November 01, 2009

Sacked – for telling the truth about drugs

Government fires top adviser for challenging its hardline policy on cannabis and ecstasy

By Jeremy Laurance
October 31, 2009

The Government's drugs tsar was forced to resign last night for stating his view that cannabis, ecstasy and LSD were less harmful than the legal drugs tobacco and alcohol.

The Home Secretary Alan Johnson asked Professor David Nutt to resign as chairman of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD), saying he had "lost confidence" in his ability to give impartial advice.

But last night Professor Nutt, who is head of psychopharmacology at the University of Bristol, retaliated, accusing the Government of "misleading" the pubic in its messages about drugs and of "Luddite" tendencies.

He was backed by other senior scientists and politicians.

Colin Blakemore, professor of neuroscience at Oxford University and former chief executive of the Medical Research Council, said: "The Government cannot expect the experts who serve on its independent committees not to voice their concern if the advice they give is rejected even before it is published. "I worry that the dismissal of Professor Nutt will discourage academic and clinical experts from offering their knowledge and time to help the Government in the future."

Richard Garside, director of the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies at King's College London, where Professor Nutt made his comments, said: "I'm dismayed that the Home Secretary appears to believe that political calculation trumps honest and informed scientific opinion. The message is that, when it comes to the Home Office's relationship with the research community, honest researchers should be seen but not heard." He added it was "a bad day for science and for the cause of evidence-informed policy making".

Professor Nutt had become a thorn in the side of ministers with his criticisms of drugs policy. He clashed with former home secretary Jacqui Smith when he suggested ecstasy, which causes 30 deaths a year, was less dangerous than horse-riding, which causes 100 deaths a year. He also argued that, to prevent one episode of schizophrenia linked to cannabis use, it would be necessary to "stop 5,000 men aged 20 to 25 from ever using" the drug.

Most drugs experts believe his analysis is right. But ministers did not want to hear the truth or at least to be reminded of it repeatedly. The Home Secretary asked him to consider his position after a recent lecture in which attacked what he called the "artificial" separation of alcohol and tobacco from other, illegal, drugs. Last night Professor Nutt said he stood by his comments. "My view is policy should be based on evidence. It's a bit odd to make policy that goes in the face of evidence. The danger is they are misleading us. The scientific evidence is there: it's in all the reports we published. Our judgements about the classification of drugs like cannabis and ecstasy have been based on a great deal of very detailed scientific appraisal.

"Gordon Brown makes completely irrational statements about cannabis being 'lethal', which it is not. I'm not prepared to mislead the public about the harmfulness of drugs like cannabis and ecstasy. I think most scientists will see this as an example of the Luddite attitude of governments towards science."

He repeated his view that cannabis was "not that harmful" and that parents should be more worried about alcohol.

"The greatest concern to parents should be that their children do not get completely off their heads with alcohol because it can kill them ... and it leads them to do things which are very dangerous, such as to kill themselves or others in cars, get into fights, get raped, and engage in other activities which they regret subsequently. My view is that, if you want to reduce the harm to society from drugs, alcohol is the drug to target at present."

In a recent broadside, Professor Nutt accused Jacqui Smith, who oversaw the reclassification of cannabis from Class C to Class B, of "distorting and devaluing" scientific research. He said her decision to reclassify cannabis as a "precautionary step" 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 – and what we should be doing in all of this is to protect them from harm. We therefore have to provide more accurate and credible information. If you think that scaring kids will stop them using, you are probably wrong."

The Home Office said Mr Johnson had written to Professor Nutt expressing "surprise and disappointment" over his remarks. Mr Johnson said in the letter that Professor Nutt had gone beyond providing evidence to "lobbying" for changes to policy. He said: "As Home Secretary it is for me to make decisions, having received advice from the [Council] ... It is important that the Government's messages on drugs are clear and as an adviser you do nothing to undermine the public understanding of them ... I am afraid the manner in which you have acted runs contrary to your responsibilities."

The shadow Home Secretary Chris Grayling said: "This was an inevitable decision after his latest ill-judged contribution to the debate, but it is a sign of lack of focus at the Home Office that it didn't act sooner, given that he has done this before."

But Phil Willis, chairman of the Science and Technology Select Committee, said: "I am writing immediately to the Home Secretary to ask for clarification as to why Sir David Nutt has been relieved of duties as chair of the Advisory Council on Misuse of Drugs at a time when independent scientific advice to Government is essential. It is disturbing if an independent scientist should be removed for reporting sound scientific advice."

Claudia Rubin from Release – a national centre of expertise on drugs and drugs law – said the expert should not have been penalised. "It's a real shame and a real indictment of the Government's refusal to take any proper advice on this subject," she said.



  1. Absolutely! All the drugs, and alcohol and cigarettes are lethal to the brain cells. Every time you use them, the buzz you feel after, are the brain neurons dying.

    Cigarettes have other igredients besides tobacco, which is harmful, incl. arsenic.

    However, Straight pipe tobacco uses only the cured leaves,and is clean. In fact, the smoke contains nitric oxide which is necessary for health. The smoke is absorbed dirrectly trough the roof of the mouth into the brain, for new neurons.

    Red wine cannot be included in the harmful substances, since it is processed a different way from the distilled spirits. Red wine is another beneficial substance for the body.

    In fact, the Ancients have known this, and used it since time immemorial for ceremonies and feasts honoring the gods, or a God.

  2. Marijuana remains a gate way drug in the UK and America - it leads almost always to herion or at least crack cocaine use - violence and crime sprees one does not see with alcohol. Recent improvements to tobacco make it more benign and less harmfull than many other drugs. Let us get behind the War on Drugs and Freedom and hope that it becomes even half as successful as the War on Drugs!! Let us huddle together and remain viligant against people like this so called scientist - he should be arrested and gaoled for his opinions - show him the value of freedom by putting him behind bars!!

  3. Lokis is a fascist!! People should have freedom of choice. It is that simple. Your 'gateway' drug example is as tired and old as your perception of this world.I have smoked MJ recreationally for years and I am a professional. I'm certain I will not change your views because you are obviously programmed to the max (your harddrive is full). As a clinical psychologist I believe that MJ is the best substance on earth for relieving anxiety. The drugs prescribed by 'big' pharma are far more addictive and damaging to an individual. How about researching both sides of an issue instead of believing what corporate media tells you (fool).
    Amnesias Goldmen -

  4. (Marijuana)'leads almost always to heroin or at least crack cocaine use'. What absolute rubbish- is it possible that anyone can be so misinformed or is Lokis just a disinfo agent.

  5. disinfo agent. what complete bs...

  6. The ultimate gateway drug is tobacco.

  7. One czar down, many more to go.

  8. Lokis speaks either sarcasm or utter ignorance
    or just another goverment-big pharma shill hoping you dont research the facts. "Recent improvments to Tabacco" Im not even high right now and I cant stop laughing at this post.This dis-info might have worked pre-blogger days but now.....what a joke!

  9. Marijuana should be freely available to all

  10. Alchohol is the real feelgood "gateway" drug. And Prohibiton didn't work with booze and prohibiton with the other drugs isn't working now. Education, regulation and treatment are the answers.

  11. The only crime, is that when you smoke a joint, you have stopped believing Authority and its judgement or punishment.

    There is your "gateway", the "gateway" they so desperately want/need closed for a nanny society to work.

    And Idiots and heroin or crack go well together, either legal or Illegal.

  12. Loki displayed a nice sense of sarcasm. He should have ended his comments with something more outrageous to help more readers realize it was tongue-in-cheek work.


  14. What more proof do you need to see that the War on Drugs in the UK and US is not about public health, it is about money, power and control. Drug policy needs to be run by our medical professionals not politicians and police.

  15. The real gateway drugs are alcohol and tobacco. Kids try other things when they find out the government and schools lied to them about marijuana and figure they had been lied to about the rest.

  16. November 3, 2009 1:27 AM,

    Best comment I've seen in awhile award!