Cannabis, a Medicine for All

cropped-trichomescloseup1Cannabis is a herb, a flowering plant. Anyone with a keen eye can see that cannabis behaves and grows like many other plants and flowers. Recently, in the last hundred years or so, cannabis has been given a very bad press, with great government and media attention. However, cannabis has been known to be a medicine for thousands of years with many ancient civilizations writing about its medicinal properties. The debate about the medical use of cannabis, currently a hot topic across the globe, has already been won, and there is a prolific amount of information about the medical use of cannabis all over the internet. You only need to type in cannabis and insert ailment here to find scientific-reviewed studies and anecdotal evidence from patients about cannabis can alleviate symptoms and improve quality of life.

When talking with people, I often find support for medical cannabis; people generally agree that if cannabis can help someone with an illness then they should be allowed to use it. Saying that everyone should be allowed to use cannabis, however, is more of a touchy subject, with many people who are supportive of medical cannabis being less supportive of healthy people using cannabis. I personally find this very strange, and wonder why it is seen as more acceptable to use cannabis if you are ill then if you are healthy.

Cannabis can be used by healthy people as a preventative medicine, and in later articles I will look at its impact on the development of different illnesses. Healthy people often do experience “mundane” health problems like pain, headaches, tiredness and menstrual cramps. Cannabis can be used to alleviate pain in a similar way to how a person would use aspirin or other over-the-counter medicines. It could be argued that this is in fact a safer alternative to aspirin, as cannabis is impossible to overdose on no matter how much of it you take.

Clark French, cannabis activist.

Clark French, cannabis activist.

While it may be true that aspirin does not get you high, cannabinoids like CBD do not get people high either, and could be used as a safer alternative to aspirin. When it comes to getting high, some people use the fact that cannabis is an intoxicating substance as a justification for continuing cannabis prohibition. These very same people often will drink socially and have no problem with the use of strong opiates under medical supervision. Which is quite illogical as both alcohol and opiates have an intoxicating effect, so why should someone be put in prison for their choice of using cannabis instead?

When talking about cannabis as a medicine, I believe it is important to make the point that many healthy people, not just people with long-term health problems, can gain a positive effect from using cannabis. It is really only the current law and stigma which have a negative effect. Cannabis has never killed anyone, but the police certainly have. It is about time that the government legislated to allow people to use cannabis responsibly.

In my next post for the Re:Vision blog, I will talk more in-depth about medicinal cannabis use and the potential for people to benefit from its healing effects: focusing on comparing cannabis with the alternatives that are currently available.

Clark French is a MS patient and a founding Member of NORML UK. He maintains his own blog that you can read here.

Breaking the Taboo – A Review

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Breaking the Taboo, a  documentary made by the son of Richard Branson and other people with less famous dads, and featuring the sublime tones of Morgan Freeman, loosely follows the Global Commission on Drug Policy as its members investigate and report on the impact of drug policy on communities around the world. If you’ve seen a drug war film, you’ll be familiar with many of the initial images of Breaking the Taboo. We see people in wheelchairs crippled by their drug use, people who’ve had relatives kidnapped by cartels. We’re told the US has 5% of the world’s population, 25% of the world’s prisoners. We’re informed that more drug addicts come out of prison than go in.

But the number of former politicians is overwhelming and probably this film’s greatest contribution to an increasingly crowded field. The former presidents of Brazil, Colombia, Switzerland and Mexico, as well as the current President of Colombia, all make appearances to explain why we must legalise and regulate drugs. The former President of Switzerland in particular makes a well-worn phrase original again: “You cannot make a war against drugs without knowing you are also making a war against people”. Former US President Bill Clinton at one point says of the drug war, simply: “it hasn’t worked”.

You just can’t win a war against people willing to build submarines to smuggle drugs into your country.

The first half of the film is a quick run-through of the ins and outs of the drug war, from its origins in the 60s, over to the problems in the producer countries, and back to the prison industrial complex in America and the emphasis on enforcement over treatment. It was great to unexpectedly see some time spent on the opium trade in Afghanistan, though I was surprised to see General Sir Richard Dannett, formerly Chief of the General Staff, make a clear link between Western involvement in trying to suppress it and the subsequent strengthening of the insurgency as farmers lost their livelihoods. It was intriguing to learn that it’s actually Russia that is pushing poppy eradication in Afghanistan, much harder than the US (especially considering as the Russian success in reducing the country’s access to heroin has resulted in the rise of krokodil, a homebrew of iodine and codeine which is literally rotting people’s limbs off).

There’s a lot of time spent on the American experience, which I assume to be partly due to America’s historical role in and enthusiasm for the drug war (as one guy who wryly noted: “[America has] more prisoners than China, and they have a billion more people than we do.”), and partly aimed at mobilising an American audience to rally their recalcitrant politicians to stop bullying other nations into dealing with “the drug problem” for them. It is striking to watch the historical footage of Presidents such as Reagan and Nixon talk about the dangers of drugs and what they can do to you, when the current president has freely admitting to using cocaine at college, and the previous one pointedly refused to comment on allegations that he did the same. What a different world we live in from even twenty years ago ago when Bill Clinton had to resort to tenuous legalese in order to pretend he hadn’t used cannabis.

The second half of the film starts moving towards suggested solutions. We see Portugal’s decriminalisation policy and Switzerland’s heroin prescription programme. I actually thought this part was quite weak, especially as the former Portuguese Drug Policy Coordinator talked about creating “clear signs of disapproval for drug use” as he describes the drug panels that users have to face if caught. Recreational use doesn’t get a look-in, though it makes up the majority of use. However, we also see Holland and its notorious coffee shops. Holland’s policy allowing effectively legalised cannabis-trading on small premises has led to Amsterdam being considered to be the cannabis Mecca of the world, but the universal policy of “no hard drugs” hardly deals with, well, all the drugs that aren’t cannabis. I doubt we’ll be seeing MDMA coffeeshops coming to a street near you anytime soon.

This disjointed approach to drug policy, talking about decriminalising a bit here, instituting a rehabilition programme there, leaves one feeling a bit dissatisfied until ten minutes just before the end, when suddenly various of the great and the good, including the serving President of Colombia, call for all drugs – not some, but all – to be regulated like alcohol and tobacco. Now THAT is breaking the taboo. That is moving the debate onward. I hope that as a result of this film, we can keep moving.

I look forward to seeing you on the next march!

For the most part, this film is a great overview of the drug war, although it misses some things. Any mention of Africa, Southeast Asia or the Carribean, for example, despite the major roles all these places play in global drug trafficking routes. Apparently George Bush’s eight years as the leader of the drug war have gone from our collective memories, as the film neatly skips from Clinton to Obama repeatedly. And Morgan Freeman’s narration over sweeping tracking shots of riots and police operations made me feel at times like I was watching the inner workings of Shawshank but without the warming human resolution (though Morgan Freeman’s past Academy Award-winning performances are hardly the producers’ fault).

I’ve seen higher-quality drug war films: Cocaine Unwrapped‘s in-depth study of the cocaine trade brought me to tears, and The Union: the Business Behind Getting High gave the most rational, compelling explanation for how the cannabis industry supports national economies I have ever seen.  But what Breaking the Taboo lacks in cinematic magic, it makes up for in the sheer number of former statesmen and women willing to stand up and say “I fought this war, and I regret it”. Perhaps that, more than anything, will start shattering political and public resistance to what, on watching films like these, should be a very obvious conclusion. Legalise it, legalise it now, and legalise it all.

You can view Breaking the Taboo here.

The Royal Baby and Drug Policy

So, the Duchess of Cambridge is pregnant. While I worried about the 15% possibility that she might miscarry and suffer the deflation of a nation, Nick Clegg announced that the Succession of the Crown Bill (which would make the first child of William the heir to the throne, rather than the first boy), which requires letters of assent from all 16 Commonwealth Realms, would be put to Parliament next week. Next week! How remarkably quick for an issue that has a 50% chance of even being an issue at all and would not need to be address for at least two years if it were.

So, while Antigua and Barbuda, Australia, The Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Canada, Grenada, Jamaica, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, the Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, and the UK got their act together for the sake of the soon-to-be third in line to the monarchy, here’s some of the drug laws they have in place:

Country Notes
Saint Kitts and Nevis A Brick Kiln man will have to come up with $15,000 for various drug charges or serve time in Her Majesty’s Prison.Additional Magistrate Janine Harris handed down the stiff fine on Aldre Maynard on Tuesday (July 17) when he appeared before the court and pleaded guilty to three marijuana charges.Maynard was charged with possession of cannabis, cultivation of cannabis, and possession with intent to supply cannabis.”
 Australia “See also: Cannabis in Australia

Decriminalized for personal use in small amounts in the Australian Capital Territory, South Australia, Western Australia and the Northern Territory. It is a criminal offence in New South Wales, Queensland, Victoria and Tasmania. Enforcement varies from state to state,[4] though a criminal conviction for possession of a small amount is unlikely and diversion programs in these states aim to divert offenders into education, assessment and treatment programs.[5] With the rapid expansion in hydroponically grown cannabis cultivation, the Australian Drug Misuse and Trafficking Act (1985) was amended in 2006, reducing the amount of cannabis grown indoors under hydroponic conditions that qualifies as a ‘commercial quantity’ or as a ‘large quantity’[5]

Bermuda “The maximum penalty for drug dealing is ten years in jail and/or a $500,000 fine.”
Canada “see Legislation: “Controlled Drugs and Substances Act” [14]
 Jamaica “Cultivation, retail and consumption is illegal. However this is often overlooked and cannabis is sold openly.[50]
 New Zealand “Cultivation, possession or sale of cannabis is illegal.[65] The fruit, seeds, and any other part of the plant are scheduled as Class C substances.Hashish, hash oil, THC, and any other preparations containing THC made by processing the plant are scheduled as Class B substances. In July 2009, a bill promoted by Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei amending the law to permit the use of medicinal cannabis was defeated 84-34 at its first reading, with all members of the ruling National Party voting against it[66].[68][69]
Belize “On July 16, the government of Belize released a press statement announcing the appointment of a committee to evaluate a proposal to decriminalize marijuana possession. The committee – to be headed by a former police minister – was appointed by the Minister of National Security. The proposal in question seeks to remove criminal sanctions for possession of up to 10 grams of marijuana and instead impose fines and mandatory drug education. Currently, possession of less than 60 grams of marijuana is punishable by a fine of up to US$26,000 and/or up to three years in prison.”
 United Kingdom “Cannabis is a Class B drug (moderate risk) in the UK. Possession of less than 3 grams however, is likely to result in mere confiscation and a written warning.”
Solomon Islands “Drug use is illegal in Solomon Islands, and can lead to prison sentences. Swearing is a crime and can lead to large compensation claims and even jail.”
Grenada “Law enforcement agencies in Grenada cooperate well on drug control. They meet regularly to plan joint operations, thereby maximizing available assets. The government opened its National Coordination Center for law enforcement in 2001. Through August 2003, Grenadian authorities reported seizing approximately 40 kilograms of cocaine and 155 kilograms of marijuana. During that period, they arrested 456 persons (21 non-nationals) on drug-related charges and eradicated 3,434 marijuana plants. Grenadian law enforcement authorities seized nearly ECD 300,000 ($115,000) in connection with drug-related cases. The police drug squad has collaborated closely with DEA officials in the targeting and investigation of a local cocaine trafficking organization, which has associations with South American and other Caribbean traffickers.”

So, if it’s going to take a week for the entire constitutional fabric of sixteen states to be rewritten, how long do you think it would take for decriminalise drugs if any politician really wanted to? How many people would that benefit?

Something to think about.

Attitudes need to be changed towards hard drugs

It is desperately sad that sometimes our own supporters rely on a slippery slope argument mentality; that if we legalise marijuana today, maybe ketamine or MDMA will be next. This is the very thing that our witless and moralistic opponents use to thwart these grassroots efforts pertaining to the legalisation of “soft drugs” such as cannabis and MDMA. Though decriminalisation would only be a stopping point towards a penultimate goal of outright legalisation and regulation of all narcotic substances, it presents itself as a shimmering ray of hope to many of us and perhaps is the only way our agenda will be accomplished; a painful and grinding war of attrition with morally outraged ignorance intentionally inspired by insidious profiteering forces which benefit from drugs remaining illegal. The illicit drug trade is the second largest sector of the entire world’s economy; the largest segment of which consists of cannabis but the most destructive is heroin and cocaine. The movement to legalise drugs has to be waged on the very two fronts that the prohibitionists have; morally as well as socio-politically. In other words, stigma against all drug use, whether it be the smoking of cannabis or the intravenous injection of heroin and crack cocaine needs to be done away with totally. This can only be accomplished by shredding away the garb of irrationality and ignorance that prohibitionists have proliferated to blind us all.

Not so many people driving around in “legalise heroin” buses.

My heart goes out to those who genuinely back this detestable war because of a vague and misguided desire to better the world. They are simply enslaved by a divisive and  devious campaign set in place to protect the status quo. This becomes evident when we look at the reverse of the establishment. Take the pharmaceutical industry for instance; which in essence has a financial choke hold over the US government which ensures that many truly harmful substances be wrongfully prescribed to unwitting patients. Take for instance the pandemic of benzodiazepine addiction facilitated by mass media advertising campaigns marketing Valium, then Ativan, then Xanax as effective ‘cures’ for anxiety. These drugs are known and admitted by most in the psychiatric profession to be far more addictive than many illegal drugs including heroin. SSRIs (Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, typically used as antidepressants)  are causing a surge in teen suicide rates as well as a generation of people, enslaved to substances that the government deems legal for reasons none other than profit. For instance, the manufacturers of Prozac or Fluoxetine managed to lobby the US food and drug administration to outlaw the sale of L-tyrosine (a health supplement with similar anti-depressant qualities minus any perceivable side effects). Let’s not forget the wave of teenage suicides that the over prescription of Prozac instigated. Meanwhile, children as young as 5 are being prescribed Ritalin by the bucketload,a chemical similar in its structure and pharmacokinetics to cocaine, a Schedule 1 substance in the USA. The level of hypocrisy is disgustingly self-evident.

It has also become obvious that the US is not only allowing but sanctioning heroin production in Afghanistan, whilst locking up street addicts in their own land for possession of grams of severely adulterated heroin, bad for their health by virtue of the ridiculous amounts of violin cleaner, caffeine and paracetamol that it is cut with. The war on drugs is also used as a convenient excuse to back wars overseas such as that against Panama’s Noriega regime. Manuel Noriega who was put in cahoots with Pablo Escobar’s Medellín cartel and done away with on the premise that he was aiding the importation of tons and tons of cocaine into the US. Now, whether it is coincidental or not, it is evident that drugs have directly funded US led global imperialism. It also reaps the benefits off the backs of its own citizens back home by using the very drugs they supposedly do not want in their country to repress minority groups; look at the proliferation of PCP then Crack Cocaine among the African American population across the country.

A wrap of heroin. Or dust. Who knows.

This acquaints us with the global hegemonic forces we are up against if we are to go ahead with decriminalisation let alone legalisation and regulation of all drugs; first of all, the private prison companies like Serco will be up in arms as most of their non violent drug related offenders will no longer be locked up providing them with what is effectively slave labour (the maximum prisoner’s wage in this country is £20 a week). Thankfully, it seem that this very system of oppression is crumbling economically, as it is bears witness to the backlash of its promises to rid society of a non-existent scourge that  supposedly threatens us enough to warrant £3 billion that could go towards education and social services which would prevent disenfranchised and angry teenagers from ever having that first toke on the crackpipe in council estates across the country.

Decriminalisation would simply not be enough as it would effectively allow the lucrative black market to continue doing the very things that drug policy conservatives reel at.  The many arguments they posit like the “gateway drug” theory are products of their policy. Althought the majority of drug dealers specialise in one type of drug, less scrupulous dealers are one stop shops selling everything from cannabis to heroin. Those people really do have an incentive to get people addicted to “harder” substances like heroin. One great example of this is the £5 discount most crack and heroin dealers put on buying a dose of each. This serves to get recreational crack smokers physically addicted to heroin in order to ensure their custom.

Lastly, the glamour of drug-taking for some people will simply disappear over time should they become legal commodities just like alcohol and tobacco. Portugal is a good example, its previous heroin pandemic in the 90s has turned into one of the best examples of state-run rehabilitation since all drugs were decriminalised in the country. History also bears us innumerable examples; during the American prohibition more alcohol was consumed per capita than at any other juncture in history since then until the present day.

A drug raid, 1920s style.

The final argument for total legalization lies in human rights: farmers in Afghanistan and the Golden triangle can continue to support their families to a better degree as the extortionate middle men are brought out of the picture; allowing for effectively fair-trade cocaine and heroin. Furthermore, people from abusive families who turn to drugs for solace or simply those who are exploratory and curious will no longer be subject to persecution both legal and societal by their peers.

Attitudes need to be changed towards hard drugs just as they recently have towards soft drugs. This is where Re:Vision’s challenge truly lies in my opinion. Winning over the hearts and minds of the populace. The drug law reform movement has already tried appealing to their sense of logic and pragmatism and that has been to some avail, but there is more work to do.

Drug Decriminalisation: a Good Idea, but not Enough

The big story today is the UK Drug Policy Commission report calling for the decriminalisation of small amounts of cannabis and, later, other drugs. The full report, which you can read here, talks about “supporting responsible behaviour”, and “promoting recovery from drug dependence”, and working with local communities and drug users to “take a problem solving approach”.

Which is great. That is definitely so, so much better an idea than the £3 billion we spend every year on prosecuting the drug war. But the number of organisations saying nice things like this is growing by the day. Simply decriminalising users  will not have much effect on the £13 billion lost through drug-related crime each year. And look at the harms table they list!

How many of these harms will be done away with simply by fining drug users instead of jailing them? If we agree that criminalising drug users is a bad idea, why should we civilise (?) them instead?

Nonetheless, I think this report really adds something to the debate. It’s definitely one of the first I’ve seen that says we need to face up to the face that many people use drugs for sane, rational reasons:

[W]e have to recognise that, for many users, drugs bring something to their lives that they value, be it pleasure, relief from pain, enhanced perceptions or performance. This perspective challenges the prevailing wisdom that all drugs are inherently ‘bad’ if used for non-medically authorised purposes.

If the government were to simply admit that actually, nice people take drugs, I imagine a tsunami in drug policy would ensue.

To my mind, though, arguing for decriminalisation in today’s hurrah-for-Uruguay climate is liking arguing for civil unions for gay people. It made sense when we were first talking about gay rights. But with so many nations with full same-sex marriage, and many who originally brought in civil unions “upgrading”, many LGBT activists views them as so 2008. Civil unions are now just a sop. So it is with decriminalisation.

The UKDPC admit that the case for regulation is already being made by others, but states that the evidence is lacking for its efficacy:

We appreciate that some will argue that the risks of the commercialisation of controlled drugs could be contained with careful regulation and that our position does nothing to deal with the negative consequences of the current system in places such as South or Central America, Central and South-East Asia or increasingly parts of Africa. It also would not address existing problems with drug contamination and unpredictable dosage levels. But our assessment is that such a change could lead to some hugely negative unintended consequences, and
should be treated with caution.

 

It is mildly disappointing that a commission which makes such points as

…there can be no serious challenge to the fact that we have inconsistent control and regulatory frameworks governing the availability of different psychoactive substances. The separation between these drugs and the illicit ones is entirely artificial and historical. In a world where policy could be made without reference to current behaviour and past decisions, that separation would probably not exist.

can then go on to deny that leaving that framework in place poses a major obstacle to effective regulation of drugs, “soft” or otherwise.

But it is true that we don’t yet know concretely what effect the legalisation of drugs would really have on states. It is this which makes the fact that Washington, Colorado and Oregon are holding referenda on the outright legalisation of cannabis after successful experiments with medical marijuana, which stand a reasonable chance of winning, so exciting. Because maybe if one area, somewhere, will just take that step, and prove that the world won’t end, we can stop discussing “minimal civil penalties” and “drug treatment referral panels”, and start talking serious drug law reform.

Drugs on Trial Live Vs the Real Scandal of Modern Medicine

Last week Channel 4 aired an experiment conducted by the former government drug adviser Professor David Nutt.  It should be of no surprise upon hearing his name that the nature of this experiment is controversial – David Nutt is the man who was relieved of his post for putting forward the scientific view that MDMA shouldn’t be a class A drug as it is less dangerous than alcohol.  Indeed that same class A drug is the subject of the trial, in which several volunteers will take MDMA and undergo scientific analysis of its effects.  Vital signs were monitored and MRI scans were conducted in order to find information on the parts of the brain associated with trust, empathy and memory. Professor Nutt has long held the view that more research needs to be done on the possible therapeutic applications of the drug, but as red tape and negative connotations swamp the issue, this seems to be the only way the Professor can get his research backed.

When scientists try to learn from the world of prohibited substances.

The televised drug trials have been criticized as glamorising the drug and thinly veiled sensationalism for ratings.  Julia Manning, chief executive of the 2020 Health government think tank, has said the study is ‘pointless and reckless’.  To me, this statement is incredibly ironic.  Surely it is more pointless to create a law which can not be effectively enforced? The Class A ban on MDMA can not be effectively enforced, as is evidenced by the people who imbibe and sell it regularly in the UK and the rest of the world. Surely it is reckless to defer the regulation and dispensation of drugs to the criminal underworld where regulatory bodies can not reach, making the entire issue far more dangerous than it ever would be in a legal environment?

However, it is Julia Manning’s opinion  that MDMA is illegal because of the social, economic and moral messages it would send out.  For Julia it seems ‘Drug are bad mmkay’, is as far as her mind has ever taken her, yet with some exploration it is not hard to see why a ban is actually more harmful in its social, economic and moral implications then the drug itself could ever be.

Experimenting with drugs the old fashioned way. Many are probably thinking the experience would feel more glamorous in an MRI scanner.

The social implications of a ban mean that people will turn to other more dangerous alternatives (e.g. alcohol or recently discovered designer drugs with legal status as was the case with mephedrone) believing them to be safer.  For social implications, glamorisation is also often associated more with illegality then government endorsement, and if “class A” doesn’t instantly sound like something glamorous and rare then I don’t know what does.  An “A” is often associated with quality after all, the best grade you can get.  The economic implications are that millions in untaxed profit are going to the criminal underground, while billions in taxpayer money is pumped into the un-winnable and ultimately community-damaging war on drugs.  Morally, the implications are that the government has the right to say how we experience reality, it is tantamount to mind control and an invasion into the private life of the individual. The moral stance of this government takes is that certain states of mind are simply not acceptable (but alcohol, tobacco and coffee are just fine). Way to take the moral high ground!

Do as we say, die or go to prison. The moral high ground, we’re doing it wrong.

So why is a scientist like Professor Nutt having to resort to funding from a TV channel rather than  he Medical Research Council or some other ‘respectable’ body? Because Pharmaceuticals are big business, and investors take huge risks with their money to get research done and trials conducted.  It is not financially viable for them to conduct  research into a drug that is illegal because even if it works the drug must then be approved.  Pure MDMA is not going to win approval while it is a Class A drug.  If it was somehow ‘sanitized’ and turned into a derivative with a fancy new name to re-brand it, it might be successful.  In fact there is research being done into possible applications of MDMA to fight cancer.  This is using the drug for its biological functions rather than its mind altering capabilities and so is deemed acceptable area of research, much like using the cannabis derivatives in commercial drugs to help relieve vomiting in chemo patients or spasticity in MS sufferers.  The compounds derived can be patented and sold exclusively by the Pharmacies for huge profit with knowledge that street chemists won’t be able to or even want to replicate and sell their unique formulas and so their profit margins are protected.  However this is something that can not be guaranteed with drugs that are already out there in chemistry books or that can grow in your own garden (such as cannabis or psylocibin).

It’s hard to make big pharmacy scale profit from products that can be grown or made at home.

The secret that pharmacological companies don’t want you to know however is that THEY are the ones being ‘reckless and pointless’ in their conduct of drug trials.  Modern medicine is placing profit over patients, and they have the gall to tell Professor Nutt that he is the one behaving badly.  If more drug trials were conducted out in the open like this one, rather then behind the closed doors of the people putting them on the market, we wouldn’t have to worry about all the unpublished studies which are buried by researchers desperate to prove that they have a drug that works.  Studies that do get funding get it because big monetary returns are expected.  Such vast amounts of money are invested that ensuring the drug goes to market becomes more of a priority than ensuring the drug actually works.  Common practice is that when one study doesn’t give desired results then more are done until the right result is shown and any negative results go unpublished.  Not a hard task to pull off when the science is done in secrecy and the journals are owned by the pharmaceutical companies!  The point of conducting scientific experiments is that they should be able to be replicated with the same results by more than one group of scientists, yet this key stage of evidence based science is by-passed by modern medicine by Pharmaceutical companies. Instead they answer only to regulators who they submit one or two studies that show a drug works and leave out the ten or twelve others that showed the drug had no or even ill effect.  The result is a marketplace of very expensive drugs which may or may not work. Is this how we want our drug policy to work?

You are paying for a placebo effect half the time.

So though television may not be the ideal way in which to explore the neuroscience behind MDMA, there is little other alternative.  David Nutt is not doing his research to line people’s pockets, but to help educate the public on the truth and to help turn public policy towards the path of harm reduction rather than criminalisation.  He is to be commended in his efforts rather than dismissed as a publicity seeker.  Give me open-book ‘publicity seeking neuroscience’, as Julia Manning puts it, rather then cloak-and-dagger, profiteering neuroscience, any day.

Why is Regulation of Drugs Important?

When you woke up today, it was probably on a bed that didn’t collapse in the night because the manufacturers had made it from poor quality materials. When you went last went food shopping, none of the food you bought made you sick because the supermarket had thrown away all the out of date stock. If you’ve taken a public taxi, then you probably ended up where you wanted to go and didn’t get ripped off because all licenced taxis have to have visible meters fitted. All of these measures designed to keep you safe, healthy, and able to make your own financial decisions, are the result of government regulations. There’s a lot of talk about how “bureaucratic red tape” slows down business and gets in the way of the consumer, but do you really want to go back to the good old days of “mad cow disease“, when farmers were feeding infected dead cows to live cows and managed to kill 166 people in the process? This is why control and regulation of drugs are important for users, not just communities. Not because the government should be able to use the system to stop people taking drugs, but because drug users shouldn’t be risking their health, or possibly lives, because unscrupulous dealers have a direct financial interest in compromising the quality of their products.

Bureaucratic red tape ultimately stops everything falling apart.

Some cannabis activists have vehemently objected to any suggestion that the law should have any say in who sells what to whom. Some people believe that cannabis should just be decriminalised, because cannabis doesn’t kill anyone, and therefore no regulation is needed. But all drugs are psychoactive substances, it’s not really about whether they kill people or not, they all alter your consciousness. And even if something is harmless, the circumstances in which it is produced can be terrible. Trousers aren’t going to kill you, but the children making them in sweatshops in Indonesia might be happier if they didn’t have to work twelve hours a day to make them for us. So we should recognise that much of the time regulation is a good thing. When you get down to it, it seems the issue for many people is that the current laws regarding alcohol and tobacco are inconsistent and they object to the idea that cannabis will be subject to the same inconsistent regulation. In many places, you can smoke in the open air, but not drink, and you can drink indoors but not smoke! To argue that alcohol and tobacco should be regulated the same as cannabis really means that as reformers we should be supportive of a change in the alcohol and tobacco laws as well.

When it comes to the age of consent, it’s important to remember that the age of consent is not related to any form of scientific research into harms but the age at which you are deemed legally able to make your own decisions for yourself. So this public argument about when  various drugs do and do not damage your developing brain seems to be irrelevant. It therefore seems fair to say that, within reason, certain (probably the “soft” ones) drugs like cannabis should be commercially available to over 18 year olds without restriction but from licenced production facilities which are subject to regular inspection in the same way that the sale of food is regulated and inspected, and that what you produce in your own home and give to your friends is your own business. I don’t mind taking the risk of eating a cake that a friend has made me, but I don’t want the kebab shop down the road to be doing whatever they want in their kitchen. In the same way, I’m sure that most canabis users are happy to consume whatever their friend grew in their garden but are dissatisfied with street dealers selling them herbs with ground glass in – a tactic they often get away with because of the lack of regulation. Harder” drugs are a trickier issue, but well covered in Transform Drug Policy Foundation’s publication, Blueprint for Regulation

The Blueprint for Regulation

But what about the children?! Well, what children do below the age of 18 not in the public eye is also generally considered at the discretion of parents and medical professionals – parents are allowed to give their children alcohol in the home under supervision, and medical professionals can prescribe whatever they want to anyone of any age, they can make those decisions in their own judgement. Doctors have the power to give Prozac to five year olds, yet they don’t! Such laws seem to be a good way of ensuring a balance between the rights of adults to alter their own consciousness and to raise their children as they see fit, the responsibility the government has to public health, and the desire that I hope we all have to not have nine year olds wandering around drunk or high.

The challenge is to set the bar so that it is low enough to keep people safe but not high enough that people will turn to a black market – we can see that with alcohol, which doesn’t have a black market, and the government’s efforts to stop people from smoking, which is prompting a significant black market of people importing knock-off tobacco from abroad and selling it under the counter. That’s what should be the challenge. Where to set the bar. That we’re arguing over whether there should be a bar at all and seeing people being killed or ruined in the process is a travesty. Whether you’re a Tory or an anarchist, nearly everything in your life, from your clothes to your spice rack, are subject to safety regulations that you, the consumer, benefit from. It is unfair to non-problematic drug users that they cannot be protected under the same legislation.

Update: Re:Vision in the News – Our thoughts on Mexxy

Mancunion Matters, 2nd May, 2012.

“Manchester drug experts and activists are warning people against the result of the government’s temporary ban of the legal high methoxetamine, or MXE.

The government invoked new banning powers and for the first time used a temporary class drug order (TCDO) to forbid the supply of the legal high.Methoxetamine, with street name mexxy, MXE, ROFLCOPTER, was banned at the end of March for up to 12 months after a recommendation from the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD), which assessed the drug in less than 20 working days.

Michael Linnell from Manchester-based drug and alcohol charity Lifeline expressed doubts about the new powers deployed to prohibit methoxetamine, a ketamine analogue.“It is almost the worst system in the world that you could possibly have”, he said.

Anyone caught making, supplying or importing the drug will face up to 14 years in prison and unlimited fine.During the period of 12 months, the ACMD will look into the risks associated with the drug and decide whether to permanently prohibit it.

“I think it highly unlikely that they are going to turn around after a year saying we can have that one, it can stay legal,” said Mr Linnell.

Mr Linnell says that 15 different types of new substances that are currently making it into the country are raising concerns about the risks associated with their use.“What will now happen is the ACMD will look at it for a year. In the meantime, it will be replaced by something far more dangerous.“You squeeze the bubble somewhere and it pops up somewhere else you don’t you,” he said.

Sarah McCulloch, chair of Re:Vision Drug Policy Network, said: “While the government announcing an intention to conduct proper research into the effects and potential harms of a drug is much more preferable to a reliance to knee-jerk reactions and hyperbole, no-one had really heard of mexxy before the government banned it.“

By banning mexxy, it suddenly has allured to people wanting to know why it was banned, and more people will now probably use it than would have done if the government had left it to the more obscure corners of the internet.”

The process started after mexxy was wrongly linked to the death of four people. The ACMD later said that there were no confirmed deaths related to methoxetamine in the UK.However, a referral letter from the Minister for Crime Prevention and Anti-Social Behaviour and a recommendation from the ACMD to Home Secretary Theresa May followed. This resulted in the temporary ban.

The Crime Prevention Minister Lord Henley said: “Making this drug illegal sends a clear message to users and those making and supplying it that we are stepping up our fight against substances which are dangerous and ruin lives of victims and their families.”

Prior to the ban, you could buy little methoxetamine pills from head shops or online from over 200 UK-based websites.“The head shops are no longer selling methoxetamine. If you as a person had a lot of methoxatamine for your personal use, you can quite happily go on and use it. It is the supply that this temporary class order is supposed to stop”, said Mr Linnell.

He said that MXE rose in popularity due to shortage of ketamine, the third most popular illegal drug in the country.“They changed the legislation in India and most of our supplies were coming from India where it was still legal.“

Methoxetamine became popular among already existing ketamine users because of shortage. Methoxetamine is similar and most people say it is longer acting and more intense than ketamine.”

In the UK, ketamine was legal until 2006 when in the included in the Misuse of Drugs Act as class C drug.

“Interestingly, since 2006 the use has doubled. Banning actually increased the use,” Mr Linnell said.“They are already ketamine analogues on the market that seem to be replacing it. The real danger is the development of an illicit market. There are so many different analogues that are potentially far more dangerous.”

According to the November 2011 Global Drug Survey, 4.2% of the 7,700 respondents in the UK reported using methoxetamine in the last year.About 2.4% reported using methoxetamine in the last month.

Ms McCulloch said: “Prohibiting production and supply likely means the purity of the drug will plummet, as did the purity of mephedrone after it was banned, endangering the safety of users.“While a temporary ban, which refrains from punishing users, is better than immediate criminalisation, what we”re still seeing is the effort to criminalise substances as they become popular is driving people to use far less well-known and researched ‘designer drugs’, for which no-one knows the risks. Only proper control and regulation is going to protect the public and the individual.”

In light of new government powers to temporary ban legal highs and experts’ concerns about users’ safety, MM sought the opinion of the user.

Two MXE users agreed to talk to MM. The interviews will follow later this week.”

Original Link

Submission to the Home Affairs Committee Drug Inquiry

As many of you know, the Home Affairs Parliamentary Select Committee is currently holding an inquiry in the state of UK drug laws. As part of the Written Evidence stage, the Re:Vision Drug Policy Network submitted a memorandum that we are now allowed to release for everyone else to view as well.

We responded in each of the categories that the Committee suggested were areas of inquiry: the scientific evidence, the effects of drug laws on public health, human rights, and proposed alternatives. Our focus in the memorandum was on putting forward unapologetic arguments for the total repeal of Prohibition and the compelling and overwhelming evidence that the current regime harms, rather than promotes, science, public health, human rights. We further argued that the government should have no interest in non-problematic private drug use (for example, we don’t send the police to break down the doors of private homes on the basis of tip-offs that people have been drinking alcohol with our friends – but we do have officers in most Local Authorities on call to deal with noisy and antisocial neighbours). We concluded by putting forward the Transform Drug Policy Foundation’s Blueprint for Reform as a model for a drug which policy might be more appropriate.

Essentially, we don’t believe that we are advocating policies, approaches, or models that don’t already exist in some form. We already regulate the food we consume, the medicines we use, the and the behaviour of inconsiderate or violent people. Our current drug policy is actually the *exception* in history, and Re:Vision’s stance is the historical norm. In no other area of public policy does our government continue to wage a futile campaign opposed by most professionals in the field which has such a counter-productive effect on its stated aims. Sometimes, when we’re writing these things, we just can’t quite believe that the Home Office still maintains that people will be safer in a world where the many of the drugs they or their loved ones use are produced by organised criminals, mixed with contaminants by unregulated vendors, and sold in dangerous places made more dangerous by a cat and mouse game with the police that can never end by its very nature. We hope that you agree (if you don’t, you may find this helpful).

This was the first policy submission that we wrote by inviting individual members of Re:Vision to contribute to different sections, and the results we think are an accurate representation of the opinions of many young people in the UK on drug policy. We hope that the Committee Inquiry will subsequently benefit!

You can read our submission here.

Update: Re:Vision in the News – Manchester activist condemns Operation Broadley

Cannabis crackdown across the North West ‘waste of money and police resources’, says Manchester activist

A Manchester activist is condemning the police crackdown on cannabis that saw the destruction of more than 17,000 cannabis plants in the North West.Cannabis worth £9million and 4kg of cannabis leaf have been seized, and hundreds of cannabis farms were destroyed in a month-long police operation across the North West.Operation Broadley, which saw police forces across the region join hands with North West’s organised crime unit Titan, resulted in high number of arrests and the seizure of large quantities of other drugs including cocaine and LSD.

Manchester activist and campaigner Sarah McCulloch, who chairs Re:Vision Drug Policy Network Manchester, said: “Three million people use cannabis on a regular basis, of whom many are medicinal users who are willing to risk conviction and imprisonment to use the medicine they need in order to live functional pain-free lives.“It is therefore a phenomenal waste of money and police resources that could be put into genuine criminal activity that harms people.”

She believes that police forces can be successful in reducing production within the region only temporarily by prompting producers to move their operations somewhere else.“Cannabis is a plant which can be grown anywhere by anyone. In the exceptionally unlikely event that all UK cannabis suppliers were arrested, there are always entrepreneurs willing to get involved. That”s why we have a drug war,” she said.

Det Supt John Lyons, from Titan, said: “An increasing number of people who grow cannabis are directly funding dangerous, organised criminal gangs. These gangs are often responsible for gun crime, violence and intimidation across the North West.”Utility companies, garden centres, DIY stores and the Royal Mail stepped in, helping the police in spotting the signs of cannabis farming.The fire service and local authorities also aided police forces in Greater Manchester, Merseyside, Lancashire, Cheshire, North Wales and Cumbria in the operation.”People who grow cannabis often have a total disregard for the safety of others, frequently endangering the lives of those in neighbouring properties by tampering with electricity supplies and leaving live electrical cables exposed, increasing the risk of fire,”

Mr Lyons said.”We hope this sends out a strong message to anyone thinking of becoming involved in cannabis cultivation – whether from letting a room in your property be used for cannabis growth or to those higher up the chain – that we will not tolerate this activity.”

However, Miss McCulloch believes that the market disruption that such operations cause can have undesirable results: “What we may well see is a rise in poor quality cannabis and a higher rate of contaminants as dealers make their current supplies go further.“This would be far more harmful than if the police simply left the market to its own devices and concentrated on the antisocial behaviours associated with some cannabis farms and users.“In the unlikely event that the market for cannabis was seriously disrupted, I would imagine that we would see a spike in the demand for synthetic (and legal) alternatives among recreational users. However, medicinal users will simply continue to seek the real thing.”

Read more and comment here.