Alcohol and cigarettes are more harmful than Ecstasy and LSD, says drugs tsar – if only the united states had such perceptive people in government…
Alcohol and cigarettes are more harmful than Ecstasy and LSD, says drugs tsar
by James Slack
29th October 2009
Ecstasy, LSD and cannabis are less dangerous than alcohol and cigarettes, the Government’s chief drug adviser claims today.
Professor David Nutt is calling for a new ‘index of harm’ to warn the public about the relative dangers of various substances.
He says alcohol should rank fifth, behind only cocaine, heroin, barbiturates and methadone, while tobacco should rank ninth, ahead of cannabis, LSD and Ecstasy.
His comments are likely to prove explosive, given the seniority of his position. Professor Nutt has also courted controversy in the past – by suggesting taking ecstasy was no more dangerous than riding a horse.
But, defending his position, Professor Nutt says: ‘I think we have to accept young people like to experiment – with drugs and other potentially harmful activities – and what we should be doing in all of this is to protect them from harm at this stage of their lives.
‘We therefore have to provide more accurate and credible information. If you think that scaring kids will stop them using, you’re probably wrong.’
In a wide-ranging article for the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies, the scientist – who resisted the reclassification of cannabis from C to B – accused – claimed that smoking the drug created only a ‘relatively small risk’ of psychotic illness.
He accused former home secretary Jacqui Smith, who regraded the drug amid widespread concerns about the harmful effects of super-strength skunk – of ‘distorting and devaluing’ scientific research.
And he attacked what he called the ‘artificial’ separation of alcohol and tobacco from other, illegal, drugs.
Professor Nutt contends that, by ranking alcohol and smoking alongside the abuse of illegal drugs, the public will be better informed of the risks they are taking.
He said drug classification based on research evidence would ‘be a powerful educational tool’. Basing classification on the desire ‘to give messages other than those relating to relative harms does great damager to the educational message’, he clams.
The comments are certain to provoke a backlash from anti-drug campaigners. They also raise the possibility of the current drug classification system – which puts banned substances into A, B and C categories – being ripped-up.
Earlier this year, Professor Nutt earned a rebuke from the Government for suggesting that taking ecstasy was ‘no worse than riding a horse’.
Ex-home secretary Jacqui Smith accused the scientist of ‘trivialising’ the dangers of drugs and showing ‘insensitivity to the families of victims’ of ecstasy.
She instructed him to make apologise to the families of those who had been killed by the dance drug.
But, within days of the row erupting, his ACMD recommended Ecstasy should be downgraded from Class A to B. The proposal was rejected outright by the Government.
A second proposal to give out kits to allow users to test their tablets in advance for purity and strength was also thrown out by the Home Office.
But Prof Nutt remains adamant that ‘I think there’s very little doubt that we, the scientists, won the intellectual argument’. In today’s paper, he also describes the media’s reaction to his horse riding remark as ‘extreme’.
He is unlikely to find favour with his latest comments. The idea of re-opening the thorny debate about drug classification in the run-up to a General Election will not be embraced by either Labour or the Tories.
But Richard Garside, director of the CCJS, based at King’s College London, said, ‘Professor Nutt’s briefing gives us an insight into what drugs policy might look like if it was based on the research evidence, rather than political posturing and moralistic positioning.’
Professor Nutt is chair of Neuropsychopharmacology at Imperial College London and heads up the Psychopharmacology Unit at the University of Bristol.