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Saturday, October 31, 2009

UK: Brown gets rid of honest drug advisor

The last highly questionable move by the erratic and rather arrogant British PM, John Brown, has been to re-classify cannabis from class A drug to class B, so the police can more easily persecute users and small traders.

This is of course a highly controversial move and his chief advisor on drugs was clearly against. Prof. D. Nutt actually even dared to criticize his boss, declaring openly that the psychotic risk derived from cannabis was virtually inexistent (same as I commented here) and questioning that alcohol and tobacco are treated separately from illegal drugs (both drugs are highly addictive and dangerous).

Well, he got fired right away.

For Prof. Nutt, this is "disappointing". And he warns of increasing conflict between politics and science. He argues that he was not prepared to mislead the public on behalf of the government.

And it seems that's what governments and corporations want scientists for these days: to lie in their behalf.

While the conservatives support the government, the liberal-democrats do not. "What is the point of having independent scientific advice if as soon as you get some advice that you don't like, you sack the person who has given it to you?" C. Huhne declared.

Meanwhile cannabis users in Britain will see their scarce rights even more restricted, risking as much as five years in prison for mere possession.

Source: BBC.

Update (Nov. 5): there is an interesting short article by David Nutt on the issue today at New Scientist: Governments should get real on drugs.


terryt said...

"And it seems that's what governments and corporations want scientists for these days: to lie in their behalf".

That story was in today's local paper. Your reaction is the same as mine. On the positive side, today's paper said other members of the advisory panel are going to resign in protest. In fact one has already.

Anonymous said...

Drug Decriminalization in Portugal

terryt said...

Maju. You may be interested in this:

In the late 60s cannabis was taken up here by students at Massey University (amoung other places of course). It so happens that it is the main agricultural teaching institute so cannabis breeding rapidly became a high priority, which may help explain the prizes. It also so happens that I went to Massey in the late 60s so you can draw your own conclusions. In passing I will add that I don't actually know the people from down-under involved in the kiwiseeds project.

Maju said...

I'm not really into indoor farming and have little idea of these things. Most hash here comes from Morocco (one of their main exports) even if indoor framing is slowly becoming more common.

Anonymous said...

Gordon Brown

The hash sold in Britain is far more potent than anything widely available 15 years ago, it could be argued that the reclassification is quite accurate.

There is no comparison with the stuff that long term users started on decades ago.

Maju said...

Anon.: have you even read what Prof. Nutt advised? He argues that even the extra-hard stuff is still almost irrelevant re. schizophrenia and other scarecrows they use to punish users.

He also says that alcohol and tobacco should be regulated more tightly instead.

This is a political and ideological matter: alcohol is the official drug because it keeps people numb. Other drugs may not be that nice for the system, hence they must be persecuted. And they want advisors with that ideology, not objective researchers.

And I would add that caffeine also should be looked upon. However the industry is still too powerful. It's a drug that is sold as "food" - a quite unique case.

Anonymous said...

Alcohol is certainly a big industry and in Britain the restrictions on it were broken down by the big firms but their motovation was profit I think. The idea of loosening the licencing laws was supposed to be that the British would sit around sipping wine in the evening like in the civilized cafes of France ha ha. You can't deny that moderate use of alcohol adds to life expectancy.

If a substance with the same effects as we know sugar has were to be invented tomorrow it would be promptly be banned, so although it's true that hash is not much worse than many other things that have wormed their way into the fabric of society to the extent that it is now unfortunately not practicable to ban them, that's still no reason to let other things become as common as eating sugar. I'm not sure why Nutter thinks smoking hemp is any better for your lungs than cigarettes, I've read that people draw the hemp smoke into their lungs in a more prolonged and deep manner which makes a few joints every bit as bad as several times the number of cigarettes.

Lots of Neo-Nazis smoke pot you know!

Maju said...

You can't deny that moderate use of alcohol adds to life expectancy.

Never heard of that. However, moderate use of alcohol kills neurones: 200 cl of lager already does. And I don't want to live more without my head.

I'm not sure why Nutter thinks smoking hemp is any better for your lungs than cigarettes...

Does he? I think I've read something about it but not sure now. However if it's mixed with tobacco, then it does not only cause you harm for sure but also can drive you to tobacco addiction.

Lots of Neo-Nazis smoke pot you know!

Uh? I'm pretty sure it's against their ideological premises and their party-line, not so different from Brown's. However there are hypocrites everywhere and nazis are not renowed for their intelligence nor honesty, you know.

Anonymous said...

It's perfectly true, drinkers live longer:-

Drinking Alcohol and Longevity: Facts & Information.
"Research extending back as far as 1926 1 has demonstrated that drinking in moderation is associated with greater longevity than is either abstaining or abusing alcohol. The medical research evidence is now unquestionable and demonstrates that the effect is not the result of health-compromised alcoholics who abstain. When studies restrict abstainers to lifelong teetotalers the result is the same. Nor is it the result of moderate drinkers having better overall health habits. When lifestyle factors are taken into consideration, the result remains. And the effect occurs not only for red wine but also for white wine, beer, and liquor or distilled spirits."

moderate use of alcohol kills neurones: 200 cl of lager already does

Yeah, if there are brain cells in a cell culture and you pour the lager over them they will die - so what?

As for brain cells in vivo
Alcohol consumption and cognitive function in late life .
"Conclusion: In a representative elderly cohort over an average of 7 years, a pattern of mild-to-moderate drinking, compared to not drinking, was associated with lesser average decline in cognitive domains over the same period. "

Association between Alcohol Intake and Domain-Specific Cognitive Function in Older Women
"Moderate levels of alcohol intake are associated with somewhat better cognition, which may be expressed most strongly in functions related to verbal knowledge and phonemic fluency"

Drinking Alcohol in Moderation Benefits Brain Functioning.

"Researchers in Australia studied 7,485 people age 20 to 64 years. They found that moderate drinkers (males who consumed up to 14 drinks per week and females who consumed up to 7) performed better than abstainers on all measures of cognitive ability."

Here's something that shows the long standing, real world, fitness advantage conferred by drinking ethanol:-

Variants in Neuropeptide Y Receptor 1 and 5 Are Associated with Nutrient-Specific Food Intake and Are Under Recent Selection in Europeans.
"There is a large variation in caloric intake and macronutrient preference between individuals and between ethnic groups, and these food intake patterns show a strong heritability. The transition to new food sources during the agriculture revolution around 11,000 years ago probably created selective pressure and shaped the genome of modern humans.[...]Our data suggest that ... higher alcohol consumption, gave a survival advantage in Europeans since the agricultural revolution. This advantage could lie in overall health benefits, because .. higher alcohol consumption, [is] known to be associated with a lower risk of chronic diseases".

The benefits are endless. Crazy as it sounds, alcohol may one day be given to people with brain injuries to help them recover.
"The idea has arisen from a study of 38,000 people with head injuries, which found that those with alcohol in their blood were more likely to survive. For every 100 people who died when stone-cold sober, only 88 died with ethanol – the kind of alcohol in drinks – in their veins".

Hash head = dead.

Maju said...

That site is clearly tendentious in favor of alcohol consumption.

Research on the alleged benefits of alcohol (notably reduction on heart attacks) has been questioned as biased (ref1, ref2). And the downsides are very clear: just to ponder how many beers are needed to test positive in drunk driving tests gives you the idea of the tiny ammount needed to cause damage, even if only by impairing reflexes when doing any potentially dangerous activity like driving or working.

Persistent drinking amounts often to the soft version of alcoholism (the subject strives to drink: he/she has become an addict, even if he/she never gets really drunk) and can damage your liver, etc.

But like all drugs the problem is most manifest when the consumption is not anymore moderate, then violence, dependence and disease ensue.

Similarly, you could perfectly argue (on more solid basis probably) that moderate consumption of marihuana is healthy and has been used as medicinal by many traditions (even today it can be obtained under prescription in some states).

All drugs have pros and cons. If they would have no pros, we would not use them. However abuse is always harmful.

In any case, I'm sure that Nutt knows what he says. Governments just don't have political and economical reasons to either legalize marihuana or regulate more tightly alcohol, tobbacco and caffeine.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure that the top politicians wouldn't de-criminalize pot if it was up to them. It's the common people who are most against 'drugs' whereas most of the younger leaders have snorted coke at one time. Obama has, British opposition leader David Cameron, who will almost certainly win the election and become PM, refuses to discuss cocaine use - his own. Compared to coke hash is harmless and maybe beneficial . The problem is the few who go on to use the real bad stuff like
heroin always start by smoking pot so it's lumped together with the rest in the mind of the masses.

The elites won't stick their neck out by overtly repealing laws against personal use of cannabis anytime soon but I think they'll quietly allow the law to gradually become obsolete as the police will increasingly be unwilling to enforce it. Prof. D. Nutt's views were probably well known when he was appointed as an advisor which should tell you what the thinking at the higher levels of government on the subject are.

Maju said...

The problem is the few who go on to use the real bad stuff like
heroin always start by smoking pot

LOL, they drink alcohol and smoke tobacco even before, that's not a reason. Actually my experience is that pot can lead you to a terrible addiction: tobacco. And that's why I want it decriminalized so I can make my joints without a miligram of tobacco and maybe in my next life be able to enjoy what I enjoy, without having to go through street dealers and without having to mix it with tobacco.

However, considering that for these people "legal" means heavily taxed, I'm not sure I rather prefer the status quo. Why don't they tax the rich and not the poor people's staple items?

Smoking tobacco today is an exercise of waste like if you'd be buying the most exotic stuff. However the state takes all the money and offers nothing in exchange, not even decent therapies (junkies get more for far less). And in fact smokers are less costly to society than "healthy" people because we die earlier and it is the elderly, not smokers, who are incredibly costly for the state.

Drugs policy should be oriented to guarantee that people is informed, that the product is what is supposed to be (where is the ingredients tag in tobacco packs?) and that minors have not easy access. It should also provide deintoxication treatments and not just consider them as a something to make money or ban. The only way the state should make money is taxing the wealthy and their corporations, including imports. Taxing consumption is the best way to reduce demand and cause a crisis like the one we live in.

terryt said...

"And that's why I want it decriminalized so I can make my joints without a miligram of tobacco and maybe in my next life be able to enjoy what I enjoy, without having to go through street dealers and without having to mix it with tobacco".

The answer is to grow your own. I know you said, 'I'm not really into indoor farming and have little idea of these things' but it doesn't have to be indoor. You can disguise it by trailing it along the ground or growing with similar-looking plants. And keeping you own seed and selective breeding is one of the great satisfactions in life. Also helps you understand practical genetics.

"they drink alcohol and smoke tobacco even before".

And drink milk. I wonder if drinking milk leads to drug addiction?

"In any case, I'm sure that Nutt knows what he says".

That seems to be the point of your original post. An individual appointed by a government comes to a conclusion that government doesn't like, so he's sacked. Says a lot about that government.

Maju said...

And drink milk. I wonder if drinking milk leads to drug addiction? -

I can tell you from experience that it does not. Same as cannabis, which is not addictive (I just run out of pot and I slept perfectly well and won't surely buy again in at least a month).

But I can tell you that coffee, alcohol and very very specially nicotine cause addiction. I am a nicotine junkie and I know what I'm talking about.

And governments exploit this addiction by rising taxes mercilessly in order for us to pay their bills.

Anonymous said...

Heavy smoking is bad for you, but smoking a couple of cigarettes a day is maybe good for you, consider.
Jeanne Calment smoked no more than two a day from the age of 22 before giving up at 117 she died at 122. As she was the longest lived human being of all time by a considerable margin she must have benefited from smoking. No one else has got past 119, it's hardly likely that she could have lived any longer if she had never smoked.

How could something known to be bad for you be good for you in small doses? Hormesis.
"Since the basic survival capacity of any biological system depends on its homeodynamic (homeostatic) ability, biogerontologists proposed that exposing cells and organisms to mild stress should result in the adaptive or hormetic response with various biological benefits. This idea has now gathered a large body of supportive evidence showing that repetitive mild stress exposure has anti-aging effects".

It follows that removing stress could de-activate the adaptive response. The effect of anti oxidants is a case in point
Mortality in Randomized Trials of Antioxidant Supplements.
"Treatment with beta carotene, vitamin A, and vitamin E may increase mortality. The potential roles of vitamin C and selenium on mortality need further study".

A moderate amount of stress is probably the best recipe for a long life. Giving up smoking completely might do more harm than good; it turns out that the goverments taxing nicotine addicts are guiding them towards a healthier life.

Not convinced?

Worms and Stress: Live Long and Prosper

Here is the latest evidence.
Lipid peroxidation for life extension?

Maju said...

Two cigarettes a day? That's pretty unusual.

Anyhow it is true that "there is no poison but doses".

But nicotine is extremely addictive and smoking regularly reduces your breathing ability.

I also know people who take heroin and go on like normal. They even manage never to get addict to it. But these are exceptions and say nothing about how the average.

Do you belong to the marketing department of Marlboro or the Vatican or something? You see strangely adamant that tobacco and alcohol, which are well known to be very harmful and addictive (for the average person) are trivial, while marihuana is harmful.

In fact the opposite is much more true if anything.

Anonymous said...

Malcom X said that some of his followers found coming off heroin was no more difficult than quitting smoking. Most of Britains Marshall aid was spent on importing tobbacco; it was essential for working class morale.

If the criterion for banning a substance was its potential to be harmful to health and addictive - yes smoking would be banned along with alcohol. But in that case hemp would not be legal either.

Smoking is treated differently because it was around before cannabis not as an anti-revolutionary strategy; Sweden's laws against cannabis are the most strictly enforced in the Western world yet it's policies are very liberal on most things.

Maju said...

Hemp is not addictive, tobacco is highly addictive, alcohol can also be addictive, caffeine is addictive as well.

In any case my stand is that no drug should be illegal: it's about time to stop the governments regulating every single detail of our lives like if we were minors. We didn't get rid of the Church just to replace them with a bunch of lousy politicians.

I favor positive health policies, where information is provided and help is provided as well for those who wish to improve their health habits. But I demand my right to consume whatever I want and to drive without safety belt if so I wish (it's MY life after all which I'm putting at risk, not anybody else's).

Tobacco was not around before cannabis. Tobacco is an American plant, that only arrived to the Old World after 1492, while cannabis has been around over here since the dawn of time, as is the case of opium and alcohol.

All these drugs, as well as others were common in Antiquity (Rome subsidized opium for instance, so the price remained low) but Christianity instated that only alcohol is good and holy and all the rest of drugs were considered immoral and persecuted.

However the policies of prohibition are only of this century. First they forbade alcohol (which was a failure and only favored organized crime) and then they gradually forbade other drugs as well (heroin was invented by Bayer and advertised along aspirin for instance). Tobacco was exempt because the sector's corporations were very powerful and made up "research" so it looked it was not that bad.

The persecution of hemp in particular has a lot of moral crusade, because the drug can have some cons but also has many pros, medicinal, recreational and intellectually inspiring. But as my conservative physician uncle says: it works against "western Christian" values.

It rather tends to promote a more mystic and relxed and less compulsively materialist kind of psychology. And that is what they are afraid of.

However they have been unable to stop people from consuming it at will. The market exists, the product is a lot cheaper than most other drugs and the only inconvenience is that you have to buy it to street dealers with no guarantees (for example they often add glue to hash which is awful for your lungs or you really don't know if your hemp is transgenic or otherwise adulterated).

We consumers would like to have the same guarantees for that commodity as for other products.

Maju said...

When I said "this century" I meant in fact the 20th century.

Anonymous said...

Oh, so it's all a Papist plot is it; what motivates ultra liberal Sweden's policy then?

It's actually unique in enforcement, in other countries, you have to flaunt personal use cannabis to get arrested. (of course if the police are out to get someone ...).

But I demand my right to consume whatever I want and to drive without safety belt if so I wish (it's MY life after all which I'm putting at risk, not anybody else's). .

You drive on your own private road?

I think you'll find most people would prefer to be driving on the same road as people with "western Christian" values, (ie responsible and conscientious) not some hash head who has a 'mystical and relaxed' attitude to their own safety and that of other road users.

In the same way drug use has an effect on other members of society, most people don't like bringing up their children in the kind of society that drug use creates.

It's interesting what you say about price and quality on the illegal market. Some say that by the time the dealers sell it heroin is so 'cut' that the effect is practically zero. Most 'addicts' are kidding themselves. If cannabis were legalized with standardized quality the price might well go through the roof; that's capitalism in action. Bottled water was retailing for the same as gasoline until recently.

Maju said...

Oh, so it's all a Papist plot is it; what motivates ultra liberal Sweden's policy then? -

Silly comment. There were no Lutherans in the Middle Ages and is not specifically Roman Catholic, just generically Christian (i.e. Orthodox were also implicated).

Otherwise you tell me why drugs that were common in the Roman and Hellenistic period were later either forbidden or at least dismissed, while alcoholic drinks were always the hobby of fat monks everywhere.

You drive on your own private road? -

Another idiotic comment: the safety belt only protects me (if anyone). I'm not asking for free drunk driving but to be free to either protect MY life or not as I wish. The government should not interfere with that.

... people with "western Christian" values, (ie responsible and conscientious)...

Don't make me laugh. They are just an irrational and naive bunch. But obviously you are one of them too.

Some say that by the time the dealers sell it heroin is so 'cut' that the effect is practically zero.

That's probably false because junkies would feel the abstinence syndrome if that would be true. Of course, placebo exists but only affects a minority of people. Dealers would lose their market.

If cannabis were legalized with standardized quality the price might well go through the roof...

Because they would tax it heavily, like they do with tobacco. However there are other factors (like the ammount consumed and the lack of addiction) that would make such a state policy inefficient.

Bottled water was retailing for the same as gasoline until recently.

That's why everybody who is not a snobbish idiot drinks regular water, which is as good or better.

Anonymous said...

Portugal is the poorest country in Western Europe, they have introduced de-criminalization because they can't afford or be bothered to protect their society against drug users who promote their habit and are vectors for spreading it like a disease.

Sweden is extremely liberal it has the highest standard of living in the world and it looks after it's people, their environmental standards are second only to Canada, and their childcare is the best in the world. So what makes you so sure that Sweden is wrong?

Maju said...

I have not said a word about Sweden. But they may be wrong like everyone. I think that the Dutch system is the best available one and should be adopted by EU as a whole.

Portugal? Guess that they have decriminalized to be in line with the rest of EU and particularly neighbouring Spain.

Instead I wouldn't mind if they forbade alcohol. I really don't care at all about that silly drug.

Maju said...

Are all the anonymous the same person? I think I'm going to ask for an identity from now on. Never had so many anonymous commenters and is kinda annoying not being able to know if it's always the same individual or someone else.

Ken said...

Yes, all comments by 'Anonymous' on this post were by me. I chose Anonymous because I was considering whether to mention some personal stuff relating to drugs and I didn't want to be identifiable (I decided against it in the end).

Maju said...

Fair enough. But I have got the feeling, not just in this discussion, that people who make some aggressive comments do that on condition of anonymity.

I have always thought that people should be free to comment in any way. And AFAIK, you could comment with any ad-hoc identity, that reveals nothing about you: you just have to write down a name.

Asking for an ID anyhow does not force you to disclose your identity but to provide some sort of identity. Creating a blogger account only requires an email and an OpenID only requires a unique web adress such as a a blogger blog, even if empty.

Anyhow, personally I value a lot straightforwardness and honesty and I prefer open to secret voting when possible, so people can't hide their true opinions and compromise (what I find petty and deplorable, because it's like lying and acting cowardly), so guess that asking for an ID is totally consistent with my style.

But you can still keep your real identity hidden, if you so wish, with little effort.

Ken said...

Yes, when there's anonymity there is no holds barred no fear of any retaliation in future. I fell into using an aggresive tone because personalising things is the most effective debating tactic.(Alinsky's rule 12 is "pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it." He also says any tactic that is effective will be regarded as unfair by your opponent).

It's appreciated - or should be - that you allow anonymous comments.

I didn't use an ad-hoc identity because it would bring up the URL for you which some people can recognize as asociated with a certain pseudonym and might be tempted to mention.

But you can still keep your real identity hidden, if you so wish, with little effort.

It's surprisingly easy to recognize an argument or style or reference. Once you say something it's there for anyone to read - forever.

Maju said...

I don't know who's that Alinsky but he obviously did not produce rules for a constructive discussion but for a manipulative one, where the pre-determined goals outweigh the benefits of consensus-building and rational productive sharing of opinions and data.

I come from the grassroots movements and have many years of experience in participative assemblies and I know for a fact that when you do such things is because you have no arguments.

When you personalize things, you essentially are saying: I don't have the reason but I'm going to manipulate this discussion and try to get away with my pre-determined plan, no matter what.

It's a lack of respect for the others and means that you're not willing to listen to what they have to say.

The issue in constructive discussions is not to win but to persuade ('vencer' and 'convencer' in Spanish: same root, different meaning: 'convencer' means etymologically 'co-win', shared victory). Often it's you who are persuaded or maybe the addition of various opinions creates a new consensus.

I think I'm going to keep asking for some ID because you are in fact telling me that anonymity is being used for the kind of false, unproductive, discussion I don't like to have.

Maju said...

I appreciate your sincerity in any case, thanks.

Maju said...

Once you say something it's there for anyone to read - forever.

Actually you can delete your own comments. And anyhow nothing is forever...

And I think that there is no problem in reversing an opinion:

- But last year you said X and now you say Y!
- I have changed my mind (for this and that reason). Any problem?

It just shows you're flexible enough to change your mind if need be, that you are not just some square-head.

Ken said...

Rules for Radicals.

Maju said...

In my experience that doesn't work: it may work for politicians and agent provocateurs but not for real debate and consensus building.

Also that guy belongs to the old Fordist period of the disciplinary capitalism, the mass worker phase or Fordism. I have lived all my life in the social worker phase (which began in the 60s probably) and the conditions are totally different. I mean... that's why the Soviet Union fell down, because it was designed for a different period and they did not dare to reform as radically as would have been needed to adapt to the new global conditions.

If you do that to me, most likely I will just point my finger at you and shake my head accusing you of disruptive behavior. You would need to be a true master of manipulation to use such aggressive tactics with any success. Or your audience would need to be sheeply idiots.

Ken said...

In the linked article Nutt does not say marijuana is more or less harmless - "No one doubts that heavy users of marijuana are risking trouble with their mental health".

From a few things you've said I get the impression that your ancestors include middle class professionals and intellectuals. Maybe you started with a better mind than most and are less likely to suffer noticeable ill effects.

Maju said...

Psah. I know a lot of people with different upbringing that has no problems with all that. In fact they may have less because Christian morals (internalized repression) do clash with the liberating effects of psychedelics and this spooky situation can induce paranoias and stuff like that.

Nutt comes to say that the odds of hemp inducing psychosis in comparison with a control group are ridiculously low, even if they do exist. Anyhow, I would not blame hemp but repressive education instead and very specially bad emotional learning that causes us to be confused and unable to manage our emotions properly.

Emotionally healthy people can manage all that and much more. But if you are already damaged, confused, insecure... then these substances can potentially help induce psychotic episodes. Whatever the case, as Nutt says, the risk is minimal.

And, well, my ancestors are not that "intellectual": just the usual middle class with a very technical professional orientation (engineering, medicine). I did not have any particularly "intellectual" upbringing but I'm smart enough to research what I find interesting on my own, including drugs.