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No doubt there were some cross faces at the Home Office this morning. Its very own drugs tsar has rubbished the existing classification system for illegal substances, saying that alcohol and tobacco are far more harmful than many drugs.

Professor David Nutt should know, being the chair of the Advisory Committee on the Misuse of Drugs. He’s already had one run in with the boss, the former home secretary Jacqui Smith, after comparing the dangers of ecstasy to horse riding.

What Nutt’s comments do, and why we should welcome them, is re-open a considered and evidence-based enquiry into how harmful different drugs are and whether the classification system is working – which, he believes, it isn’t.

If we want to fight drug use (and we do), we need to do away with this dodgy ammunition.

 

The stated purpose of classifying drugs is the deterrent effect. The punishments are intended to be proportionate to the harm caused.

So, in theory, you should have thought twice about smoking a joint when cannabis was reclassified from a Class C to a Class B substance, because overnight it became more harmful, and the penalties more serious.

Yet, as Nutt has said before, there is no solid evidence to show that classification has any deterrent effect whatsoever.

What we need, and what Nutt proposes, is a new ranking system which brings the harm caused by both legal and illegal substances into line. Alcohol would come fifth, after heroin, cocaine, barbiturates and methadone. Tobacco would be ninth, before cannabis, LSD and ecstasy.

The need for an up-to-date system is grossly overdue. The classification of ecstasy, for example, is based on research from over thirty years ago, and lands it in the same category as heroin.

Whether Nutt has a pro drug agenda or not, as has been suggested, his idea does not seem likely to encourage drug taking. A credible and scientifically sound ranking system for all stimulants is not going to persuade new users – usually teenagers – to get stuck in. After all, where’s the fun in hanging out of your bedroom window to smoke something tamer than the glass of wine your parents are supping downstairs in the kitchen?

It isn’t just the government Nutt is rubbing up the wrong way. By emphasizing the dangers of alcohol, he returns to a fact so many contented middle class binge drinkers try to bury under skewed justifications – consistent heavy drinking is far worse for you than one night on ecstasy.

The problem is that those writing the drugs policy can’t get away from the moral suspicion that all illegal drugs are inherently worse for you than anything legal.

Sophie Morris is a freelance journalist

 


Comments

Classification
faridg wrote:
Thursday, 29 October 2009 at 05:32 pm (UTC)
When cannabis was reclassified to Class C it lead to an increased usage on the scale of an epidemic. I doubt there is a single council estate in the country as i write this where there isn't a slight purple cloud from a powerful skunk joint.

The reason teenagers pay attention to classification is that it makes a huge impact on policing of the drug.

BTW there is never just one night of ecstasy - anyone who tried will do it again and again until the side effects kick in in a big way.
sergio_montes wrote:
Thursday, 29 October 2009 at 08:58 pm (UTC)
There is not a single conclusive evidence of cannabis being harmful. This is not at all for lack of studies, as countless have been made trying to prove its dangers (just to found, ironically, new medicinal uses).

On the other hand, moderate alcohol consumption causes a large amount of negative effects on health including injuries, violence, fetal damage, certain forms of cancer, liver disease and hypertension. While regularly consuming alcohol is correlated with an increased risk of developing alcoholism, cardiovascular disease, malabsorption, chronic pancreatitis, alcoholic liver disease, damage to the central nervous system and peripheral nervous system and cancer. Also, tobacco use leads most commonly to diseases affecting the heart and lungs, with smoking being a major risk factor for heart attacks, strokes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), emphysema, and cancer (particularly lung cancer, cancers of the larynx and mouth, and pancreatic cancer).

On which basis do you keep legal two of the most harmful substances ever use by man recreationally (alcohol and tobacco), but keep illegal one of the safest (cannabis)? On which basis, but simple and purely discrimination?
Cannabis can be harmful
crazyeddie34 wrote:
Friday, 30 October 2009 at 06:58 am (UTC)
You said, "There is not a single conclusive evidence of cannabis being harmful".

What a load of nonsense.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/6162217.stm

Ms Herts said studies show young people who use cannabis regularly or heavily are at least twice as likely to develop a psychotic mental disorder by young adulthood than those who do not smoke.
Psychosis is a type of mental health problem, which includes conditions like schizophrenia, that can seriously affect the way you think, feel and behave.

I've seen the effects first hand.

This article is from 2006.. you might want to do a bit of research before making any more ridiculous comments.
Re: Cannabis can be harmful
sergio_montes wrote:
Friday, 30 October 2009 at 07:41 pm (UTC)
What that research shows is a link between cannabis use and psychotic desorders. But we still don't know if it is due to self-medicating existing problems or a cause of those problems. Research is still inconclusive on that area.

On the other hand, there conclusive evidence on that moderate alcohol consumption causes a large amount of negative effects on health including injuries, violence, fetal damage, certain forms of cancer, liver disease and hypertension. While regularly consuming alcohol is correlated with an increased risk of developing alcoholism, cardiovascular disease, malabsorption, chronic pancreatitis, alcoholic liver disease, damage to the central nervous system and peripheral nervous system and cancer. Also, tobacco use leads most commonly to diseases affecting the heart and lungs, with smoking being a major risk factor for heart attacks, strokes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), emphysema, and cancer (particularly lung cancer, cancers of the larynx and mouth, and pancreatic cancer).

So again, on which basis do you keep legal two of the most harmful substances ever use by man recreationally (alcohol and tobacco), but keep illegal one of the safest (cannabis)? On which basis, but simple and purely discrimination?
Re: Cannabis can be harmful
crazyeddie34 wrote:
Friday, 30 October 2009 at 11:53 pm (UTC)
"There is evidence that cannabis not only worsens existing mental health problems but may trigger - although the risk is thought to be small - some conditions such as schizophrenia." From the article previously linked.

My point is there are can be side effects to cannabis use. Your opening comment "There is not a single conclusive evidence of cannabis being harmful", suggests cannabis use is risk free. That is simply inaccurate. And that's the point I was addressing.

I'll make the point again, how harmful tobacco and alcohol are, or how beneficial cannabis use may be, are irrelevant to whether cannabis can be harmful or not. It can.

http://www.cato.org/pub_display.php?pub_id=10080

On the much broader question of our attitude and criminalisation of drug use I'd point to this study of Portugal's alternative approach, and it's apparent success, as a useful starting point as to where should we go from here...



an open mind is the only way forward
pagit wrote:
Friday, 30 October 2009 at 12:38 pm (UTC)
Marijuana has long been shown to have medicinal properties. Sufferers of insomnia & chronic migraines are people who could really benefit from this. But thanks to arcane laws & people who are resistant to change, they have to continue taking prescription drugs that either have little effects or have negative side effects.

& let's not even bother going into how much damage drug prohibition has caused countries like Colombia & Mexico & at the same time lined the pockets of the mafia.
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