Apart from the exponentially expanding list of slang names for mephedrone, there have been a couple of interesting new developments everyone should be aware of.
#1 - Gabrielle Price Died From Bronchopneumonia
Gabi has featured in pretty much every mephedrone-related news story these past few weeks, since she died at a party after consuming mephedrone and ketamine (and probably alcohol as well, although alcohol is so ingrained into our society it wouldn’t occur to anyone to report it). It turns out that Gabi actually died from bronchopneumonia following a group A streptococcal infection. Don’t get me wrong, this is nothing to be cheery about — a teenager still died. I’m just reporting this here because nowhere else will report it, since it’s no longer a story. Actually, if you read about another mephedrone article that mentions this girl, do everyone a favour and leave a link to this blog post in their comments.
This also doesn’t mean mephedrone is safer than we thought. Being on any drug isn’t a good idea if you also have a potentially fatal illness, never mind a cocktail of drugs in a party environment.
#2 - No One Ripped Their Balls Off
This is another piece of bullshit whipped out by the media at every opportunity: apparently, some young gentleman thought he saw centipedes crawling about his person and tore his balls off in (a totally proportionate) response. Turns out, this probably didn’t happen, since the “facts” were obtained from unsubstantiated reports on poor quality forums and chat rooms. Well done, the media!
#3 - West Yorkshire Police Have No Idea What The Fuck They're Talking About
Here’s what they had to say following a poster launch designed to raise awareness.
“MCAT is a substance which is currently legal, however; it is predominately used for plants and can have quite an adverse effect if consumed by a human.
“We know that this substance is often used by young people, particularly between the ages of 14 to 25. These posters are therefore designed to reach this particular generation and help them to make an informed decision.
“Police and partners in Kirklees will be placing them in various locations frequented by young people and hopefully they will take in the message.
“MCAT is often referred to as a ‘legal high’ and gives the impression that because it’s legal, it is safe. There are number of substances, which are not controlled drugs or illegal which can be abused. We would always advise against ingesting anything into your body which is not for a bone fide medical reason. MCAT in particular has the potential to damage both mental and physical health.
Their first mistake might be hard to spot, but MCAT means “methcathinone” which is NOT mephedrone (4-MMCAT). Their second mistake needs no more explaination or emphasis than a simple emboldening of their own words.
ITV’s Central News decided to do an “investigation” into legal highs, and after reading about us in The Observer, they thought they should probably talk to us. While you do get to see an excellent close-up of my untrimmed beard, Jo (the misses) is the star of the show:
Other than Jo’s point, the rest is pretty rubbish, including the terrible audio quality — sorry about that! We totally expected it would be a negative piece overall, but someone has to stick up for the industry though, right?
This is also one more thing for the CV — our own Mellow Yellow has been on telly!
I don’t know how much people outside “the industry” have heard about mephedrone, but by all accounts, it’s exploded in popularity over the past few months. In the last three months, there’s been at least 50 news stories reposted to Drugs-Forum on the topic, and probably quite a few more that haven’t been picked up. We’ve got reports of teens dying, 11 year olds taking the stuff and a guy ripping his balls off — all the classic examples of the media whipping up an unnecessary (and untrue) shit storm. I’ve also read lots of anecdotes about the drug’s prevalence among students, friendship groups and even dealers of illegal drugs (points for diversification!). Since my articles on JWH-018 have been reasonably popular and stimulated some interesting discussion, I felt it was about time we gave mephedrone the same treatment.
Mephedrone is not only cheap and legal, but it’s also incredibly effective. It’s a short-acting stimulant that feels something like a mixture of cocaine and ecstasy. If that wasn’t enough to explain its popularity, then the icing on the cake is the almost complete lack of a comedown the next day when used in moderation. Purities of over 99% make another great selling point when compared with similar illegal drugs.
Mephedrone is a white, crystalline powder with little to no smell. The term “Mephedrone” comes from methyl–ephedrone, describing the chemical structure. Other names for it include:
- 4-MethylMethCathinone (methcathinone is another name for ephedrone)
- MCAT (This is incorrect, but people use it anyway)
- Bubbles (seems to be a brand name for capsules containing it and methylone, another research chemical)
Effects include an initial euphoria, which tapers off to a milder stimulation. Mephedrone does seem to oil social situations rather well and get everyone talking, laughing and having a good time, especially during the initial euphoria. Several users have compared it to cocaine, but some how less jittery and “arrogant”, while others will compare it to a more rushy ecstasy (which has to be a good thing, given the current state of the MDMA market). Actually, the effects seem to depend very much on dose and your chosen route of administration.
The most common ways to get this stuff into your blood are snorting it and eating it. As you can probably imagine, eating it will give a longer, less intense experience, while doing lines of it will give a much shorter, more intense buzz and make you want to keep taking it, but we’ll get to that later. Oh, I should probably mention that snorting it feels not too dissimilar from being raped in the sinuses by a Portuguese Man o’ War, particularly for your first line.
Other reported methods of administration include shoving it up your arse, requiring less than an oral dose and peaking somewhere between an oral or insufflated dose, and intravenously injecting it, which apparently isn’t that great, having a similar effect profile to being snorted with a million times the risk.
A single oral dose would typically be between 150 mg and 300 mg, while lines can range from 50 mg to a monster 150 mg rail.
If only we knew! Unfortunately, no one knows anything for certain, so we’re forced to do a bit of guesswork. If it feels like a cross between MDMA and cocaine, then we can assume that there’s some serotonin and dopamine involvement. The apparent addictiveness of mephedrone (more on that later, srsly), along with talkativeness also points to dopamine pathways, while the similarity of some side effects compared with serotonin depletion (taking too much MDMA or abruptly discontinuing selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors [SSRIs]) points to the serotonin pathways.
I would love some more information on this, so if you ever come across anything in the future, please report back!
There are a number of misconceptions surrounding mephedrone, which we should clear up:
Legal does not mean safe
While it seems that users can take vast quantities of the stuff and still function, we don’t know what the long term effects of mephedrone use will entail. A handful of people have died from taking it too. While the number is tiny compared with alcohol, it’s still always a good thing to remember.
Purity isn’t necessarily accurate
Mephedrone bought online will certainly be purer than illegal drugs bought on the street, but claims of 99.9% purity may not be true. Since it’s not sold for human consumption (like everything legal and fun), I’m not sure an accurate purity measure is required. Also, that 0.01% could be some deadly poison. It probably won’t be, but it might!
“Plant Food” might not be mephedrone
Lots of those news stories I’ve mentioned above have listed a million different “street names” for this drug, including “Plant Food”. No one is actually calling it plant food, it’s just how it, and lots of other compounds like it, are sold. If you’ve obtained anything psychoactive packaged as plant food, make sure you know what the hell it is you’re taking!
Side effects can be many and varied, some serious and some not. Mephedrone shares a number of the typical side effects you’d expect to find with any stimulant, such as:
- Increased heart rate (tachycardia)
- Raised blood pressure (hypertension)
- Not wanting to sleep (insomnia)
- Not wanting to eat (anorexia)
- Chewing/grinding teeth (bruxism)
- Moving your eyes loads (nystagmus)
More mephedrone-specific, and so perhaps more serious side effects include
- Turning blue at the extremities & feeling cold (vasoconstriction)
- Pains in the chest, throat and nose
- Nosebleeds when snorted, especially with prolonged or frequent use
The more you use, the more the side effects become apparent and the initial pleasant effects diminish. Also, significant evidence is coming forward suggesting circulation issues are not just vasoconstriction, but something more serious — autoimmune vasculitis, where the immune system attacks your own body. This would seem to account for some of the odd and infrequent side effects, such as bruising or turning blue at the joints. Current reports suggest that this isn’t an issue of a dodgy supply for some people compared with the rest, but rather a small percentage of the population are at risk, probably because of some genetic differences. If you’ve noticed this, stop taking mephedrone! This condition will only get worse the more you consume. Add to that the usual stimulant-induced vasoconstriction, and you could find yourself with some serious problems.
Mephedrone can be addictive!
- It’s easy to have several large sessions per week because of the cheapness and lack of comedown. Several people have reported taking over 20g per month.
- It’s easy to keep taking it, especially when snorted, so a single line can turn into 5g session easily if you lack self control. There have been a few reports of people taking 5-7g over a 48 hour long single session.
- Tolerance can also develop, so more is required for the same effect.
Safe Usage Tips
Mephedrone is not 100% safe, but then again, nothing is. To make sure you’re as safe as possible, here are a few tips:
- Don’t buy it in bulk — 80% of people won’t be able to resist the charms of a massive bag of the stuff. Sure, you may save a few quid on the gram, but if your consumption sky-rockets, you’re not saving anything.
- If you do buy in bulk, limit yourself — it’s all too easy to “just have one more line”, so perhaps let your friend look after your supply for you, or if you’re going out, take a predetermined quantity out with you and stick to it.
- Don’t snort it if you think there’s any chance you will become addicted to it — this route of administration makes you want to keep on taking it much more than an oral dose, despite the snotty nose and watering eyes.
- Eat healthily before and after — your body needs a good supply of nutrients, vitamins, etc to stay healthy and replenish your neurotransmitters. Forcing yourself to eat, especially during long binges, is essential. At least munch some vitamin tablets or something.
- Take some magnesium supplements — this helps relax your muscles and stop all the jaw clenching and chewing that goes with most stimulants.
- If you’re going to snort it, blow your nose soon after to clear out any powder — drugs aren’t absorbed from your nostrils, so you want to get rid of it. I’d also suggest giving your nose a wash with either a spray bottle and some water, or by cramming some wet tissue up there with your head tilted back.
I just listened to the worst thing I’ve heard so far about the Nutt Sack scandal — BBC Radio 4’s “The Report”, that aired on Thursday. Not only is this as balanced as a lone fat guy on a see-saw, but their arguments compel you to shout at the computer as you listen along. This program was more damaging to my mental health than any kind of “skunk” might be. My favourite bits are when the reporter asks if he can get high by smelling some cannabis and when this woman’s son has a “schizoid episode” because he robbed his mum’s jewellery. Unbe-fucking-lievable! A BBC Radio producer actually got in touch, and encouraged me to pass the link around (excellent marketing there by the BBC, and for once I’m not being sarcastic) so here goes: you can listen to it here.
So, let’s have some fun! I’ll be giving away a 5g bag of Mellow Yellow to the best comment on this post deconstructing this program. You can pick your favourite bits or you can pick apart the entire thing bit by excruciatingly painful bit. Points will be awarded for thoroughness, any references to relevant facts and the cut of one’s jib. I’ll pick the best one by Dec 14th.
I’m very excited! Coffeesh0p has just brought out its own brand of delicious incense — Mellow Yellow!
I’ve never done anything like this before, so working out how to “release a product” was an interesting experience. My first problem was finding some decent bags to put it in. I spent about a million hours searching Google and emailing people trying to find the perfect packaging, but everything I came across was unacceptable for one reason or another. I eventually settled for some 3×5″ resealable antistatic bags, which do look pretty cool, but are perhaps a little bit big. They’ve also got some nasty printing on the one side, but that’s ingeniously covered up by the labels we had printed. To a “professional incense merchant”, they may look a little tacky, but most people should be pleased. I’m sure customers would rather I save a little bit of money on packaging and pass the saving along to them.
The incense itself is really light and fluffy, so you do get quite a large volume of it. It’s mainly yellow, hence the name, but with flecks of orange wild dagga flowers, blue lotus petals and purple lavender. It burns very evenly and its relaxing effects can last for several hours. This is definitely my favourite incense on the market at the moment — that might sound like bollocks, but I’m not going to put our name to something terrible am I?
I probably won’t give away any on here, but we’ll include a free 1g sample with all orders over £30, while stocks last.
It turns out that not all MPs are useless! If you remember, I wrote to my MP about this whole Dave Nutt business, and she got back to me in this post. She’s since been in touch again, forwarding me a copy of the letter she’s sent to Alan Johnson:
Further to our recent email correspondence about the sacking of Prof. David Nutt, below is a copy of the letter I have sent to Alan Johnson today. I will send you a copy of the reply I receive.
Next week I am co-sponsoring a cross-party event with Evan Harris (Lib Dem) and Peter Bottomley (Con) at which Prof. Nutt will be speaking to MPs.
Regards, Lynne Jones
And here is that letter:
Professor David Nutt
As I was unable to be in the House to hear your Statement on Monday regarding the removal of Professor Nutt as Chair of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD), I wanted to write to you to express my concerns.
I have seen a copy of your letter sacking Professor Nutt on the BBC website and I have read the Hansard of Monday’s debate.
During the debate on your Statement you infer that Prof. Nutt was removed for not being clear when speaking personally at a lecture to Kings College (London) that he was not speaking for the ACMD and for publishing documents relating to the Government framework without giving the Home Office first sight of them. You also say it was unacceptable for him to criticise Government Ministers and Government policy.
On the issue of speaking personally or on behalf of the ACMD, I note from a report in the 3 November edition of the Financial Times that Richard Garside, director of the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies at King’s College, who invited Prof. Nutt to give his lecture, stressed that:
“at no point did he make reference to his role as chair of the ACMD, nor did he give the impression that he was speaking on behalf of the ACMD”
Given this, on what basis are you arguing that it wasn’t ‘clear’ that he was speaking personally? Surely it would be a matter for the members of the ACMD to complain if they felt this was the case (when in fact members of that Committee have resigned in protest at your action against Prof. Nutt).
On the question of publishing documents, unless you want to stop advisers expressing their views publicly, what are the reasons for the Government insisting on first sight of material published on the subject areas advisers give advice on? Can you clarify what the documents were that Prof. Nutt published without first showing them to the Home Office and what action your Department would have taken had you had first sight of the documents? Specifically would the Home Office have taken any action to change the content of the documents in question?
In the House on 2 November you said that whilst Prof. Nutt had the right to ‘express his views’ he did not have the right to criticise the Government and its drugs policy framework. Isn’t this putting restrictions on his right to express himself independently in his role as an academic with expertise in this area? It seems to me that this is different from campaigning against Government policy as you have accused him of doing. If the Government wants independent evidence-based scientific advice doesn’t it have to face the consequences if it ignores the advice given? Why didn’t you just defend your policy if you have confidence in it?
I should also be grateful for your response to the widespread criticism that your decision has received from the scientific community and the concern that you have jeopardised the relationship between independent scientific advisers and Government. In particular, I noted the letter in the 2 November edition of the Times from Ian Stolerman, Emeritus Professor of Behavioural Pharmacology from the Institute of Psychiatry, King’s College London:
“All scientists who work without pay to advise the Government must surely be considering their positions.”
And no doubt you will have heard Professor Colin Blakemore, former head of the Medical Research Council, on the Today programme and his comment that:
“This is not just an issue about drugs: the Government depends very widely on advice from experts who give their time freely.”
Critics of your decision are backed up by the recent Government response to the Innovation, Science and Skills Committee’s Eighth Report of Session 2008-09, published only a matter of days before the sacking of Prof Nutt, which states:
“The Government agrees that the independence of science advisers is critical. It was precisely for this reason that the GCSA wrote to then-Home Secretary Jacqui Smith to express concern over her criticism, in Parliament, of Professor Nutt (Chairman of ACMD) with regard to an article he published in a peer-reviewed journal“
I note that despite this official Government declaration of concern over criticism by your predecessor of the ACMD Chair, on Monday, you referred to Jacqui’s criticism of Prof. Nutt as if this somehow justified your own action against him. Do you accept that your dismissal of Prof. Nutt contradicts the Government’s position as outlined in this recent Response to the ISS Committee Report?
Turning to the issue of the classification of cannabis itself, in 2007, before the announcement in 2008 that cannabis was to be reclassified back to class B, I tabled an Early Day Motion about the dangers of cannabis use that I would like to bring to your attention (text printed on the back of this letter). From this you will see that, whilst I accept that there are hazards associated with cannabis use, as does Prof. Nutt, this would not of itself justify the reclassification to class B, as classification is about relative hazard – the very point of Prof. Nutt’s comments.
Furthermore, in the EDM, I also pointed out that the downgrading of cannabis to class C from class B in 2004 was actually associated with reduced cannabis use by young people, as evidenced by the following table produced by your own Department with information from British Crime Survey respondents:
As you of course know, cannabis was reclassified from B to C with effect from January 2004 and reclassified back to B in December 2008 with effect from January 2009. As you will note from the above statistics for this period, the proportion of 16 – 24 year-old respondents declaring cannabis use in the previous year fell from 25.3% in 2003⁄04 to 18% in 2007⁄08. I was therefore very disappointed by your response to the question put to you during the debate on your 2 November Statement by George Howarth:
Mr. George Howarth (Knowsley, North and Sefton, East) (Lab): If my right hon. Friend had taken Professor Nutt’s advice and lowered the categorisation of cannabis, and if as a result more young people had started to use it, would not that have been irresponsible?
Alan Johnson: Yes, I think it would have been. That is why my predecessor decided not to take that advice and why that decision has been endorsed by this Parliament.
I would be interested to know why you did not base your answer on the statistical evidence on cannabis usage rates amongst young people during the period when categorisation was lowered. Were you unaware of the above data or were you aware but misleading the House in your reply by your suggestion that it was because more young people started using cannabis when it was classified downwards to class C that Jacqui reclassified the drug upwards?
Either way, your failure to refer to your own published data on this particular question serves to reinforce the point that Government is ignoring evidence on issues relating to drug classification.
LYNNE JONES MP
Brilliant! When I first got in touch, I had no idea she’d even respond, let alone write a letter to Alan Johnson! She’ll copy me in on his reply too, should he ever write back. Somehow I don’t think he will…
If you haven’t written to your MP yet, please do so. Details on how to get in touch with them can be found here.
This week has been a massive middle finger not only to every single scientist, but also to legal highs users all across the UK. Today, I’m going to be moaning about both.
Firstly, as everyone will know Prof. David Nutt was sacked as head of the Advisory Council for the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD). Ever since this news broke, I’ve not been able to shake the image of Prof. Nutt getting a bollocking from Malcolm out of The Thick Of It. On its own, this isn’t big news; people get sacked all the time. But the reason why he got sacked is gobsmacking.
It all started in 2008 when the government decided cannabis was far more deadly than ever before, what with all these new “skunk” strains appearing, and reclassified it back up to Class B. Of course, because the cannabis was “much stronger” than in previous years (for more on why that’s total horse shit, read Bad Science), everyone who smokes it will get schizophrenia, or so Gordon “Golden” Brown would have us believe. Actually, he just pulled that straight out of his arse. Prof. Nutt, et al., wise to this bullshittery, recommended against the reclassification and was ignored. More recently, Dave (I’m sure I can call him Dave) published a paper comparing the dangers of ecstasy with the dangers of horse riding, finding that horse riding was actually more dangerous — “Equasy — An overlooked addiction with implications for the current debate on drug harms”. This wasn’t a piece of propaganda published by some idgit with an agenda; it was a paper in a peer-reviewed journal, alongside other factually accurate and interesting publications — all Dave did was let the evidence speak for itself. Dave’s final piss-take of current policy came when he delivered a lecture on entitled “Estimating drug harms: a risky business?” [pdf; 366 kb], basically saying the same thing that this episode of Horizon says — heroin, cocaine, barbiturates and methadone are the only drugs more harmful than alcohol, while LSD, ecstasy and cannabis are all less harmful that both alcohol and tobacco. As a result, Alan Johnson, our beloved home secretary and ex-postman, has lost confidence in the advice given by Dave, with over 40 years of relevant scientific background in the subject. Here are my top quotes (and interpretations) from Alan “I’m a fucking moron” Johnson:
This was not about Prof Nutt’s views, which I respect though I don’t agree with them.
This means “I don’t understand the importance of evidence” or “I disagree with the evidence because it doesn’t support my conclusion”
You cannot have a chief adviser… campaigning against government
This means “We’re not willing to accept advice that goes against the political message we’re trying to send”
There are not many kids in my constituency in danger of falling off a horse – there are thousands at risk of being sucked into a world of hopeless despair through drug addiction.
This means “What goes on in my constituency is applicable to the entire country.”
This last (and most recent quote) is my favourite. Not only does it show an unbelievable arrogance, it also shows a deep misunderstanding of either the research or his constituency. Horse riding kills more people than ecstasy — that’s a fact. Is he arguing that thousands of people are at risk from a hitherto-unheard-of ecstasy addiction? Bollocks! Or is he perhaps saying that all drugs are a problem? In that case, the comparison to horse riding isn’t fair, since that only applies to ecstasy, not all drugs. Who’d have thought that one single sentence could make someone look so stupid? Oh, and one final point — what about cheap, legal alcohol? I wonder how many people in his constituency have been sucked into hopeless despair though alcohol addiction?
Why Dave Is In The Right
Firstly, the Code o’ Practice for Scientific Advisory Committees states:
Rules of conduct need not affect a member’s freedom to represent his or her field of expertise in a personal capacity. The committee’s rules however should generally oblige members to make clear when they are not speaking in their capacity as committee members.
Guess what — the lecture was given as the Professor of Neuropsychopharmacology at Imperial College, London, not as chairman of the ACMD. This was made perfectly clear. BAM! Next, the Misuse of Drugs act includes the following within the ACMD’s remit:
educating the public (and in particular the young) in the dangers of misusing such drugs and for giving publicity to those dangers
BOOM! If that includes setting the current drugs policy straight in order to better communicate the relative harms of illegal drugs, then well done Dave for doing the job you were hired to do!
So far, other than Dave, Dr Les King and Marrion Walker have resigned. Les is part-time advisor to the Department of Health, and was a senior chemist on the ACMD, who’s responsible for drafting the legislation I’ll talk about shortly. Marrion is the clinical director of Berkshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust’s substance misuse service and was the Royal Pharmaceutical Society’s representative on the ACMD. As you can imagine, the resignation of these key figures has been a massive blow to the ACMD’s future credibility.
With any luck, the rest of them will resign next Monday, and no other respectable scientist will take their place.
What YOU Can Do About It
Facebook has been the primary theatre of action in this conflict between reason and the idiot brigade in power. If you use Facebook, you might like to join the “Support and Reinstate Professor David Nutt: We want an evidence based drugs policy.” group, which has been set up by the Students for Sensible Drug Policy UK. There are tonnes of comments, discussion, links ‘n’ all that, and it’s currently just over 8600 members strong. Alan Johnson’s Facebook page was public until very recently. Last time I went on there, it was covered in comments informing him of his own stupidity.
There are also a couple of worthwhile petitions UK residents can sign:
And finally, I’d suggest writing to your local MP. Obviously, an actual letter would carry more weight than an email, but if you’ve got 10 mins to spare, you can use the website WriteToThem to find your local MP and fire off an email. I sent one off yesterday and got an encouraging reply this morning. I copied one someone else wrote from that Facebook group above and edited a few bits here ‘n’ there, and if you do the same, please edit my letter before you send it — that website won’t send identical messages. Here’s what I wrote:
Dear Lynne Jones,
I am writing to express my disappointment at the recent sacking of Professor David Nutt, Chair of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs by the current Home Secretary, Alan Johnson.
It is the role and duty of a scientist to objectively determine truth and fact about the way in which the world works, and to present the evidence demonstrating those facts. Whether such facts are convenient, inconvenient, comfortable or uncomfortable or happen to contradict government policy is irrelevant. A scientist influenced by political expediency is not a scientist.
I fully understand that advisers advise and that ministers are responsible for decisions on policy, but the terms of reference of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, as laid down in the Misuse of Drugs Act, 1971 include the following:
“educating the public (and in particular the young) in the dangers of misusing such drugs and for giving publicity to those dangers; ”
Professor Nutt has made public remarks about the relative risks of the use of substances currently illegal in the UK, comparing them to other legal substances and other common leisure pursuits. This fulfils the remit, quoted above, of ‘educating the public’, especially since the current drugs classification system does nothing to highlight the relative harms of illegal drugs.
In this case, the facts, as determined by the scientific method, may well cause many members of the public to question current Government policy. This is only right and proper in a democracy.
By asking Professor Nutt to stand down, the Home Secretary has sent a message that he finds it acceptable to disrupt the education of the public and that he is willing to suppress those who have a clear remit to present the public with facts in order to do this.
It is also worth noting that the document: “Putting Science and Engineering at the Heart of Government Policy: Government Response to the Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Committee’s Eighth Report of Session 2008-09 — Science and Technology Committee ” states the following in Appendix One:
“SAC members should not be criticised for publishing scientific papers or making statements as professionals, independent of their role as Government advisers. (Paragraph 64)
“The Government agrees that the independence of science advisers is critical. It was precisely for this reason that the GCSA wrote to then-Home Secretary Jacqui Smith to express concern over her criticism, in Parliament, of Professor Nutt (Chairman of ACMD) with regard to an article he published in a peer-reviewed journal. ”
To my mind, the actions of the Home Secretary are undemocratic, dishonest, an attempted suppression of freedom of speech and a middle finger to anyone who understands and appreciates the scientific method.
Should not the Home Secretary now be considering his position?
I would be grateful for your thoughts.
Here’s her reply:
I agree with you. When the issue if reclassifying cannabis back to class B in 2007, I tabled the following parliamentary motion:
RESPONDING TO THE DANGERS OF CANNABIS USE
That this House supports the mental health charity Rethink in its call for a public education campaign to convey the dangers of cannabis use; offers this support in light of the recent review of research published in the Lancet, which concludes that frequency of cannabis use increases the risk of psychotic illness such as schizophrenia by up to 40 per cent.; calls for clarity on the cannabis debate, particularly regarding the strength of skunk varieties of the drug; believes that reclassifying cannabis will not in itself lead to a decrease in the number of people who use it; notes that the proportion of young people using cannabis has actually fallen since it was reclassified in January 2004 from 25.3 per cent. of 16 to 24 year olds in 2003-04 to 20.9 per cent. in 2006-07; and urges the Government to commit to the development of a long-term awareness and information campaign with health promotion rather than a change in the law as the main lever to reduce use, in addition to funding research into the link between cannabis use and mental ill health.
If search under cannabis on my website, link below, you will find further information on my views and a report of a meeting of the All-Party Group on Mental Health on cannabis and schizophrenia.
I will pass on your comments to the Home Secretary to get his response.
Personally, as a former scientist myself, I despair at the selective use of science by colleagues from all parties and this latest example will no doubt give me further opportunities to raise my concerns. [My emphasis]
LYNNE JONES MP
House of Commons
That’s certainly much better than I’d have hoped!
Legal Highs ban
Next up is the BZP/GBL/Spice ban — here’s the proposal [pdf; 46 kb]. It looks like it goes into effect on December 23rd. I can’t give much more detail yet, since I’m not really a chemist, but it looks like all the decent smoking mixes will be gone by then. Better stock up before Christmas.
Equasy – An overlooked addiction with implications for the current debate on drug harms
DJ Nutt Psychopharmacology Unit, University of Bristol, Bristol, UK.
Journal of Psychopharmacology 23(1) (2009) 3 – 5
The regulation of illicit drugs in the UK is via the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act [MDAct]. That of legal drugs is via the Medicines Act if they have clinical utility or via trade regulations in the case of tobacco, alcohol, food supplements and vitamins. When a new drug comes along and concerns are expressed about potential harm, its status is reviewed in the UK by the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs [ACMD] which has a statutory duty to advise the UK government on the harms and risks so that appropriate policy can be generated. Typically this leads to a decision to classify it or not under the MDAct.
In recent years, following a systematic review by the ACMD, ketamine (Nutt and Williams, 2004) has been brought under the act into class C whilst khat (Williams and Nutt, 2005) was considered not to require regulation. Recently benzylpiperazine and related stimulant drugs have been reviewed and recommended for a class C status in agreement with the EMCDDA risk analysis (EMCDDA, 2007). Similarly cannabis classification was reviewed in 2002 (ACMD, 2002) and downgraded to class C, a decision subsequently endorsed by two further reviews (Rawlins, et al., 2005, 2008). Ecstasy is currently in class A, a position challenged by the House of Commons Select Committee on Science and Technology (2006) which has lead to an ongoing review of its status.
The UK MDAct classifies drugs into three classes, A, B, C on the basis of their harmfulness: Class A (the most harmful) includes cocaine, diamorphine (heroin), 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA, ecstasy) lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) and methamphetamine. Class B (an intermediate category) includes amphetamine, barbiturates, codeine and methylphenidate. Class C (less harmful) includes benzodiazepines, anabolic steroids, gamma-hydroxybutyrate (GHB) and cannabis. This system of classification serves to determine the penalties for the possession and supply of controlled substances. The current maximum penalties are as follows: Class A drugs: for possession – 7-year imprisonment and/or an unlimited fine; for supply – life imprisonment and/or fine; Class B drugs: for possession – 5-year imprisonment and/or an unlimited fine; for supply – 14-year imprisonment and/or fine; Class C drugs: For possession – 2-year imprisonment and/or an unlimited fine; For supply – 14-year imprisonment and/or fine.
How best to assess the classification of a drug is an issue that is and has always been problematic. A potential method for exploring harms has been developed that assesses harms across nine domains; three relate to the personal harms of the drug [acute harms e.g., from overdose, chronic harms and harms due to intravenous use], three relate to its propensity to cause dependence [liking, physical dependence and psychological dependence] and three cover social harms [harms from intoxication, (including anti-social behaviour), harms from supply/dealing, associated acquisitive crime and health care costs]. Each can be scored on a 0 – 3 scale and a value for each drug derived from which a rank order of harm may be produced (Nutt, et al., 2007). In this study, we also assessed alcohol, tobacco and some other misused substances to provide anchor points that would allow non-experts and the general public to better understand the harms of drugs with which they might not have familiarity. This study produced a degree of public debate and considerable media coverage. This taken together with the subsequent coverage of the classification of cannabis (ACMD, 2008) and the ongoing review of ‘ecstasy’/ MDMA has shown that the arguments about relative drug harms are occurring in an arcane manner, at times taking a quasi-religious character reminiscent of medieval debates about angels and the heads of pins!
The reasons for this are multiple and complex, but one major element is that the drug debate takes place without reference to other causes of harm in society, which tends to give drugs a different, more worrying, status. In this article, I share experience of another harmful addiction I have called equasy to illustrate an approach that might lead to a more rational and broad-based assessment of relative drug harms.
The dangers of equasy were revealed to me as a result of a recent clinical referral of a woman in her early 30’s who had suffered permanent brain damage as a result of equasy-induced brain damage. She had undergone severe personality change that made her more irritable and impulsive, with anxiety and loss of the ability to experience pleasure. There was also a degree of hypofrontality and behavioural disinhibition that had lead to many bad decisions in relationships with poor choice of partners and an unwanted pregnancy. She is unable to work and is unlikely ever to do so again, so the social costs of her brain damage are also very high.
So what was her addiction – what is equasy? It is an addiction that produces the release of adrenaline and endorphins and which is used by many millions of people in the UK including children and young people. The harmful consequences are well established – about 10 people a year die of it and many more suffer permanent neurological damage as had my patient. It has been estimated that there is a serious adverse event every 350 exposures and these are unpredictable, though more likely in experienced users who take more risks with equasy. It is also associated with over 100 road traffic accidents per year – often with deaths. Equasy leads to gatherings of users that often are associated with these groups engaging in violent conduct. Dependence, as defined by the need to continue to use, has been accepted by the courts in divorce settlements. Based on these harms, it seems likely that the ACMD would recommend control under the MDAct perhaps as a class A drug given it appears more harmful than ecstasy (See Table 1).
Table 1: A comparison of ecstasy and equasy using the 9-point scale.
|Parameter of harm||Ecstasy||Equasy|
|Acute harm to person||+1 per 10000 episodes||++1 per 350 episodes|
|Chronic harm to person||+?||++|
|Intravenous use||Not applicable||Not applicable|
|Harm to society: RTAs etc.||?||+ (methane emissions also)|
|Dealing harms||+||- (as legal)|
|Societal costs: NHS etc.||+||+|
RTA, Road Traffic Accident; NHS, National Health Service.
– = harm; + = more harm.
Have you worked out what equasy is yet? It stands for Equine Addiction Syndrome, a condition characterised by gaining pleasure from horses and being prepared to countenance the consequences especially the harms from falling off/under the horse. I suspect most people will be surprised that riding is such a dangerous activity. The data are quite startling – people die and are permanently damaged from falling – with neck and spine fracture leading to permanent spinal injury (Silver and Parry, 1991; Silver 2002). Head injury is four times more common though often less obvious and is the usual cause of death. In the USA, approximately 11,500 cases of traumatic head injury a year are due to riding (Thomas, et al., 2006), and we can presume a proportionate number in the UK. Personality change, reduced motor function and even early onset Parkinson’s disease are well recognised especially in rural clinical practices where horse riding is very common. In some shire counties, it has been estimated that riding causes more head injury than road traffic accidents. Violence is historically intimately associated with equasy – especially those who gather together in hunting groups; initially, this was interspecies aggression but latterly has become specific person to person violence between the pro and anti-hunt lobby groups.
Making riding illegal would completely prevent all these harms and would be, in practice, very easy to do – it is hard to use a horse in a clandestine manner or in the privacy of one’s own home! I suspect there would be little public or government support for such an option despite the banning of inter-species violence from equasy recently enacted in the Anti-Hunting bill. Indeed why should society want to control harmful sports at all? This attitude raises the critical question of why society tolerates –indeed encourages – certain forms of potentially harmful behaviour but not others, such as drug use. There are many risky activities such as base jumping, climbing, bungee jumping, hang-gliding, motorcycling which have harms and risks equal to or worse than many illicit drugs. Of course, some people engage in so called ‘extreme’ sports specifically because they are dangerous. Horse riding is not one of these and most of those who engage in it do it for simple pleasure rather than from thrill seeking, almost certainly in complete ignorance of the risks involved. Other similarly dangerous yet fun activities are rugby, quad-biking and boxing. With the exception of boxing, which is outlawed in some European countries, sports are not illegal despite their undoubted harms.
So why are harmful sporting activities allowed, whereas relatively less harmful drugs are not? I believe this reflects a societal approach which does not adequately balance the relative risks of drugs against their harms. It is also a failure to understand the motivations of, particularly younger people, who take drugs and their assessment of the perceived risks compared with other activities. The general public, especially the younger generation, are disillusioned with the lack of balanced political debate about drugs. This lack of rational debate can undermine the trust in government in relation to drug misuse and thereby undermining the government’s message in public information campaigns. The media in general seem to have an interest in scare stories about illicit drugs, though there are some exceptions (Horizon, 2008). A telling review of 10-year media reporting of drug deaths in Scotland illustrates the distorted media perspective very well (Forsyth, 2001). During this decade, the likelihood of a newspaper reporting a death from paracetamol was in per 250 deaths, for diazepam it was 1 in 50, whereas for amphetamine it was 1 in 3 and for ecstasy every associated death was reported.
Is there a lesson from these relative comparisons of harms and risk that regulatory authorities could use to make better drug harm assessments and thus better laws? The example of equasy when compared to the use of drugs highlights the divergence between the activities in terms of levels of risk and social and moral acceptability. Perhaps this illustrates the need to offer a new approach to considering what underlies society’s tolerance of potentially harmful activities and how this evolves over time (e.g. fox hunting, cigarette smoking). A debate on the wider issues of how harms are tolerated by society and policy makers can only help to generate a broad based and therefore more relevant harm assessment process that could cut through the current ill-informed debate about the drug harms? The use of rational evidence for the assessment of the harms of drugs will be one step forward to the development of a credible drugs strategy.
- Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (2002) The Classification of Cannabis under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. London: Home Office.
- Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) (2008) Cannabis; classification and public health. London: Home Office.
- EMCDDA (2007) https://ednd-cma.emcdda.europa.eu/assets/upload/ Risk_Assessment_Report_BZP.pdf
- Forsyth, AJM (2001) Distorted? A quantitative exploration of drug fatality reports in the popular press. Int J Drug Policy 12: 435 – 453.
- Horizon (2008) Britain’s most dangerous drugs. Tuesday 5th February 2008, 9pm, BBC Two.
- House of Commons (2006) Select Committee on Science and Technology on Evidence Based Policy Making. http://www.publications. parliament.uk/pa/cm200506/cmselect/cmsctech/900/900-i.pdf
- Nutt, DJ (2006) A tale of two Es. J Psychopharmacol 20: 315 – 317.
- Nutt, DJ, King, LA, Saulsbury, W, Blakemore, C (2007) Developing a rational scale for assessing the risks of drugs of potential misuse. Lancet 369: 1047 – 1053.
- Nutt, DJ, Williams, T (2004) Ketamine – an update. http://drugs. homeoffice.gov.uk/publication-search/acmd/ketamine-report-annexes. pdf?view=Binary [accessed 27/10/2008].
- Rawlins, M (2005) Further considerations of the classification of cannabis under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. http://drugs.homeoffice. gov.uk/publication-search/acmd/cannabis-reclass-2005?view=Binary [accessed 27/10/08].
- Rawlins, M (2008) Cannabis; classification and public health. Home Office on line publication http://www.drugs.homeoffice.gov.uk/ publication-search/acmd/acmd-cannabis-report-2008 [accessed 27/10/2008].
- Silver, JR, Parry, JM (1991) Hazards of horse-riding as a popular sport. Br J Sports Med 25: 105 – 110.
- Silver, JR (2002) Spinal injuries resulting from horse riding accidents. Spinal Cord 40: 264 – 271.
- Thomas, KE, Annest, JL, Gilchrist, J, Bixby-Hammett, DM (2006) Non-fatal horse related injuries treated in emergency departments in the United States, 2001 – 2003. British journal of sports medicine 40: 619 – 626.
- Williams, T, Nutt, DJ (2005) Khat (qat): assessment of risk to the individual and communities in the UK – Home Office on-line publication. http://drugs.homeoffice.gov.uk/publication-search/ acmd/khat-report-2005/Khat_Report_.pdf?view=Binary [accessed 27/10/2008].
As any regular visitor to Coffeesh0p will know, I try and trickle new products onto the site fairly regularly. The most notable (and most anticipated) products to be added recently are Magic Silver and Magic Gold smoking mixes, but today, I added Koru Instant Energy Strips, and I’ve got enough samples for 20 people to give away!
Koru Instant Energy Strips are a cool new way to get a much needed caffeine kick. You place one on your tongue and just let it dissolve, which gets the goodness into your blood stream much faster than drinking a cup of coffee. Since they’re so convenient and, well, instant, they’re perfect for just about every situation where you’d like to be a little more alert, without taking something that’ll blow your tits off (like Charge, for example).
So, how can you win some? Firstly, do you meet the following criteria?
- You live in the UK
- You’re not pregnant
- You’re not a child
- You’re not unusually sensitive to caffeine
- You don’t mind the taste of mint
If you said “Yes!” to all of the above, all you need to do is leave a comment below. The first 20 people to leave a comment will get a couple of strips to try out. Please don’t leave your address in the comments — I’ll get in touch with you about that.