Saturday 31 October 2009

Nutts about drugs

The sacking of Professor David Nutt as Government chief drugs adviser was criticised by an unholy alliance of Guardianistas and Brown-bashers, the former seeing it as giving support to liberalising drugs policy, the latter as more evidence that the government are unwilling to tolerate dissent or criticism.

But, once you look into it more closely, Prof. Nutt’s message is as much anti-alcohol as pro-drug.

I heard a radio interview with him yesterday in which he said that if he had his way alcohol would be a Class B controlled drug. He also refused to be drawn on whether the harm caused by ecstasy, proportionate to the number of users and the frequency of use, was less or more than that caused by alcohol. The interviewer, to be fair, did press him on that particular point and he waffled and prevaricated, but he wasn’t asked the vital question as to whether he consumed alcohol himself.

He also said that “parents should be aware that the drug that is by far the most likely to harm their children is alcohol” – without adding the essential caveat that any drug can only harm you if you actually use it. Obviously parents don’t want their offspring either pissed on Diamond White or stoned on skunk, but I would imagine the vast majority would prefer them to have a glass or two of wine or beer rather than a daily joint.

It’s often said, by Prof. Nutt and others, that alcohol is more dangerous than many illegal drugs. It always seems to me that they are clouding the issue by confusing the overall effect on society with the effect on individuals. Obviously, given the prevalence of alcohol in society, it is not surprising that more people in total experience harmful effects. But is it true that it is more dangerous on a proportionate basis? I really don’t think so.

For a start, many people consume alcohol as much (if not more) for the taste as for the effect. I’m not aware that you can say that for any other drug. And, more importantly, alcohol can be consumed in moderation through an adult lifetime without any adverse health effects, and even with some small benefits. Other drugs such as cannabis, ecstasy, LSD and cocaine must be judged against the same yardstick.

In the final analysis, Nutt is not a hero of rationality and free speech, he is just, at heart, another Righteous bansturbator.

Edit 01/11/09: There's a very interesting commentary on the issue here from Frank Davis: A Plague on Both Their Houses.


  1. Yes! Exactly what I've been thinking. I'm amazed no one else has made this point. Nutt is more interested in clamping down on alcohol and tobacco than he is in easing up on drugs. Whether a drug is class A, B or C makes no difference to how many people use them any way.

    Nutt's been saying this since 2007, when an article in The Lancet first showed the top 20 most dangerous 'drugs' in order. Johnson has only sacked him now because the issue embarrassed Jacqui Smith on Question Time as far as I can see.

  2. PC, you are right, on the face of it, he may well be calling for alcohol or smoking to be made illegal.

    But if that were true, wouldn't our government (and the bastard Tories) be praising him to the skies?

  3. You make some interesting points. I think the whole saga has some very curious issues associated with it. I have an alternative perspective here

  4. You've got it wrong. Prof Nutt's role is simply to analyse and categories drugs, and that is all he has done.

    Unfortunately, his analysis is add odds with the government's and it is the government that takes a stance on what gets banned.

    Nutt's role is not to advise on what gets banned, and that is not what he has done.

  5. I think you've missed the point, Jeff. I don't seriously believe that Nutt actually wants to make alcohol a controlled drug. But he was certainly banging on about the evils of drink on the radio in a manner of which Sir Liam Donaldson would have been proud, and all this business about "illegal drugs causing less harm than alcohol" is extremely dubious and needs to be questioned.

  6. Professor Robin Murray of King's College, London, another distinguished scientist, takes a much less sanguine view than Prof. Nutt of the risks of cannabis:

    Most adults in Britain, however, drink alcohol in moderation, and suffer few adverse consequences. Yet most know that drinking a bottle of vodka a day is likely to harm their health, and few favour daily drinking from the age of 14.

    There is a lot of evidence that smoking several joints a day impairs memory. Using brain imaging, cannabis can be seen to impair the function of the hippocampus, a structure essential to memory. If we drink heavily for an evening, we may remember little the next day. But alcohol is washed out of the system in 24 hours; cannabis can be detected a month later. No wonder the academic performance of school children who smoke it daily deteriorates; they have a chronic low-grade intoxication.

    It remains disputed whether memory returns totally to normal after consumption ceases. In those who have smoked only for a few months or years, there is every hope of a return to normality in months. But whether a “stoner” addled by decades of consumption can regain all his faculties remains uncertain.

  7. Curmudgeon said...
    I think you've missed the point, Jeff. I don't seriously believe that Nutt actually wants to make alcohol a controlled drug.

    Alcohol may not be classified, but it already a controlled drug. Every person that sells the drug must be licensed or under the direction of someone that is licensed. Also, every outlet selling the drug has to be a licensed premise with people within the premise made accountable for dispensing the drug. This rigorous control includes background checks and can't really get more 'controlled' than that.

    And BTW, several joints a day is like drinking several bricks of Fosters a day, so your so called 'experts' article above is a load of wally...

  8. Maybe you would like to define a "moderate" level of cannabis consumption then, Jeff.

    I think many within the cannabis community would actually consider several joints a day to be "moderate".


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