By Steven Short
David Nutt is the former chair of the UK Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD). He might still have that post if not for the horses.
In a rational (and non-political) examination of harmful activities, he noted that around ten people die each year in the United Kingdom while riding horses. And there are more than a hundred traffic accidents involving horses annually, some also resulting in death. In the US, Nutt says, there are “approximately 11,500 cases of traumatic head injury each year due to riding.”
Those numbers are easier to come by than the number of people harmed solely by using the club-drug Ecstasy (for reasons he explains), so Nutt made an educated guess of perhaps 2,000 “serious but non-fatal injuries from Ecstasy every year,” a number he says is probably high. Far fewer ailments are linked directly to Ecstasy than those connected to riding horses – and no deaths — yet Ecstasy is categorized as a Class A drug, the most dangerous.
This neutral assessment, while true, was not what Members of Parliament wanted to hear. So after chairing the ACMD for over a decade, Nutt was fired. (He remains president of the British Neuroscience Assn., and a vice president of the European Brain Council, among other posts.) Nutt wrote this book to show that making things illegal is not the only way to deal with them.
The book’s all-inclusive title obviously goes beyond cannabis, which is our interest here. A cleverly titled chapter (“Cannabis, and why did Queen Victoria take it?”) shows the plant has three lives: as a widely used fiber (hemp), as “probably the world’s oldest medicine” (cannabis), and as a pleasure drug (marijuana). It’s now the world’s third most popular recreational substance, according to Nutt, after alcohol and tobacco, both of which are considerably more damaging to people than cannabis, even though it’s the only one that’s illegal.
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