Alcohol and cigarettes more dangerous than illegal drugs
Friday, October 30th, 2009
Ecstasy, LSD and cannabis are less dangerous than alcohol and cigarettes, according to the Government’s chief drug advisor.
Professor David Nutt, chairman of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, condemned the decision to make cannabis a Class B drug and criticised politicians for “distorting and devaluing” scientific research in the debate over illegal drugs.
Nutt said that some of Britain’s top scientific journals had published “horrific examples” of poor quality research on the supposed harm caused by some illicit drugs.
The professor has called for all drugs, both legal and illicit, to be classified according to the harm caused to the user.
According to Professor Nutt, smoking cannabis created only a “relatively small risk” of psychotic illness when compared to other drugs. He argued that to prevent one episode of schizophrenia it would be necessary to “stop 5,000 men aged 20 to 25 from ever using” cannabis.
He added: “Alcohol ranks as the fifth most harmful drug after heroin, cocaine, barbiturates and methadone. Tobacco is ranked ninth.
“Cannabis, LSD and ecstasy, while harmful, are ranked lower at 11, 14 and 18 respectively,” said Nutt in the paper for the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies at King’s College London.
Nutt has attracted controversy in the past when he clashed with former home secretary Jacqui Smith after he implied that the dangers of horseriding were no greater than taking ecstasy.
He publicly criticised Ms Smith for basing her decision to reclassify cannabis on the use of the “precautionary principle” because it sent mixed messages and undermined public faith in government science.
“I think we have to accept young people like to experiment – with drugs and other potentially harmful activities. We therefore have to provide more accurate and credible information. If you think that scaring kids will stop them using, you are probably wrong.”
Richard Garside, director of the centre for crime and justice, said Nutt’s briefing paper gave an insight into what drugs policy might look like if it was based on the research evidence rather than political or moral positioning.
However, James Brokenshire, the Conservative home affairs spokesman, said that Professor Nutt’s comments only contribute to the confusion over drug classification.
“Giving simple labels of levels of harm risk gives false impression of the dangers,” he said. “Drugs like GBL can be lethal if taken in combination with alcohol”.
“Rather than providing clearer evidence on the harms linked to illicit drugs, Professor Nutt is making an overtly political pitch and that isn’t helpful.”