Posted by: martinworster | November 17, 2009


I read that the government’s drug advisor Professor David Nutt has been sacked after claiming that ecstasy, cannabis and LSD were less dangerous than alcohol. It’s a shame that the scientist Nutt, who used evidence and reason to back up his claims, has been ousted like this. I am constantly baffled at where the moral double standards and the chasm between reality (what the public thinks and does) and policy comes from when it comes to the drugs debate.

Taken out of context his comments are probably quite shocking to many people. But when you add up the figures – deaths and illness caused by alcohol against comparative user figures in other drugs – alcohol is a far greater problem and risk. They don’t even mention smoking. Why is tobacco legal and other drugs aren’t?

In broader terms I am baffled by where the ethical hypocrisy comes from with regards to certain drugs being illegal. I am a firm believer that being occasionally intoxicated is a basic human need. Not quite as basic as food, water, shelter and sex. But it comes in as an important second tier ‘need’. Anthropologists have studied different cultures and many involve rituals with intoxication as central to the ceremony. Whether it’s the shaman communing with the spirit worlds after consuming pyote. Mushrooms, herbs, leaves – anything that can produce an altered state – has been ground up, smoked, drunk or snorted for spiritual and therapeutic purposes. Amongst citizens of various countries and societies intoxication has also played an important bonding purpose. Amongst the heavier drinking Northern European cultures alcohol oiled the Protestant work ethic – by making the humdrum existence more bareable and hence maintaining productivity amongst the workers. 


As it is a basic human need humans will always pursue it. Even if it is illegal. Prohibition doesn’t work. Anything in extreme can become addictive. There are lots of legal prescription drugs with harmful side affects which are also very addictive. Particularly in the USA as people are prescribed pills for everything and hence the prescription drugs industry is worth so much money. Double standards. Why can I take one drug for one thing – anxiety, depression, tiredness, sexual problems – legally? But not other drugs – cocaine, cannabis, ecstacy, psychedelics – for other medicinal, emotional or spiritual reasons? Where does this stem from? 

Why is it illegal for a plant that grows on a tree – the cannabis leaf – to be grown, picked and smoked? I am not saying cannibis isn’t harmful amongst certain users, just like anything it can have adverse side affects. But there are probably hundreds of millions of ordinary people who lead normal lives who are made to be criminals due to outdated and pointless laws. It costs around $80,000 a year to keep someone in prison. How many millions are wasted each year on imprisoning people who shouldn’t be there?

It is only a matter of time before the pointless pursuit of drugs prohibition is ended. More taxes can be made by governments through controlling the market. The drugs black market and all it’s nascent criminality will be stopped. Drug use will probably go down as the illicitness of the pursuit is ended. Wake up and smell the caffeine (another drug).

I haven’t talked about where we’d be without the positive effect of drug taking on music and other cultural pursuits. I will leave that for another post.


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