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Pontifications on Poison

Being some ramblings on events associated with poisonous plants.

Wednesday 8th June 2011 

When I was a boy, the Isle of Man TT races were a major event each year. These days they seem to be much less significant. I’m not sure whether the world has moved on or I have. Maybe it’s both of us.

I was brought up in a semi-detached council house in East London where the two sons of the family next door were amateur motorcycle racers. Their garage had doors at both ends so it was very common to come out of our back door and see luridly painted motorcycle parts scattered about while the two lads, both in their early 20s, talked about who had done what at the most recent meeting. Naturally, in that environment, the TT races were the highlight of the year and, though I never got caught up in their enthusiasm for the sport, all the talk of what was going on far off in the Irish Sea seeped into my consciousness. Once I moved out of that house, motorcycle racing ceased to feature in my world.

And the world moved on, as well. Perhaps because of the mods and rockers culture of the 60s, where the media followed a simple philosophy – mods good, rockers bad, perhaps because the introduction of colour TV made it too expensive to cover racing on a large circuit, other sports became TV’s, and thus the nation’s, favourites.

In recent times, there have been years when I don’t recall hearing anything about the TT tournament. I may even have wondered if it was still held.

But, not this year. Why the sudden increase in media attention? Could it be because, at the time of writing, three competitors and four members of the public have been killed on the Isle of Man’s roads? That number of fatalities is bound to get attention but, in addition to reporting of the accidents, there seems to have been an increase in general pieces about the TT. TV technology, of course, has moved on and now you can cover the whole circuit with a miniature camera attached to a bike.

But, there’s one thing that I haven’t seen in any of the coverage, and that’s why I’m writing about it here. No one seems to be calling for the TT races to be stopped.

When a similar number of unfortunate young people died (of natural causes as it turned out) the media immediately blamed mephedrone and mounted a campaign that resulted in this substance being banned on the basis of a report from the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs that hadn’t actually been written when its conclusions were announced.

I should be clear. Very little is known about the actions of mephedrone and it is impossible to say if its use recreationally has any medium or long-term effects. But banning it based on media hysteria is not the way to deal with such substances especially when you consider that mephedrone only came into being because of the flawed policy on other substances.

Plenty is known about the extract of Erythroxylum coca, cocaine, and MDMA, ecstasy, and the evidence all suggests that moderate use produces no greater risks than many other recreational activities. Because these are controlled substances, however, and consumers have no way of knowing the exact constituents of what they buy, those who wanted ‘something for the weekend’ turned to a substance that, being legal, they knew could be sold in its pure state.

For all I know, entries for next year’s TT may go up as more people realise the real thrills to be had. You will never stop people wanting to gain excitement whether by taking psychoactive substances or racing powerful motorcycles inches from solid stone walls. What you have to do is to try and manage the risks involved based on clear evidence. What you shouldn’t do is ban the activity concerned and hope that makes it go away.