Friday, October 27, 2006

Drug Classification - No Highs

Now I’m for the legalisation of all drugs. But I do get tired of the comments made in the campaigning by those who support the legalisation of ‘soft’ drugs but shy away from asking that everything be legalised.

Their claims tend to be based on the assertion that ‘cannabis is not as harmful as heroin etc therefore it should not be criminalised’. Its use is sometimes said to be virtually harmless, even beneficial for relaxation. But the endorsers of cannabis wilfully ignore the fact that cannabis use can induce schizophrenia in a significant minority of people. I know a few people myself who have had a psychotic episode after smoking cannabis and it is not a joke. To admit to this is not lining up with the forces of prohibition, it is simply being responsible and stating a fact. I would look pretty daft if I was to allege that ALL drugs were harmless as an argument for legalisation, or to openly praise the use of heroin or cocaine.

Alcohol has recently been said to be physically as harmful as heroin. This I can believe, as we are all too aware of the harm excessive alcohol use can do to the body, besides the negative social consequences of this legal drug. But recently the medical research council alleged that ecstasy is ‘several thousand’ times’ less harmful than heroin (see link). ‘Several’ thousand? Really? I somewhat doubt this. I doubt that this research was thorough enough. How can such a sweeping claim be verified? Not enough is known about the possible long term effects of ecstasy use, due to the illegality of the substance. And if the claim was true it would have to be deduced that ecstasy is also several thousand times less dangerous than alcohol, which seems a pretty long shot.

Such nonsense obviously gets sprouted because the soft drugs lobby are too cowardly to call for the legalisation of all drugs, including heroin (pharmaceutical name being diamorphine, a powerful painkiller used for serious injuries and terminal illnesses).
Ecstasy (MDMA) was, like LSD, a psychoactive drug initially used during psychoanalysis. Street Ecstasy is not pure MDMA, anymore than street heroin is the same as pharmaceutical diamorphine. Pure MDMA may be many times less harmful than street heroin, but such a comparison is pointless as pure MDMA is almost as elusive as pure diamorphine. Like street heroin, ecstasy is cut with all kinds of crap which obviously make the drug more dangerous than it would be in its pure form. Compare the risks of both drugs in their pure form and the results would look a touch different.

It is also worth noting that the risks of drugs vary. Heroin or diamorphine is not a psychoactive drug so it is not linked with psychosis in the same way that cannabis (or LSD) is. Although it can affect mental health its biggest risk in its pure form is its highly addictive quality. Psychoactive drugs have a far greater risk of causing psychosis in those who are susceptible, yet they are not addictive in the same way as opiates (morphine and derived offshoots). But these facts are distorted due to the way prohibition has created a bogeyman in the form of heroin as a yardstick to measure the risks of other drugs by. The fact that the risks of psychoactive drugs are different from those relating to opiates become obscured, and this is of no help to anyone. Neither is it of any help to pretend that cannabis is harmless while ‘heroin screws you up’ as an attempt to get the State off the backs of cannabis users.

Any debate or research into the harmfulness of various drugs is bound to be skewered by prohibition and its effects. The long term effect of any drug (in its pure, not adulterated form) can only be known in detail through long case studies, and prohibition has made this impossible to do. The soft drugs lobby will do well to remember that this applies to cannabis as much as any Class A drug. In Holland an increase in suicidal ideation has been noted since the law on cannabis was relaxed.

Having said all this I remain convinced that prohibition does more harm than any conceived benefits. I have witnessed its effects myself. Legalising all drugs will allow their use to be monitored and regulated, and more will come to be known about the long term effects (besides the fact that it will be safer for users, who need no longer use adulterated substances or commit crimes to feed expensive habits, so it would be less of a strain on society).

We only know about the effects associated with alcohol as it has always been legal.
Being for the legislation of all drugs, including heroin, does not equate with a cavalier attitude towards the harm they potentially cause. It can equate with a responsible approach that wishes to ensure people know and are aware of the possible risks. This is why the ‘cannabis is good’ brigade annoy me so, as they are not promoting responsible drug use.


David Duff said...

Well, apparently we are never going to agree on taxation so what a surprise and a pleasure to agree with you on legalising drugs. I write this from, shall we say, a theoretical view point because I suspect that there are many practicalities that need to be considered.

For example, after sacking several thousand police and customs officers, and the collection of tax from the sale of legal drugs, I would like to see some of the money used in an intensive campaign to children warning of the dangers, but a bare minimum wasted on so-called rehabilitation centres. Once a person makes the decision to use, they're on their own and if they end up in jail or dead, so be it.

Marie said...

One problem I foreseee is that if Britain were to legalise drugs, we would risk becoming a destination for all of Europe's drug users. (Apologies for coming across all Daily Mail.) I am in favour of decriminalisation but feel that any such legislation would be better if it was Europe-wide. Though fat chance that will happen...

Liz said...

Marie - such a law would probably have to be Europe wide as prohibition is a global policy anyway at the moment.

David - I agree with you (for once!)
I think that were drugs legalised there would be less of a call for 'rehabilitation centres' as addictions would be able to be monitored by a regular doctor. Besides the fact that the drugs themselves would be less harmful and as they'd be cheaper there would be no need for people to finance addiction via crime. I agree that taxes collected should be spent informing people of the risks and advocating responsibility, as with alcohol.

One quibble with your last sentence - people who become addicted in the current situation do often have underlying mental health issues which do need some kind of therapy. However, I too am sceptical about the benefits of rehabilation centres as they have a very low success rate, and I'm not so sure about their method of 'treatment' (often 12 step based, the benefits of which are highly neglible).

Celeb said...

Hi Liz,

Just out of curiosity - what are your doubts about the 12 step recovery program?

Liz said...

Hi Celeb,

My doubts about the 12 step programme are varied and it would be a little too long to go into it in depth here. I wrote an article for Morning Star on it but you would have to subscribe in order to read it. However, I'll sum it up as best as I can in a few points.

1. It's approach is religious, which is not helpful to everybody.
2. It works on a model of 'disease' which much of the time is unhelpful and simply wrong about many people. The disease model is too shallow (and often wrong anyway) and doesn't take into account other underlying issues such as histories of abuse (common among addicts) or mental health problems. It is way too simplistic and doesn't account for the nuances in individual psychology and behaviour. I am highly sceptical of anything that claims to have simple answers to complex problems - and human beings are complex!
3. It's approach is aggressive and it's propaganda states that it is the only method of recovery - a very cultish approach. It is absolutist besides arrogant to claim it is the only route to getting better (i.e either 12 steps or drinking or drugging yourself to death).
4. I don't think that the total abstinence approach it promotes is necessary for everyone. It may be harmful as if people slip up and use or have a drink they will believe themselves failures. Working by the model that 'one drink leads to another' people may take this in subconsciously and make it self fufilling.
5. It seems to have a noticable low rate of success and in many cases it seems to be replacing one dependency with another. I came accross some NA members and there was something cultish about them - they had few friends outside of the group and were extremely dogmatic. They had a very proselytising manner and were very dismissive of those who did not agree with their model. 'Relapse' was quite common.
6. It's belief that 'once an addict always an addict' is not appropriate or correct for everybody who drinks or uses. Addiction is, I believe, for many people a stage they go through, a behavioral problem that they can get over. Not everybody who has a problem with drink or drugs fits into the model of an alcoholic or addict that 12 steps promote. It may be an appropriate model for some people, but not everyone.

These points briefly cover my main problems with it, I could go on and say more. While I don't dispute that it may be helpful for some people, individuals have different needs and the 12 step or 'disease' model is not right for everyone.
I would have far less of a problem with it if it did not claim that it was the only way to recovery as it always does. But it arrogantly does this, just like a sectarian religion. I suspect this has something to do with it's roots in evangelical Christianity.

Transform said...

Just wanted to let you know that we have linked to your blog in our most recent newsletter:

Liz said...

Thank you Transform. I've been a supporter of yours for a while. Must remember to add you to my links!

southcoast said...

Hi. nice blog.I've actually never tried drugs and don't plan on it. I've had an uncle that was addicted to marijuana and he lost part of his one leg in a car accident due to drugs. It's scary and I don't understand why someone would want to waste their life doing drugs. drug treament