The science and politics of mind-altering drugs

The Guardian Science Podcast has an interview with neuroscientist David Nutt on the science and politics of mind-altering substances and it’s possibly one of the most sensible discussions of drugs and drug harms you are likely to hear in a long time.

Prof Nutt is quite well known in the UK – largely due to be fired by the Government from their drugs advisory panel for pointing out in a scientific paper that the health risks of taking ecstasy are about equivalent to going horse riding.

Rather than doing the usual dishonest apology required of government advisors where they ask forgiveness for ‘unintentionally misleading the public’ away from a convenient collective illusion, he decided to take the government to task about their disingenuous drug policy.

He is now a straight-talking, evidence-based, pain-in-the-arse to the government who doggedly stick to the ‘war on drugs’ rhetoric that not even they believe any more.

In the interview the discussion ranges from how psychedelic affect the brain to the scientific basis (or lack thereof) of drug policy. Essential listening.

Link to Science Podcast interview with David Nutt.

3 thoughts on “The science and politics of mind-altering drugs”

  1. I was lucky enough to see Professor Nutt speak at Merseyside Skeptics in the pub. He’s an eminently sensible man, with a rational, evidence based look on drugs. This is so refreshing when compared to the typical stance of “drugs are bad, m’kay”.

    I’m not after the entire populace being high as kites, but I imagine criminalising people for what is a minor infraction is more likely to ruin people’s lives than the drug use itself.

    Disclosure: I work in the field of mental health care. I regularly partake in the consumption of nicotine, caffeine and alcohol but I do not use illicit drugs

  2. “drugs are bad, m’kay”.
    Ahahahahah!! Well played, sir.
    I think people have a natural tendency to alter their minds and I don’t think it’s anything new.
    A lot cultures had their equivalent of Indian peyote rituals. Here in Arizona they have legalized pot for medical purposes (which means anyone can go to a doc, complain about pain, and go get a weed card for 300 bucks), what I am interested in knowing is does that take a huge chunk out of the cartels? I would assume so, and if so, is that really a bad thing? The bottom line is people are gonna get high regardless of the laws.

  3. I think that people on both sides tend to conflate “harmful/undesirable” with “illegal,” both assuming that illegal things must be inherently bad, and assuming that if a drug is harmful then it follows that it should be illegal.

    Of course, as Nutt points out, most of the harms of illegal drugs comes from their illegality (I saw a study claiming that 80% of heroin deaths are for reasons due to their illegality, such as impurities and needle-sharing), which becomes self-reinforcing.

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