “when a joint was making the rounds, he often elbowed his way in, out of turn, shouted ‘Intercepted!’ and took an extra hit.

Obama is not the only current champion of prohibition to have completed an abrupt 180° U-turn in their views on drug use, British PM David Cameron famously stated:

David Cameron Obamas Personal Cannabis Policies: Interception and Total Absorption “I ask the Government not to return to retribution and war on drugs. That has been tried, and we all know that it does not work”  (Image credit: Sharrock)
David Cameron, House of Commons, 5th December 2002

The soul crushing ease with which politicians change their views on drugs upon gaining office is mind boggling. It is equally mind numbing to learn of the reams of drug war champions whom upon leaving office swiftly reverse their view point. Perhaps one day we’ll manage to elect a leader who is able to survive the democratic process without losing sight of their values.

The Science:
The evidence regarding THC absorption and duration of breath holding is surprisingly limited, the consensus appears to be that the majority of active components in cannabis are absorbed relatively instantly and any negligible effects from extended breath holding are simply a result of excessive carbon monoxide exposure. This is good news, there is no reason to hold cannabis smoke down for much longer than a couple of seconds, in fact doing so actually results in wholly unnecessary additional exposure to smoke and tar. There is more good news, it seems clear that heavy cannabis smoking is not particularly good for lung function but surprisingly perhaps, it seems occasional use may actually have beneficial effects. A twenty year study found that users who smoked up to one joint a day actually had increased lung function and this effect stood the test of time even for long term occasional smokers:

“With up to 7 joint-years of lifetime exposure (eg, 1 joint/d for 7 years or 1 joint/wk for 49 years), we found no evidence that increasing exposure to marijuana adversely affects pulmonary function”

The moral of the story? If you choose to smoke, you don’t need to do a Clinton and not inhale at all, but you certainly don’t need to do an Obama either – failing to exhale will do you more harm than good. More importantly, keep your smoke an occasional habit and you may just end up with stronger lungs than you started with.



Pletcher MJ, Vittinghoff E, Kalhan R, Richman J, Safford M, Sidney S, Lin F, & Kertesz S (2012). Association between marijuana exposure and pulmonary function over 20 years. JAMA : the journal of the American Medical Association, 307 (2), 173-81 PMID: 22235088

Zacny JP, & Chait LD (1991). Response to marijuana as a function of potency and breathhold duration. Psychopharmacology, 103 (2), 223-6 PMID: 2027922

Follow Simon on TwitterFacebookGoogle+RSS, or join the mailing list.

A beautiful new film tells the story of Alexander Shulgin, the chemist who re-discovered MDMA (after it was synthesised and abandoned by Merck) and went on to discover hundreds of psychedelic drugs such as the 2C*Alexander Shulgin film1 231x300 The Amazing Story of Alexander Shulgin family. He is famous not only for independently discovering and developing so many psychedelics but for testing them extensively on himself and for writing the core textbooks of the psychedelic literature, PiHKAL (‘Phenethylamines I Have Known and Loved’) and TiHKAL (‘Tryptamines I Have Known and Loved).

The film provides a rare insight in to how one man achieved so much from a humble workshop in his garden shed. You can buy the DVD on Amazon. Shulgin recently suffered a stroke and his family are seeking help paying for his medical bills, you can donate to the Shulgins directly on the Alexander Shulgin Research Institute website.


Benzenhöfer U, & Passie T (2010). Rediscovering MDMA (ecstasy): the role of the American chemist Alexander T. Shulgin. Addiction (Abingdon, England), 105 (8), 1355-61 PMID: 20653618

Follow Simon on TwitterFacebookGoogle+RSS, or join the mailing list.
Tagged with:

Great drug debate results Fact Checking The Great Drugs Debate

This week a number of big names (and Peter Hitchens) joined for a marathon debate on the motion that “it’s time to end the war on drugs”. Those debating included:

 Juan Manuel Santos (current President of Colombia), Vicente Fox (former President of Mexico), Antonio Maria Costa (former Executive Director of the UN Office of Drugs and Crime), Jeffery Robertson QC, Misha Glenny, Richard Branson (speaking as part of the Global Commission on Drugs on behalf of 15 ex South American Presidents), Russell BrandJohann HariElliot Spitzer (former Governor or New York), Barry McCafferty (former director of US National Drug Policy Control), Ed VulliamyDr. Theodore DalrympleSandeep Chawla (Deputy Executive Director UN Office for Drugs and Crime), Fernando Henrique Cardoso (Former President of Brazil, Head of Global Commission on Drugs), Dr. Bernard Koucher (Former French Foreign Minister, Former French Health Minister), David Eaglemen (Neuroscientist), Geoffrey Robertson (Human Rights Lawyer), Julian Assange (Wikileaks).

I have transcribed the key quotes from both sides to encourage fact checking and to help establish a public record. I’ve attached the relavent source materials where applicable – if you would like to add a source or post a rebuttal to a factual point, just transcribe and source appropriately in the comment section and I’ll paste the info in. Only strictly evidence-based rebuttals will be included.

Current President of Colombia Juan Manuel Santos begun the debate by describing: the very high cost Colombia has paid for the war on drugs:

“We have lost our best judges, our best journalists, our best politicians, our best policeman, our best soldiers but this problem has not disappeared”.

Misha Glenny followed:

“Drugs are more available than ever and more powerful than ever”. He describes how Mexican narco-traffickers wish the prohibition to continue to participate in an illegal unregulated market because this type of market is so profitable. Glenny describes how according to UN estimates, to prevent drugs being profitable we would have to block 75% of the trade, the current estimate is between 20% and 30%.

Antonio Maria Costa Former Executive Director, UN Office of Drugs and Crime fought back:

Arguing that the illegal drugs market is smaller than it would be if drugs were legal and described his fear that pharmaceutical companies would cash in if drugs were legalised.

Misha Glenny later rebuked this point: “Before the other side gets too carried away attacking big pharma and big corporations, let us not forget Plan Colombia, a plan to deliver $1 billion a year from the US to Colombia to bring down the Cocaine trade. Of that £1 billion a year, $750,000,000 never left the US. It was instead given to companies such as Lockhead Martin and other big companies who then went on to make a fortune out of the war on drugs.”

Jeffery Robertson QC pointed out:

Quoting one of Costa’s own recent reports that stated that “250,000,000 people take illicit drugs and less than 10% have any problems which means about 225,000,000 people take drugs for pleasure or to relieve pain” without issue.

Richard Branson speaking as part of the Global Commission on Drugs on behalf of 15 ex South American Presidents:

Described how the war on drugs is “an unmitigated failure” and how “in Portugal 10 years ago they decriminalised drugs and they have reduced the number of heroin addicts by 50%”…, “they have managed to stop an enormous amount of people breaking and entering”, “the number of people under 18 taking drugs has gone down for all drugs”. The most important thing is there is a no sign of a major increase

Read the Global Commission on Drugs report in full below (PDF), read a further detailed analysis of the Portuguese situation here.

Russell Brand describes how (by criminalising drugs):

“You exacerbate and enhance the problem, I am a recovering drug addict and I know that drug addiction is an illness it is a disease, so by crimanalising that, you criminalise a large section of the population, you malign them and stigmatise them, you generate more crime, you create a criminal culture and speaking from the perspective of a sufferer, it’s simply not helpful”.

Vicente Fox, Former President of Mexico (2000):

Once described the war on drugs as the “mother of all battles” but now believes that it is “most urgent that we stop the war that has got 60,000 young kids killed.. among them many innocents, among them hundreds of policeman and hundreds in the military… the loss and the cost is incredible, the fear, the loss of hope for the future. This has put a heavy economic burden on the nation, the loss of tourism, the loss of foreign investment, the loss of our pace of growth. When I was president, the economy was 25% larger than the Brazilian (economy), today the Brazilian economy is 50% larger than the Mexican economy”.

Robertson QC, comments how Mexico was placed under:

“pressure from the White house, in 2006 not to decriminalise small amounts of cocaine or cannabis”

Mexico Drug War Map Fact Checking The Great Drugs Debate

Click for interactive map of Mexico's drug war*

*Health warning: Mexican authorities have been accused of “under-reporting homicides and manipulating the data“.

Johann Hari:

“When you criminalise a really popular substance it doesn’t vanish, you transfer control from doctors and pharmacists to armed criminal gangs.. which are absolutely on the side of the war on drugs”. Hari describes how the head of Mafia Cruenza, one of the largest old drug cartels was caught on wire-tap stating his view that “this war is an absolute sham which keeps all of us in business”. Hari goes on to state that “any country which enforces the war on drugs has a significant rise in homicide rate, after alcohol prohibition ended in the US, the homicide rate fell by 20% and never rose to the same level until prohibition was enforced in the 70’s. China is currently detaining half a million addicts in what are effectively Gulags, torture is absolutely widespread.. that’s the face of the war on drugs in the largest country in the world.. Russia has the fastest rising HIV rate in the world because when you crack down on heroin addicts, they hide their needles, they don’t throw them away – they share them. The war on drugs is the biggest friend the HIV virus ever had”

Elliot Spitzer, former Governor or New York leads the debate against the motion along with Barry McCafferty, former director of US National Drug Policy Control:

Responding with the claim that they have reduced drug consumption by a third over the past three decades. Both Spitzer and McCafferty emphatically claim they “we do not incarcerate just for use, it is the violence that attends that use that sends people to jail” but admit a “discracefully high encarceration rate, 2.1 million people behind bars”. They admit that they estimate 80% of people behind bars have a drug problem but completely ignore the argument that this is a result of prohibition.

Misha Glenny later directly accuses Spitzer and McCafferty of outright lying, asserting “that the number of people arrested in 2009 (in the US) for non-violent drug offences was 1,600,000”.

Ed Vulliamy:

Continues Spitzer’s staggering ability to ignore all the arguments addressed so far, stating “the one thing that stands a chance of throttling all the misery” is to address drug profits through the banking system. He appeals to the audience shouting he wants to see “the bankers in the cells” but in a double act that has clearly been well perfected beforehand a grinning Spitzer interrupts him so he doesn’t have to provide any explanation of how this could ever work in practice.

Dr. Theodore Dalrymple (former prison doctor):

Challenges the idea that the relationship between crime and drugs is as simple as presented, arguing that the crime rate in Portugal has increased (Dalyrymple later cites Eurostat for this claim. Eurostat note that over the same period, comparable countries such as Italy and Spain have also seen rises in crime, suggesting that the rise in crime in general is not related to drug use.)

Sandeep Chawla, Deputy Executive Director UN Office for Drugs and Crime:

States that “while crime rates may come down, public health costs would go up”. In a spectacular failure to understand the notion of a debate, Chawla both ignores the fact that his statement about crime directly conflicts with his compadre Dalyrymple’s statement a moment earlier and goes on to blindly ignore all of the prior evidence based discussion about public health costs to the contrary. Chawla makes the good point that there is a prescription drug epidemic in the US but negates this with the weird argument that “tobacco use has gone up” when this is patently not the case.

Peter Hitchens enters the debate with a stream of bile and bigotry vilifying drug users and calls Russel Brand a “selfish kid”. Hitchens argues the case with Brand and shows his true colours (just in case we didn’t know them already).

Antonio Maria Costa Former Executive Director, UN Office on Drugs and Crime:

“Stop all drugs wars.. In 2012, we celebrate a dreadful anniversary.. 150 years from the end of the Opium wars. When the west, our countries, forced China to consume drugs. At that time, greedy investors, it was the East India Company as you recall, wanted to make money by poisoning the Chinese with Opium. China opposed this, our countries won the war and forced the Chinese to consume drugs for a century, tens of million died in China from addiction, war and famine. The tragedy of drug legalisation we forced on China dwarfed what is happening in Mexico, Guatemala, Colombia etc. To conclude, when I hear drug investors in Europe and North America advocating drug legalisation behind the fig leaves of a campaign to stop the war on drugs I cringe and I say stop all drugs wars whether fought by bullets or by bombs, investors greed can be as harmful as Mafias guns. Drugs have come from both sides of the aisle, therefore vote no, against this motion.” This is a strange argument to make in the context of the modern day situation for a number of reasons, notably the East India Company was effectively a front for the British imperial government of that era.

Fernando Henrique Cardoso, Former President of Brazil, Head of Global Commission on Drugs:

I was surprised when hearing the previous case (Antonio Maria Costa) because in our case in Latin America.. people have been killed by the war on drugs, it is a complete failure of what the war was supposed to do – control cartels, as the president of Colombia just said before me. Our democracy is being undermined by powerful cartels.. We must explore legal and social models of regulation of drugs.. The point is that in Portugal they are being successful in reducing the number of people that are using drugs”.

Dr. Bernard Koucher, Former French Foreign Minister, Former French Health Minister:

“We have lost the war on drugs.. the drug consumers are more numerous and the consumption is higher.. we acted the same way against alcohol and tobacco, what was the result? Alcohol consumers were not so high after the end of prohibition, we had to enforce the mafia and we did, it was a stupid war. It has taken 40 years to convince anyone we are right about Tobacco but now (we have), it must be under the control of the state.”

David Eaglemen, Neuroscientist:

“What’s clear is the reason that we are losing the war on drugs is because we are attacking supply and that’s like a water balloon, if you press it down on one place it comes back somewhere else. We need to be addressing demand, the brain of the addict. At this point we know a great deal about the circuitry and the pharmacology of the addict’s brain. There are familiar pharmacological treatmets that obstruct the effect of the drug – you can block the high.. you can recruit the immune system to sop up the drug and there are new methods that use real time feedback via brain imaging… we can train a person how to deal with the craving. We could do a great deal with neuroscience with that money (the $40,000,000,000 spent on the war on drugs in America last year).”

Geoffrey Robertson, Human Rights Lawyer quoted former opposition candidates who have changed their views since winning office:

David Cameron: “I beg the labour government not to return to the war on drugs”

(House of Commons, 5th December 2002)

Barack Obama: “The war on drugs is an utter failure”. Before he became president and dedicated $40,000,000,000 a year to fighting it.

Julian Assange, Wikileaks (Via video link from house arrest):

“Any situation that has clearly come to an impart where there is a clear failure needs experimentation and trials with models around the world and there have been steps to do that but we have seen that the US through it’s diplomatic force has been exercising it’s force to prevent these trials.”

View the relavent cables here.

“We must have basic principles.. we as individuals have a right to our own self determination, we have the right to freedom of thought, we have the right to freedom of speech, provided we do not engage in some sort of violence to others, these are our rights to do what we will with our own thoughts and own bodies and this is sacrosanct. The state should not intervene with these rights. In order to keep our freedom of thought we should have the right to control our own mental states. (Drugs) give some people extra creativity and this is something that we need accross the world. We should look to marijuana as an example, this is a drug that is about as addictive as potatoes, yet it has been swept up in to this war on drugs. We have to remember we really do have a war on drugs and like all wars it is irrational, it is a raquet and there are industries that fight and lobby to keep the money flowing.”


Jahangir, A. Fuentes, C. Gaviria, C. Zedillo, E. Cardoso, F. Papandreou, G. Shultz, G. Solana, J. Whitehead, J. Annan, K. Arbour, L. Cattaui, M. Llosa, M. Caspers-Merk,M. Kazatchkine,M. Volcker, P. Branson, R. Dreifuss, R. Stoltenberg, T. (2011). War On Drugs. Report Of The Global Commission On Drug Policy. (PDF)

HUGHES, C., & 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), 101-113 DOI: 10.1111/j.1465-3362.2011.00383.x

Eurostat: Portugal Crime Figures (PDF)

Follow Simon on TwitterFacebookGoogle+RSS, or join the mailing list.

Looking for something?

Use the form below to search the site:

Still not finding what you're looking for? Drop a comment on a post or contact us so we can take care of it!

Visit our friends!

A few highly recommended friends...