Category Archives: News

Further to the Rudy Eugene moral panic

Remember the Florida Zombie? How he attacked another man and chewed his face off and everyone said it was because he was off his nut on bath salts? And how there’s now a federal bill to ban bath salts going through congress in the USA?.

They released the toxicology report on Eugene this morning. Only marijuana was found in the guy’s system.

Fuck you, police. Fuck you, media. Fuck you, everyone who contributed to this moral panic that has effectively deflected attention away from the real problem which is the USA’s crumbling support infrastructure and how events like this are on the increase not because of some demonic new drug but because people are falling faster and faster through the cracks. The safety net is disintegrating and desperate people are not getting help, and bath salts are not to blame for this. Drug misuse is a symptom of the problem, not the cause. Kapisch?

Jeez. Damn right I’m angry.

A rant about Rudy Eugene

A lot is being made of the face-chewing incident from Florida and an alleged link to a legal (ish) high known as ‘bath salts’. Bath salts, like many street names, doesn’t really mean anything, but in general it describes a combination of cathinone analogue type substances, most commonly mephedrone and/or MDPV. These are stimulant substances in the same sort of league as khat. You might remember the moral panic and banning of mephedrone in the UK recently.

In this case, I’ve seen everything from ‘he was out of his mind on bath salts’ to ‘he had an addiction’ to ‘bath salts are to blame for this tragedy”. This is, oddly enough, coming from people who had never heard of bath salts prior to it coming out in the news. I wanted to know what was being said. So I googled ‘was eugene on drugs’ and clicked the first four links from that page.

Bath salts, drug alleged “face-chewer” Rudy Eugene may have been on, plague police and doctors. The police are speculating that the man may have been using bath salts. Note the words ‘speculating’ and ‘may have’. LSD is not a stimulant, it’s a hallucinogen. The article cites only 2 actual cases of tragic death where a person had ingested bath salts – and also over 6000 where people had called the poisons centre about reactions to the drug. I don’t know about you but to me, that suggests that a hell of a lot of people are using this stuff and that the paper has had to scratch around to find links between it and violence. And oddly enough, the guy who has never seen someone on bath salts happy is either a cop or a doctor – not the sort of people that folks having a good time on drugs would be seeing, right?

Did Drugs Make Rudy Eugene Chew on a Naked Miami Man’s Face? Again, doctors say the attack ‘may have been fuelled by drugs’. This one suggests ‘cocaine psychosis’ where a person’s body temperature goes up enough to frazzle their brain. The article also equates bath salts to LSD (which incidentally, is a complete falsehood and probably only in there to generate some pearl clutching). It acknowledges that the attacker had some historic problems with the law and with violence, and also that we won’t know for sure until there’s an autopsy.

Will Street Drugs Cause the Zombie Apocalypse? I apologise for this article, it’s an awful travesty that makes light of a horrible tragedy, and even this one says that police are merely speculating that he may have taken bath salts. Again with the LSD reference. It even goes so far as to say “An overdose on any LSD drug usually results in fits of rage and increased body heat, resulting in the person removing all of their clothing and behaving erratically.” Seriously, that is utter bullshit. You can’t overdose on LSD and there’s no evidence that it leads to fits of rage or increased body heat. That line is entirely made up.

Miami cannibal zombie-like attack linked to powerful ‘bath salts’ drug Oh for fuck’s sake, this one has LSD in it too! Even though it’s probably the most factual in that it does actually mention mephedrone and some of the effects it can have in high enough doses. And it does mention the attacker’s history of trouble with the police. Note that all the headlines emphasise the drug connection.

So let’s clarify. A man attacks another man in a bizarre way and is shot dead by police. He has a history of violent offences and ‘drug charges’. He has yet to be autopsied but police have speculated that he was on a new designer drug known as ‘bath salts’, that according to all four articles has some relationship to LSD.

And this is where I go “Stop reading these bloody articles and wait for the autopsy.” Because the articles, essentially, are speculative in the worst way, which is speculative without fact-checking the things they are speculating about. LSD and bath salts are not the same thing, either chemically or in effects. The media is stirring up the drug angle the same way they did with LSD when the government was trying to create a moral panic over that in the 1960s. Mephedrone (and the others) are more risky than LSD in that there have actually been deaths associated with them (unlike LSD), it is possible to overdose on them (unlike LSD) and they do have a high re-dose impulse (unlike LSD). Injecting mephedrone users describe their experiences as hellish, and have been known to be violent. But violence and psychosis are two different things. Thousands upon thousands of people have used mephedrone and had no ill effects whatsoever – and every single one of the deaths recorded in the UK have had other circumstances attached to them that bring any conclusion that the drug was to blame under suspicion.

Other media-generated fallacies attached to drugs over the years: LSD makes you think you can fly, cocaine makes black men rape white women and immune to bullets, cannabis makes you sexually deviant. Nuff said.

Quick drug lesson: there are three things involved in a reaction to a drug – the drug itself and its pharmacological effects, the psychology of the individual ingesting it, and the social setting in which the drug is taken. So a well-adjusted person with a large support network, a good job and no worries could take X drug and have a completely different response to it from a marginalised person with, say, a history of violent offending. Just a thought.

Notice how the papers are trying to blame bath salts before it’s even been shown that the man had taken them. Notice how lots of people are buying it. Notice how almost all of the articles fail to mention that this guy may have already had undiagnosed and untreated mental health issues. Notice how they won’t even speculate about the man’s place in a society that has repeatedly rejected him and how that might have affected his behaviour. Nope. All the speculation is about what drug he’d taken. Because it’s much easier to blame a drug than it is to blame the set and setting that this incident took place in.

The autopsy may well show that Rudy Eugene had taken high doses of a drug, and that tipped him over into psychosis. The drug may well turn out to be one (or a combination of) the bath salts ones. But can we please wait to see if that’s actually the case before we start our moral panic? And even if he was out of his gourd on mephedrone when this happened, can we not forget the thousands of other people who use it quite successfully and start to think about what unaddressed issues made this particular man so at risk when using it? Because that will have a far more positive outcome for everybody than to just blame the drug and go merrily on our way.

Realistic drug policy needs to acknowledge the Rudy Eugenes of this world as humans, not as mindless automatons helplessly at the mercy of The Evil Drugs. Because that kind of thinking makes it easy to let mental health issues go untreated while we jail people for self-medicating. And it’s the kind of thinking that led to this kind of thinking. I don’t think the world is a better place because of it.

Oh look, an unregulated industry!

So there’s this stuff called Dime. It’s been sold as a legal high in NZ for a grand total of about three weeks. Now someone’s ‘discovered’ that it may contain one of the 2C analogues, which are classified here as Class C, the same level as cannabis. Naturally, the sale has now been stopped.

The importer apparently never bothered to test the stuff to see if it had anything illegal in it, because it was taken on trust that it would be fine.

Colour me completely unsurprised that someone is being irresponsible in the legal high market. This industry is almost completely unregulated, the government having instead elected to go for a prohibition and criminalisation approach to new substances. There was a small glimmer of hope when a Class D was added to the Misuse of Drugs Act. It was thought that this would become a ‘holding class’ for untested new substances while it was decided how to regulate them and their safety was tested. Instead, the only things in Class D are precursor substances, and the legal high market remains unregulated.

What this means is that people can import stuff without testing it, and then sell it to the public. Remember when it was found that Kronic contained benzos?. Same thing. There is no requirement for these things to be tested at all, never mind proven safe before sale. And then people are surprised when folks import things that may be dodgy.

Personally, I don’t think the 2C analogues are particularly dodgy – at least, not the ones that have achieved status as substances in this country. They were synthesised by Alexander Shulgin, who is perhaps most well known for the resynthesis and popularisation of MDMA. Man has an interesting history – but one of the important things about him and his 2C analogues is that his process and testing were all meticulously recorded in a set of books that are available for anyone to read. In terms of information of both the scientific and subjective experience nature, these substances are much more transparent than many other substances available today. They are certainly more transparent than the ‘other piperazines’ that were in some of the party pills you could buy in 2007. So in terms of safety and education and prior knowledge, a pill containing a 2C is probably safer than one containing a benzo, or one that you don’t know what’s in it.

And that’s the problem. This dime stuff was being sold without people knowing what was in it and I place the blame for that squarely at the feet of this government that refuses to seriously address the issue of legal high regulation. In this case, dime will be taken off the market if it’s found to contain a prohibited substance – the 2Cs are already illegal so it’s a simple matter. But if they really gave a crap about people’s safety, why is there no requirement for new legal highs to be tested to ascertain their contents before they hit the market? Why is there no labelling requirement so that people know what they are ingesting, the way alcohol is required to be labelled? How does someone get to import something from Poland that’s made in China and sell it to kiwis and not bloody well know what’s in it? And how do people who are that irresponsible get to be in a position to sell things?

It happens because of the head in the sand attitude of our government which continues to believe that trying to prevent people from using anything other than alcohol is the best way to approach ‘the drug problem’.

Hint: approximately 17% of NZers have used an illegal substance in the last year. Of those, only about 3% experience difficulties due to their substance use. Is there really ‘a drug problem’ in this country?

Frankly, I think the 2Cs would be a good opportunity to test out a regulatory framework for legal highs in this country. What do you reckon the odds are of that happening when this is the sort of data we are using to judge a substance in the public sphere:

““Because it’s such a tiny amount of powder which does something for so long, there must be some pretty hard-out chemicals in it.”” ~ Random 19 year old.

*cough*

Panic over Kronic

Some of you have probably heard about the recall of Pineapple Express, a brand of Kronic (synthetic pot) that’s been found to contain traces of the benzo phenazepam. From what I gather the manufacturers claim they were not aware that this had gone into the product, and sold it to the importer in good faith. Who knows what the truth is? However, Peter Dunne seems to be using this as an opportunity to grandstand his views about how all new products should be regulated and proven to be safe before being offered for sale. And something about cowboys.

So what’s not being said?

For a start Stargate, the importer of Pineapple Express, is run by Matt Bowden. Matt Bowden was at the forefront of the introduction of BZP to New Zealand and has made a lot of money from it. Now I’m not naive enough to think that the continued ability to make money from recreational substances isn’t at least in part a driver for Mr Bowden’s actions – however, regardless of motivation he has also been at the forefront of harm minimisation lobbying since ~2000. He is the driving force behind STANZ (the Social Tonics Association of New Zealand), a body which amongst other things created a voluntary Code of Practice for manufacturers and distributors of BZP based products. Bowden wanted these substances to be regulated rather than banned.

The creation of Class D in 2005 seemed like a step in the right direction – here was a category where substances that were a little bit risky but not proven to be harmful could be placed under regulation. BZP immediately went in there, and what happened? The government placed minimum regulation on it, pills continued to be sold in over the recommended amounts, with no guarantees as to what else was in them, no testing, and no health warnings. Here’s a press statement made by STANZ in 2007 in which they lay out a potential regulatory structure for BZP products, which goes much further than the minimal regulation imposed by the government. It was ignored, the market spun out of control, and eventually BZP was banned.

Now, we’re facing the same situation with Kronic. This is slightly different in that we have a potentially dangerous substance that has found its way into a product, gone through importation and been sold to customers, all without anyone picking it up. Now, this sometimes happens with kids’ toys too, but of course since this is a recreational drug we have a potential moral panic on our hands. And who better than Peter Dunne to stir it up with talk of unregulated markets and cowboys. However, do we think this will get Kronic regulated in a way that it can be tested to ensure quality and safety for customers, that it will be labelled to show what’s in it and regularly checked to make sure nobody’s sneaking anything dodgy in there? I doubt it, and here’s why.

tl;dr on that article – our drug laws are a dog’s breakfast consisting of the Medicines Act, the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act, and the Misuse of Drugs Act. They contradict each other and pretty much make it impossible for governments to regulate something sensibly and within a realistic timeframe. It’s much simpler to ban it.

This year, the Law Commission released its report Controlling and Regulating Drugs, in which it recommended a full review of the classification system, a focus on harm, and specifically addressing how to deal with new recreational substances. It’s widely seen as a progressive view which could genuinely reduce harm from substances already illegal, and risk from new substances.

Matt Bowden’s response: “The current regime means that the market is flooded with untested and potentially unsafe products. Consumers often have no way to find out what they are taking. Requiring the manufacturers of psychoactives to show that their products can be safely used is a vital step in minimising the harm caused by drug abuse. Stargate recommended that the same toxicity testing used for testing new pharmaceutical medicines be used and the Law Commission have adopted this suggestion as the best way forward.” So essentially, “Yay! Now let’s get on with it.”

Minister of Justice Simon Power’s response: “There’s not a single, solitary chance that as long as I’m the Minister of Justice we’ll be relaxing drug laws in New Zealand.” Essentially *fingers in ears* “LALALALALALA”

So when Peter Dunne starts talking about cowboys, and about how this wonderful idea he’s had about regulating substances and testing them is so revolutionary and great, and how the likes of Matt Bowden are putting people at risk for their own profits, please take it with a grain of salt.

I have some idea who created this situation and who’s tried to change it and who’s resisted it in favour of more harmful approaches. And yes, Matt Bowden wants to make money, but it’s pretty clear he wants to do it without killing people. Can our government say the same thing?

The Independent Council on Drug Harms

You may remember the government advisor Prof. Nutt who got sacked for reporting relative harms of various drugs and promoting evidence based drug reform. Nutt has gone on to found the The Independent Council on Drug Harms with 20 other specialists, some of whom were on the British Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) before they quit in retaliation to Prof. Nutt’s removal from the advisory council.

Context from the BBC article: “Prof Nutt was sacked by Home Secretary Alan Johnson last October after publicly disagreeing with the government’s decision to re-classify cannabis as a Class B drug and not to downgrade ecstasy.”

MPAA don’t want you to think drugs could be fun

The New York Times reports how marijuana use in “It’s Complicated” contributes to its R rating:

“The romantic comedy “It’s Complicated” arrived at the multiplex on Friday complete with an R rating, ranking it in the same category as “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” and “Basic Instinct” in the eyes of the Motion Picture Association of America.”

The article goes on to say that there is no violence and the bedroom scenes are decidedly tame. The only real reason it’s R-rated is due to the marijuana use, and apparently this is making some conservative segments of America happy with the ratings board for a change:

Dan Isett, director of public policy for the Parents Television Council, which also monitors movies, said “It’s Complicated” was a “rare instance” of the board getting a rating correct.
“The last I checked, smoking pot was still illegal, illicit behavior,” he said. “Too often material gets rated lower than it should be.”

Of course, Mr. Isett ignores that activities like physical assault and shooting people are also illegal, but that they routinely show up in PG-13 movies, and I’d wager such an act of violence causes more harm to society than smoking pot.

Solution to Mexico’s drug crisis? Lift prohibition.

An article in the Wall Street Journal is reporting that some advisors are saying “the U.S. should legalize marijuana, let cocaine pass through the Caribbean and take the profit motive out of the drug trade”.

Interesting points:

Forbes magazine put Mexican drug lord Joaquin “Shorty” Guzman as No. 401 on the world’s list of billionaires.

Imagine if some of that profit went towards treating drug use as a health issue?

Mexico’s deputy agriculture minister, Jeffrey Jones, told some of the country’s leading farmers that they could learn a thing or two from Mexican drug traffickers. “It’s a sector that has learned to identify markets and create the logistics to reach them,” he said. Days later, Mr. Jones was forced to resign. “He may be right,” one top Mexican official confided, “but you can’t say things like that publicly.”

It seems Prof. Nutt isn’t the only one being sacked for being rational about the drug debate.

Oh, and by the way, if you think it’s just those of us that can responsibly use drugs that are after a lift of prohibition, think again. The very same people who’ve been on the front-line of the war against drugs are saying the same thing.

Update: It seems Joaquin Guzman is also the #41 most powerful person. Would he still be the world’s most powerful person and the USA’s most wanted man if it wasn’t for prohibition?

The Australian firewall

Currently there is a big hoohah about the Australian web firewall. Why is this of interest to us, as proponents of drug reform? Well, in the linked article it says:

“Content defined under the National Classification Scheme as Refused Classification includes child sexual abuse imagery, bestiality, sexual violence, detailed instruction in crime, violence or drug use and/or material that advocates the doing of a terrorist act.”

Notice the reference to content that’s related to drug use. Do you think Erowid will be filtered? Given that there is a plethora of drug information which includes chemical synthesis, I wouldn’t be surprised. Especially since Australia has in the past been one of the few countries that refused classification of Fallout 3 due to it depicting drug use. This seems strange because plenty of games have power-ups (mushrooms from Mario Brothers anyone?), perhaps the mistake Fallout 3 made was to depict this as actually have a realistic method of implementing these power ups? And surely the impacts of negative consequence and addiction in the game probably scared the censors too, since it’d be terrible thing for people to be forewarned of the potential dangers of drug use right?

Now the Australian government can prevent the public from doing their own research about drugs, and they won’t have to be pestered by the public finding out the relative safety of illegal substances versus alcohol in society. Instead, they can feed people whatever misinformation they like.

Ecstasy may not contain MDMA – nah, really?

This is not news. The fact that ecstasy is part of an illegal and therefore unregulated market has left users exposed to this problem for years. What has suddenly made it news in New Zealand is the fact that since the banning of BZP a year ago, the problem has become much more marked. Previously, users had a legal, semi-regulated alternative. Adulterated pills certainly existed, but the ability to walk away from them put users in a much stronger position, in that producers who wanted return custom would have to have a reasonable quality product.

Now, it’s much easier to put a variety of different substances into a pill than it is to illegally import MDMA, and the vast majority of pills available on the market today are adulterated with other things. The problem here is that there is no longer an alternative, and people are now dealing solely with this unregulated market. Anyone who thinks the banning of BZP has stopped people seeking substances is delusional. As predicted, it’s simply created a situation where there’s a demand for a scarce substance, all of the advantages are in favour of the supplier, and people are taking what they can get from people for whom there is absolutely no comeback for supplying goods that are ‘not as advertised.’

So what can be done about this situation?

Well, if this were a legal market, the government would step in under the Consumer Guarantees Act, or would regulate the market in the interest of safety. But this is not a legal market, the majority of people think that drugs are bad and therefore anyone who gets hurt obviously deserves it, and the government is afraid of taking steps to make people safer when breaking the law, because it will mean they are seen as ‘encouraging’ drug use. So the government will do squat to ensure the safety of users.

That leaves it up to the users to ensure their own safety as much as they can. This is no mean task. How does one know, when purchasing a substance, that its contents are the relatively safe MDMA, and not Ajax (as stated in the article), some other chemical such as BZP or 2CB, or even Panadol?

Well, according to this report from the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction, there are three useful ways of checking the contents, and therefore the safety, of pills sold as ecstasy: pill reports, colour reagent testing, and chromatography. All of these are available in New Zealand, although chromatography is not as available as it seems to be in Europe (see the section of the report relating to ’15 minute’ chromatography tests at dance parties). Chromatography is still a lab-based test, which takes time and is therefore not particularly useful to a user who wants to know what’s in their pill before they take it.

So that leaves us with pill reports and reagent testing. Pill reports are definitely useful in terms of informing people of ‘bad’ pills, but an inherent problem with pill reports has arisen in the last year – duplicate batches. A type of pill can be reported as ‘good’, and sometimes these pills have even been chromatography tested to contain MDMA – and immediately the colour and stamp of the pill is copied as someone cashes in on the reputation of the ‘good’ pills. The user has no way of knowing from the reports which type they have, and therefore can’t use reports as a definitive guide as to the safety of their substance.

Enter the testing kits. Erowid has a comprehensive FAQ regarding Marquis, one of the more common kits available (yes, these are available in New Zealand). A word of warning is included here. It’s true, Marquis will not identify MDMA in a pill, only the possible presence of MDMA-like substances. Nor will it indicate the amount of the substance contained in the pill. Therefore, it would be very unwise to use Marquis to ‘guarantee’ that a pill contains MDMA. However, what it can do effectively, is identify pills that do not contain MDMA, and also the presence of adulterants. Apparently BZP is very easy to identify using Marquis.

So hypothetically, a user could test a pill with a reagent kit, and find out that their pill doesn’t contain MDMA, or may contain MDMA but also has something suspect in it. What now? Well, the user then has to make a decision about their own safety. If they have bought the pill there is the option not to take it. The sensible option would be to send the pill to the testing lab (yes, New Zealand has one) so that it may be analysed using chromatography and others warned of the contents. If the user has not bought the pill but is testing for the purpose of buying, they have the option to not buy the pill.

This is an unregulated market. Yes that’s right, the wet dream of neoliberals everywhere. In basic economic terms it’s a supplier’s market because of the scarcity/demand thing, and this is leading to charlatans making profits from those desperate to purchase, while disregarding the safety of their customers. Sooner or later there will be a death, and those who think drugs are bad will be quick to blame the users and use it as justification to continue with the draconian system that has created the unsafe market in the first place. The only way to change this situation is to be willing to not make the purchase if the product is not of the quality the purchaser expects.

I recommend that anyone with an interest in the quality of pills sold as ecstasy, and therefore the safety of those using these pills, buy a testing kit and use it to identify adulterated pills and those not containing MDMA, and refuse to purchase anything that is not as advertised. Furthermore, refusing to purchase any further releases from the people who supplied those dangerous pills will send a message that users do care about their own safety, and will not allow a situation where they are being fleeced and their lives put at risk. I repeat, the government is not going to help in this situation, it is up to those who suffer the consequences of their decisions to keep themselves safe.

And if a pill does appear to contain an MDMA-like substance? That is still no guarantee that it’s safe to take it. Chromatography is the only effective way of identifying the contents of a pill. Therefore, the more pills that get donated to labs for testing, the better, the more information makes it back to the users.

Of course, to not take the pill or to walk away from a purchase takes willpower. To donate a pill for lab testing takes willpower too. I’d like to suggest that anyone who finds themselves unable to do these things after discovering that their pill contains unidentified substances that are not MDMA, might want to consider their drug use as a whole in the context of the risks they are prepared to take, and consider the potential consequences of a bad decision made for the sake of a fun night out.

“Prohibition won’t work” – What’s wrong with this statement?

An Australian ex-minister is backing drug reform. He mentions the prohibition of alcohol and its complete failure as a comparison. This is pretty common, and I agree – but I take issue with one of his statements:

“Why do they think prohibition of illicit drugs will work any better?”

So what’s the problem with that statement? Well, it implies that prohibition is a new thing by putting it in a future tense – ‘will work’? How about being realistic and saying ‘didn’t work’ or ‘hasn’t worked’? I know, semantics. But let’s have a look at some dates* around prohibition of some substances:

Opiates and cocaine – Harrison Narcotics Act 1914 – still prohibited.

LSD 1965 through to 1970 – still prohibited.

Cannabis 1911 (South Africa) through to 1935 (USA) – still prohibited.

Psilocybin 1921 (Belgium) through to 2008 (Finland) – it should be noted that psilocybin mushrooms are not prohibited under international law, but they are listed as Schedule I under the 1971 UN Convention on Psychotropic Substances -still prohibited in most countries.

MDMA 1985 (USA followed by UN) – still prohibited.

Amphetamine 1971 (Controlled Substances Act USA, followed by UN) – still prohibited.

Alcohol – 1919 – repeal of prohibition in 1933 when it was realised that prohibition of alcohol increased criminal activity and public harm.

I think that’s a pretty long and comprehensive history of prohibition of drugs. Some of them have been prohibited since before alcohol was. It only took 14 years for the harms associated with alcohol prohibition to become apparent enough to change the law. Yet with other drugs, it’s been allowed to go on, and on, and on.

Why does anyone think prohibition of other drugs has been any different from prohibition of alcohol? This report details some of the issues around prohibited drugs, and points out that they are the same issues that were encountered with the prohibition of alcohol. For those who don’t want to read the whole report, please at least read this page, which makes policy recommendations for dealing with illegal drugs, the first of which is recognition that prohibition doesn’t work.

Then have a look at the date at the top. Yes, that’s right – this report was made in 1972. Even back then it was recognised that prohibition was a failure – and why not? There’s a long and rich history of crime, death and addiction to draw on for evidence. Yet these recommendations have been resoundingly ignored by governments and the UN for nearly 40 years.

To me, this makes no sense. It makes no sense to go on considering prohibition in any kind of future tense, because in order to be realistic about drugs, it shouldn’t even be considered as an option any more – and there’s ample history to back that statement up. There is no place in the present world for dithering about whether or not prohibition ‘will work’ or ‘is working’ – it didn’t. It hasn’t. Time for a new approach that actually has a future.

* There are no references attached to these dates as the information is in the public domain and simple enough to find for anyone interested.

Illegitamacy of nootropic supported research?

More moral absolutes by “Scientific” Blogging. On the potential for drug screening of academic students, with comparison to the anti-doping rules in sports:

It could happen, says an article in the Journal of Medical Ethics. And maybe it should. Everyone recognizes the illegitimacy of chemically enhanced academic performance but these drugs will be near impossible to ban.

Illegitimacy? If someone contributes to a field of science and advances our understanding, but all of a sudden we realise they were taking a nootropic substance, does that make their research invalid? Unlike most sport, science and technology isn’t a game (… even if it sometimes feels like it for me!), so throwing in these assertions is really just sloppy reporting and showing how deeply the ingrained “drugs are bad” mantra as penetrated many facets of our society.

In fact, why not look at one the most prolific mathematicians of all time: Paul Erdős. Erdős was known to take amphetamines, and once his friend Ron Graham expressed concerned and bet him $500 that he could not stop taking the drug for a month.

Erdős won the bet, but complained during his abstinence that mathematics had been set back by a month: “Before, when I looked at a piece of blank paper my mind was filled with ideas. Now all I see is a blank piece of paper.” After he won the bet, he promptly resumed his amphetamine habit. (Book reference, via Wikipedia)

Does this long-term habit of taking a stimulant mean that a large portion of mathematical theory is now invalid? No, no it doesn’t.

After the War On Drugs: Blueprint For Regulation

Sometime today, Transform UK (for those who don’t know, these guys are in my opinion one of the most switched-on groups of drug reform lobbyists – check out their website!) are launching a book that proposes specific models of regulation for all types of currently illegal drugs.

One of the problems in drug reform debates is the ‘unknown quantity’ factor – it’s never been tried, and predictions range from “OMG total chaos!” to “Less health problems, more money for government = WIN!” and everything in between. This book offers some answers to the question “What could a post-prohibition regime look like?” – and explores regulation models along with the principles and rationale for them.

I strongly suggest downloading and reading this book, along with their other two major publications, Tools For The Debate and After the War On Drugs: Options For Control.

Transform UK successfully move beyond emotive ideology and reframe the argument in a rational way. Recommended reading.

Won’t anybody think of the children?

Drug testing in schools, a controversial topic at the best of times.

The gist of the article is that more kids have been caught with drugs in schools in New Zealand (particularly cannabis) than ever before, police having brought in sniffer dogs and drug testing.

Logic says that bringing in sniffer dogs and drug testing is likely to catch more people with drugs than just guessing, which is what they were doing before. Yet, for some reason the fact that more people have been caught seems to be evidence of some kind of drug epidemic. I’m not sure I agree with the reasoning here.

I suggest that the number of kids with drugs in school has probably increased along with the number of people using drugs in wider society,* and that catching more people is a sign of nothing other than they’ve got better at catching them.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t condone the use of drugs in children. I think anyone using drugs (including the legal ones such as caffeine and alcohol) before their brain, personality and identity has finished developing is taking a gamble with their future mental health, never mind the obvious difficulties associated with being stoned while trying to learn. All drug taking is risky, but kids aren’t equipped to assess those risks accurately.

However, prohibition is obviously not stopping them. It’s good to see some schools using ‘alternative action contracts’ – which involve some drug testing, some community work, some study into the use and abuse of their drug of choice, and at least some counselling. But most schools seem to be taking a ‘zero-tolerance’ approach, which kicks kids out (read: marginalises them) for using drugs, and places drugs squarely on the ‘crime’ side of the fence.

“Fair enough,” you say, “Drug use is a crime.” And you’re right. But sadly, giving the kid a bad school record so that the only schools that will take them are those that desperately need students, labelling them ‘druggie’ at an early age and then walking away going “Hey, we got rid of the deviant element, we’ve done our job, the kiddies are safe from these criminals” does not actually address any of the reasons these kids are using drugs in the first place.

Drugs are a health issue. They affect mental, physical and social health if abused. Those kids smoking drugs in the playground are not invading anyone else’s human rights, hurting others or stealing – where is the victim of this crime?. The only reason what they are doing is a crime is because legislation has made it so – but the effects on their health and learning are measurable and tangible. The victim of this crime is the same person as the perpetrator – yet the system continues to punish them as criminals instead of offering them help as victims.

To the schools, I suggest that continuing to condone punitive approaches to dealing with drug users is going to continue to achieve the same result – which is to discourage nobody, marginalise those who get caught, and set young people against those who would be educating them at an early age. Even the alternative contracts are seen by youth aid workers as ‘fair punishment’ – not ‘offering help’ or ‘addressing the issue’. It’s all about punishing people for wrongdoing.

Because if people do wrong, they’re bad people, right? And if they’re bad people, we don’t have to care about helping them because they don’t deserve it, right? It’s so much easier that way.

Schools are (in part) the places where people’s attitudes are formed. I wonder how many people caught up in this sniffer-dog, drug-test, expulsion/punishment situation will go on to have a friendly and cooperative, mutually beneficial relationship with society?

* Drug uptake has consistently increased under prohibition.

The Nutt Sack Affair

Much has been written all over the internet about the sacking of David Nutt, the chair of the UK Advisory Committee on the Misuse of Drugs, for his stance that cannabis, ecstasy and LSD are less harmful than alcohol or tobacco. Two of his fellow committee members also quit in protest, and more may follow.

I don’t think I need to say much here at all, but I’d like to point interested people to places where information is available. I’ve been watching the story unfold and have found it interesting to watch the government and popular press go into damage control mode. There have been some blatant attempts to cast doubt* on the science behind the paper that got him sacked.

I think probably the funniest bit was from the Home Office: “The home secretary expressed surprise and disappointment over Professor Nutt’s comments which damage efforts to give the public clear messages about the dangers of drugs.”

So, by presenting the scientific evidence to the public directly, Prof Nutt was damaging the clear message the government gives the public? Which clear message is that then? This one? (FRANK – which is, frankly, laughable). Or do they mean Gordon Brown saying that skunk is lethal? Because that’s such a clear message to all the people who’ve smoked it and not died. Obviously giving people facts is sullying this clear message. Oh and by the way, England – ‘new’ skunk has been around in Unzud since the mid-90s. Just saying.

I think these two articles are worth reading even if you don’t read anything else:

Bad Science on the Nutt Sack Affair.

BBC article on the politics around the sacking.

Anyway, if you think the whole Nutt thing is crazy like a crazy thing, there are a couple of things you can do: Join the Facebook group (25,000 as at today – that’s 20,000 since I joined it). Facebook doesn’t change anything but it does bring together a large group of similar-minded people, create networks and provide information as it comes to hand. And Sign the petition. You can do this if you’re an expatriate so you don’t have to be living in England. There are 5,000 signatures on it currently. Even if it doesn’t get Nutt reinstated, the response to this sacking will make governments worldwide aware that people are not just sitting there letting the wool be pulled over their eyes by politicians who would feed us misinformation about things that affect our health.

Because for once, it’s not just the folks with an interest in drug policy who are taking notice.

* Daily Mail. Nuff said.