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Friday, March 23, 2007

Losing the war on drugs

If there ever was a war on drugs, I can only assume that it was fought in order to secure cheap and easy access to illegal drugs for all.

If they fought against the proliferation of 'recreational' drugs, then they have badly lost, a long time ago.

It doesn't matter how many 'Just Say No' campaigns you run, or how many Colombian fields you napalm when illegal drugs are now freely available in rural primary school classrooms, as I became aware of last week.

At that point, if not many years before, you've lost the war.

Anyhow, if there still is some sort of a war on drugs, then the battlefield is about to shift, at least in Britain, where leading medics and scientists have sat down and examined the potential negative effects of twenty different recreational drugs and ranked them for how much damage they cause.

The results aren't surprising to me, but no doubt they won't make a lot of anti-drugs campaigners very happy.

Top of the list? Why, heroin and cocaine of course. Now heroin you can understand. Nasty smelly junkies with their lives in a mess. Of course heroin is poison. But cocaine? Trendy, upmarket, middle class cocaine?

Surely some mistake. Let's look at how they conducted this 'survey':

* They asked a group of 29 consultant psychiatrists who specialise in addiction to rate the drugs in nine categories.
* Three of these related to physical harm, three to the likelihood of addiction and three to social harms such as healthcare costs.
* The team also extended the analysis to another group of 16 experts spanning several fields including chemistry, pharmacology, psychiatry, forensics, police and legal services.

So basically, it's about as comprehensive and scientific an examination as you can get. And yup, cocaine is one of the worst there is. Bad news for marketing executives, catwalk models and Ulster paramilitaries there.

But there's even worse news for the alcohol and tobacco industries. Alcohol was ranked as the fifth most dangerous commonly used recreational drug in Britain, and tobacco the ninth.

Let's just pause and ponder that for a moment. When you abuse alcohol, it is more dangerous than smoking. It is more dangerous than addiction to amphetamines. Think about that one next time you go binge-drinking on St Patrick's Day. It's not a pleasant realisation.

But what about that dangerous gateway drug cannabis and all its scarily potent skunk variations? What about ecstasy, the pill that kills?

They clocked in at 11th and 18th place respectively.

In other words, smoking fags is worse than smoking pot, and a good ecstasy pill is better for you than either.

So to summarise, two of the most dangerous drugs of abuse are currently legal, while much more benign substances are banned.

If the war on drugs had ever been really about saving lives and people's futures from drug dependency, then surely we lost it back in the early 20th century, when alcohol prohibition was lifted in America and cannabis and most other more benign substances were banned.

Then we lost it again when we permitted big tobacco to keep selling their cancersticks, despite discovering the health risks they cause and the fact that they are extremely addictive.

The experts in Britain are to be applauded for applying the rigours of the scientific approach to a subject that for too long has been placed beyond debate by those who sought to demonise drugs as a cause of all society's ills.

But they aren't telling the kids anything they didn't already know.

For every kid like Leah Betts who died on ecstasy, there are literally millions who didn't. Who danced their asses off and went home sweaty and happy.

For every time some pompous suit or judge has lectured about how cannabis is a gateway drug, the highway to dopefiend hell, there are literally millions of people who puffed a joint, munched a spacecake and listened to some music, rather than reaching for a heroin needle and a gun to mug someone with.

And everytime someone watched an older relative wheezing in the pulmonary ward of a hospital, their lungs rotted by carcinogenic tobacco, or fell victim to a raging drunk incapable of reason who beat them, raped them, robbed them or mowed them down in a car, those people realised what the really dangerous drugs are.

It's time to reclassify our opinions on drugs. Then reclassify the drugs themselves.

Tobacco should be banned. Being drunk should in itself carry a legal penalty. And cannabis, LSD and ecstasy ought to be legalised with the sort of caveats about heavy machinery and driving that currently apply to alcohol.

And that's not just my opinion. That's got the latest scientific research backing it up, which is more than the 'Just Say No' brigade have.


Missing Neighbour said...

All drugs should be legal, full stop. How can someone be classified as a criminal because they choose to take some mind/body altering sunbstance? The 'ban drugs' argument has always smacked of (pardon the pun)moral panic and never had very solid foundations in facts. Things that should be illegal are things like driving, being in work etc.. whilst under the influence of any intoxicant.
The base of the matter here is control. Governments like to be able to crontrol the way people think and also be able to predict how people behave (it help their economic and social forecasts). I could go on but I am getting bored now so I will stop.

JC Skinner said...

But what I don't get is why they keep alcohol legal, which makes people extremely random and hard to control, while banning cannabis which makes people soporific and passive?

The Swearing Lady said...

Leah Betts died from hyponatremia. Misinformed about the safest way to take a drug which slightly raises your body temperature, she decided to drink pint upon pint of water. She did not die because of the pill she'd necked.

The vast majority of E deaths (what few of them there has been in the scheme of things), the cause of death has been heatstroke. Then hyponatremia. I know of maybe two people who died because of the toxicity of MDMA - one, a suicide, the other, a probable suicide.