Sunday 1 November 2009

Drugs and Prof Nutt

I am a licensed drug dealer. I sell alcohol to people and I have a responsibility to ensure that there is a level of safety associated with the sale of the drug. I also sell coffee and chocolate which both have physiological and neurological effects on the person who consumes them. There are no laws associated with these milder drugs, but we should not lose sight of the fact that they are mild drugs. Coffee and chocolate both have some minor detrimental health effects which for some people are not insignificant; obesity, ulcers, migraine, high blood pressure and insomnia to name some.

Alcohol has risks associated with it's consumption. Relatively small volumes make us unsafe to drive or operate machinery and there is little opposition to that fact. Regular lunchtime drinking would be sure to limit the ability of most people to perform their job role. In some cases occupational hazards might result. This writer knows of several people whose lives have been cut short due to unfortunate alcohol related accidents. I know of many more, and have seen many more people, get themselves into serious trouble as a result of inappropriate alcohol consumption

The opinion that alcohol might be just as dangerous as Cannabis for instance, and possibly more so, has been a view I have been aware of for as long as I've known about the natural plant substance and that is around 30 years. Additionally, alcohol would certainly be awarded a drug classification similar to that which current illegal drugs have, were it not for the fact that it has been around for many thousands of years. Alcohol does have an advantage over other drugs in that we have significant knowledge of it's health and social effects. We accept it's known detrimental effects due to the balancing benefits of social and economic lubrication. It also has significant flavour benefits that other more modern drugs do not have. We have a strong cultural balance and control over it's potential harm and it forms a useful benchmark against which to measure other drugs.

If the health risks of class B drugs really are less than those of alcohol then we should not sweep that fact under that carpet.

The sum total of effects on society due to the use of illegal recreational drugs are far less well known. The truth is also distorted due to the very fact that they are illegal. Indeed, it could be argued that the fact that they are illegal, but now relatively easy to obtain through black market networks, only goes to support organised crime.

I have mentioned before that I have worked close to scientists in the Nuclear industry. I have an acute awareness of the disparity between scientific knowledge, political knowledge and information published in the press. Very rarely do any two out of the three agree and normally all three occupy different corners of a public opinion boxing triangle.

I do not know if Professor Nutt is right in his assertion that alcohol is more dangerous than some illegal drugs. If he is right then I believe that fact should be out in the open and not suppressed just because it doesn't fit the message. What I do believe is that we should have open and frank scientific discussions about the overall effects. I do believe it is dangerous to pick and choose the scientists who advise the government just because the message is unpalatable. What I do know about science is that if a wildly inaccurate conclusion is made there are plenty of other scientists who will provide counter arguments.

Of course I don't want alcohol to be classified as a class B drug. But then neither do I want an increasing problem from drug dealers making illegal money out of the misery of other people. Interestingly, I am having difficulty finding where Prof Nutt is asking for alcohol to be treated as an illegal drug - it seems to me he is simply asking for current drugs to be measured against alcohol. Recreational drugs are not going to go away and the fact that they are illegal makes them all the more desirable to the very people we don't want to engage in them. Without proper scientific discussion about the issues, both medical and social, we will fail to answer the problems.

Personally, I would trust an outspoken scientist much more than a politician, even if his conclusions do need some challenging. If he is a good scientist he will welcome the challenge to scrutinise the information behind his assertions. I am worried more by the Government reacting against science than I am about the potential for alcohol to be banned as a result of science saying it is more harmful than Cannabis. There seems to me to be parallels to the past where authorities refused to believe the world might be round, or that it circled the sun or that perhaps evolution didn't happen.

I would like to finish by pointing out that we have very good laws to help us fight problems with alcohol. I understand the problems which might result if we find many drugs that we consider to be bad actually cause less problems than alcohol. In our cultural environment where even drink is demonised any excuse to tighten controls seems to be the policy our current administration favour. The potential that these issues might result in tighter alcohol laws is not lost on me and I for one believe the controls on alcohol are quite tight enough. But to me the real issues over Prof Nutt's sacking are how we deal with other drugs, not alcohol.


Anonymous said...

Prof Nutt probably hasn't agitated for beer and wine to be made illegal, but he is giving aid and comfort for those that are.

As a side-note, I would suggest drinkers don't allow the discussion to revolve around 'alcohol'. I don't drink alcohol; I drink beer. It's not 'alcohol' these temperance fanatics want to ban, it's beer.

Brian, follower of Deornoth

Curmudgeon said...

It is probably fair to say that alcohol has the potential to cause more harm to individuals than cannabis does, but the way it is consumed by most people it doesn't.

Over the years I have known one or two people who have been regular "moderate" consumers of cannabis and it does seem to have a psychological effect on them in the way that a two pints a day habit doesn't.

Curmudgeon said...

Prof. Nutt did definitely say in an interview on Radio Five Live at about 5.25 pm last Friday that, judged against the existing scale, he felt alcohol should probably be Class B. I don't equate that with making an explicit call for it to become a controlled drug.

He might be better to present his argument as "some illegal drugs are no more dangerous than alcohol or tobacco".

paul garrard said...

i've long thought that all drugs should be legalised as it makes QC easy to control. Given impartial factual information it should be left to the individual to decide what the want to consume.

Jeff Pickthall said...

Good piece Dave, so much better than this load of cobblers:

Rob Sterowski said...

Excellent post. My take is here: . I was quite surprised to see beer bloggers taking opposing views in this argument.

Curmudgeon said...

I was quite surprised to see beer bloggers taking opposing views in this argument.

Oh, do we all have to sing from the same hymnsheet, then?

Boak said...

Good stuff, Dave. A fair assessment based on what the chap actually said. I didn't see it as a call for making alcohol a class B drug, but just a sensible comparison point to illustrate the daftness of getting scientific opinion on a subject and then igoring it.

I particularly like your point that "the fact should be out in the open", even if it is not a fact that we beer lovers particularly like. Alcohol can be very dangerous. Chances are most people know an alcoholic. That doesn't mean it should be banned. Most of us drink it in very controlled circumstances and in small doses.