Thursday, 27 August 2009

What do you think you're doing putting that in your body!?

It appears I'm going off topic again... today I'm going to give some impression of my feelings of UK drugs policy (which is mirrored almost globally).

This article has been inspired by the government's recent decision to start banning legal highs due to the level of danger involved and the perceived moral consequences of leaving their usage unpunished. It has been decided this week that before the end of December the following substances will be band: BZP (also known as liquid Ecstasy due to its amphetamine like effect), GBL (infamous as the date rape drug, but also widely used by clubbers as a source of euphoria) and Spice (a herbal cannabis substitute sold as incense across the internet). Of course there have been a number of other substances banned previously and there are doubtless many more to come (from what I've been reading Salvia divinorium is currently skirting the cross hairs of policy makers).

The reasons for the decision to ban these substances seem somewhat questionable for the most part and at the very least, just a tad misguided. For instance, the substance BZP has now been in fairly common usage since the early 90's; now what you may be thinking is, 'well it must have been causing a considerable amount of damage during that time?' (these were my immediate thoughts too). However it turns out, that during 20 years of usage globally and numerous impartial investigations, BZP has only been directly linked to two deaths worldwide when used with MDMA (Although this is not what a recent BBC report would have you believe, with it stating "GBL and BZP have been linked to a number of deaths". Now while I can't argue against the fact that two is technically a number, this use of language seems rather misleading). Furthermore, medical institutions have reported it as one of the least prolific causes of overdoses, with a fairly low toxicity level making it pretty safe for low to mid level doses. This is not to say that it is without risks, it has been known to cause some mental issues and in some cases heart problems and seizures, but these problems are rare amongst users. On these terms, it would seem that the government's decision on this particular substance isn't so much based on evidence or reason, but instead some kind of weird moral sentiment. This might be perhaps a little less troubling if it weren't for the fact that we as a society have institutionalised two drugs which have been repeatedly proven to be more harmful. I speak of course of tobacco and alcohol. To put the two deaths caused by BZP in perspective, it has been reported that 1 in 25 deaths globally is attributable to alcohol usage (as cited in this BBC article It's important I make myself clear here though, I'm by no means saying that we should put more restrictions on alcohol, simply that we shouldn't maintain this horrible double standard.

The other two substances might come under more legitimate questioning (GBL in particular, given it's potential to be used as a date rape drug). There have been a spate of GBL related deaths recently caused by mixing with alcohol. This combination of two sedatives runs a high risk of causing comas in those who take it. It would seem though that the problem here is not one of GBL's inherent risk, rather than one of people's lack of understanding of the risks involved. It seems odd that the tack that the government are choosing to use in regards to GBL is not that of it's use as a date rape drug, rather its complete failure to make people aware of its dangers. I'm not sure that the fact that it is used as a date rape drug is even a strong reason for its banning. Every day people are allowed to buy knives which they could potentially use to cause harm to others, do we ban knives; well of course we don't because their primary function is not to cause harm and the majority of the time their primary function is their only function. There is certainly a debate to be had though. It does seem to me though, that if GBL were legal and sold through legal establishments it would be possible to track GBL sales directly, increasing the chances of criminal authorities catching those who intend to use it for rape.

The herbal Cannabis substitute Spice again is definitely up for some form of open discussion. As it stands Spice is made up of a number of different substances, none of which are listed on packaging or on the websites where it can be purchased. Seemingly the issue at hand here is that people don't know what they're taking, furthermore medical establishments aren't aware of the long term risks involved with the product yet as no research has been commissioned. Ironically we have years of research on the long term effects of cannabis, which has yet to link any deaths to the drugs use or any of the more severe effects that the media has a rather bad habit for reporting as fact. Furthermore, if we were to legalise cannabis we would be in a position where we could tax its sale (funding further research and treatment for users who damage themselves), we would move it's sale out of the hands of criminals and we could be sure of its purity due to government regulation. But alas, this is a discussion for another day. I hope this article has contained a modicum useful information and that I haven't bored you by retreading the same old arguments you've heard a million times before :)

Thank you for reading.

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