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I’ve reported before on CD (see post “U.K Study: The Most Dangerous Drug of All? Alcohol“) about British professor, psychiatrist and neuropsychopharmacologist Dr. David Nutt, and his research on the relative harms of different drugs. On his blog, Thomas Kleppestø’s provides some additional commentary and coverage of Professor Nutt’s research, along with three different videos (two are featured below), here’s an excerpt from Thomas:
David Nutt and his colleagues have studied the relative harm of drugs. In one of Professor Nutt’s studies (“Drug harms in the UK: a multicriteria decision analysis,” published in The Lancet in 2010), members of the British Independent Scientific Committee on Drugs were asked to rate 20 drugs on 16 criteria (9 measure harm to the user and 7 measure harm to society) such as drug-specific damage, mortality, dependence and international damage. Drugs were scored on a 100-point scale. The charts above displays the weighted “drug harm” scores.
To calculate “drug harm” scores, both individual and societal factors were considered. It may come as a surprise to many readers that LSD and ecstasy are two of the least dangerous drugs. Notice also that alcohol is the highest rated, most dangerous drug and that tobacco is seventh place just below cocaine (alcohol and tobacco are not even considered to be drugs by many people, including, sadly, politicians). However, heroin, crack and methamphetamine top the list for the most dangerous drugs when only individual factors are considered, and alcohol then drops down to fourth place. So, even when the obvious societal effects due to the widespread use of alcohol are not considered (alcohol rates very high, unsurprisingly, on “family adversities” and “environmental damage”) it still is the fourth most dangerous drug. Yes, that’s right. Alcohol nearly receives the bronze-medal for danger to individuals.
It is important not to confuse illegality with dangerousness. The reasons why drugs are assigned particular legal statuses are mainly cultural and political in nature, not scientific. Now, does it not make sense, given the scientific understanding of relative drug harm, to correspond a drug’s legal and social status with the harm one can prescribe to it? It is of a great moral concern if risks of harm on particular psychoactive substances and their legal status remain unrelated. A study comparing cannabis use in Amsterdam (where cannabis is decriminalized) and San Francisco (criminalized) found no evidence that criminalization of cannabis reduces use, or that decriminalization increases use. In other words, cannabis’s legal status seems to be fairly unrelated to the amount, and to which extent, people get high. Clearly, a legal system that regulates and taxes cannabis use (like alcohol), rather than imprisons and criminalizes its users, which by the way, uses ridiculous amounts of tax-payers money, makes more sense.
In the five minute video below, Dr. Nutt explains why he thinks regulated access to drugs like weeds makes sense, and he also discusses what we should learn from the successes in Portugal, where drug use is no longer criminalized.
In another video below, Dr. Nutt is interviewed, here’s an excerpt:
Q: Does it make sense to divide drugs into legal ones and illegal drugs?
A: Pharmacologically it doesn’t. The reason we have drugs divided into legal and illegal ones is an historical artifact. It’s come about because people haven’t thought very rigorously what drugs are, a lot of politicians don’t even think alcohol is a drug. Because it’s not illegal, people think it’s not a drug.
Q: Do the legal and illegal categorizations of drugs correspond at all with their relative harms?
A: Very little. There is no relationship between the classification of drugs in this country (UK) and the harms we assessed. We’ve argued a lot that the current drug laws do not reflect scientific evidence, so they are unjust when you apply them because they don’t appropriately penalize the harms of the drug. But most importantly, the current drug laws undermine people’s confidence about what the government is telling them about the harms. Because if you tell them that ecstasy is a Class A drug and very harmful when everyone knows it isn’t, it then devalues all of the messages from government, and then why should you trust the government on anything?
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