David Nutt lecture: drug use, policy and prohibition

I don’t agree with everything he says but overall this is brilliant for anyone interested in the issue of drug use and prohibition, and particularly the varying legal and media responses to drugs. What I find a little uneven is his quasi-prohibitionism regarding alcohol while being much more open minded about illegal drugs.

Part of the problem I think is that he thinks of drugs as essential drivers rather than as operating in a dynamic relationship with the user. Also, he seems to think of drug use as independent of social conditions; the world is not what it was a few decades ago and it stands to reason then that this would be reflected in drug use patterns.

But overall, the coverage of how policy tramples over evidence is great.

3 comments on “David Nutt lecture: drug use, policy and prohibition

  1. One of the things to understand about Nutt is that he has proposed a replacement for alcohol probably based on a benzo. He proposed this in an Journal he edits “The Journal of Psychompharmacology”, in 2006. At the time he was a seriously large personal investor in at least one pharmaceutical company. His pattern of behaviour since seems to indicate that he is still about that concept. Another writer Robin Room explained that inventing a replacement subsatnce is not the problem it is the fact that alcohol is outside the same system as drugs. Nutt has cominbed with others, Colin Blakemore for example, to create an “integrated scale of harms” to get round this idea.

    Nutt seems intelectually unable to grasp (or maybe not to care) that if what he suggests were to happen, the TOTAL personal and social HARM from all drugs would be bound to increase. He has admitted to personal illegal drug use. He now stomps round the country to seemingly every little hall that will have him, on his personal crusade.

    My view is he is a very troubled soul. deeply hurt by his sacking. What did he expect?

  2. Thanks David,

    I had not heard about that rather bizarre idea.

    It is interesting that a man who was inventive enough to come up with the equasy vs ecstasy example would have such a problem grasping the role alcohol plays in society. I don’t think it is any surprise that though many of us try various drugs in our earlier years, most of us end up thereafter happily wedding to alcohol. Some might say it has something to do with access and legality but I think it has more to do with the fact that it remains a signifier of good company, bonhomie, and can deliver a wide range of effects which are easily predetermined.

    BTW I don’t think his personal illegal drug use matters one way or the other however given his take on alcohol I wonder about his alcohol consumption.

  3. His personal use of drugs does surely matter, especially as (from memory) he mentioned, without naming them, use of two drugs and specifically excluded cannabis. To say that personal drugs use does not matter seems to me quite bizarre. Remember all those smokers in a state of denial about tobacco harms? I suggest to you it does matter, it emphatically matters because it gives an insight to his personal drivers.

    Another of the facts Professor Nutt elides is that the ACMD (Advisory Council on Misuse of Drugs) was not unanimous on cannabis classification when he wanted it left at C. Reclassification to B was a marginal call with other, even more or equally expert witnesses on the harms of cannabis, very much against Professor Nutt’s position. One was the National Dirtector of Mental Health Professor Appleby with the Department oif Health picking up the pieces from cannabis use, maybe hardly surprising.

    Another Professor, Robin Murray, a real expert on cannnabis psychosis said of Nutt, “He is playing fast & loose with the statistics”. This is strong stuff in academia.

    Nutt paints himself as a victim of politicians, actually the truth is he was wildly out of step with some fellow scientists. Given his history as a hand picked Member of the Runciman (Police Foundation) committee that reported in the late 90s ( a report in my view that is at the very heart of UK drug problems) I am suggesting that he failed to move with the times and the increasing science around personal & social harm from cannabis, especailly some modern varieties, which have an absence of a chemical called CBD and are higher in THC.

    I was I think the first person in the UK to call for Nutt to consider his position on the ACMD or for government to do it for him. I did that because he was challenging the whole concept of the legislation he was asked to advise on -with others- within the ACMD. (He tinkered with legalisation in a New Zealand Radio Broadcast, to whichIi listened)

    He is of course free to hold his views and free to personally campaign, but doing that from a position as Chairman of the ACMD (or earlier Head of the Technical Commitee) was plainly incompatible with his government advisory role.

    I repeat, the Committee was not unanimous. Professor Nutt needs to get over that and understand that it was quite right for government to be cautious in the face of strident and conflicting views to those of Professor Nutt.

    He is a very interesting character study. God is plainly a scientist in Professor Nutt’s view of the world. Infallible as well.

    “Addiction is driven by a complex set of internal and external factors. The external factors are well understood: the more access to the desired drug or behaviour e.g. gambling, the more addiction there is”.
    (Professor David Nutt-Blogging on 28th February 2011)

    Confused is he? You decide.

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