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Pontifications on Poison

Being some ramblings on events associated with poisonous plants.

Wednesday 25th January 2012

To Canterbury. Regular readers will know how pleased I am to be able to write those two words after the frustration of my cancelled trip to Glasgow in December. Today was a very marked contrast to then and the weather was almost too warm for travelling, especially as the train carriage I was in had the heating turned up enough to defeat an Antarctic winter. But I did get to do a lot of drugs.

I'd forgotten just how useful long train journeys are for catching up on reading and research and, as it turned out, failing to reach a mutually useful relationship with East Coast wi-fi didn't cause any problems because I'd got more than enough to do without adding to it by accessing the Internet.

This is going to turn out to be a forthcoming attractions piece because there are lots of things I want to write about after my reading and, of course, this evening's lecture and I don't have time to do more than touch on what they are.

I caught up with an Australian podcast, originally produced last September but I came across it as a highlights of 2011 piece. It was an interview with Gretchen Peter's about her book 'Seeds of Terror: How Heroin Is Bankrolling the Taliban and al Qaeda'. A lot of numbers were being thrown around and I didn't manage to get a note of all of them but several were completely out of kilter with my understanding of the situation in Afghanistan. Ms Peters said that only 5% of the heroin used in the USA comes from Afghanistan which made me wonder if that is mathematically possible given the dominance, we're told, of Afghan production. Other figures about the effect on GDP and local consumption confused me so I'll have to look closer.

Then I read ‘Drug Legalisation: An Evaluation of the Impacts on Global Society’ It describes itself as a ‘Position Statement’ and appears on The International Task Force on Strategic Drug Policy (ITFSDP) website. On first read this is a jaw droppingly stupid piece of work but I determined to give it a second and third read to try and get to what it was really about. I'll return to this in a future blog entry (or entries because my notes will probably not fit one day).

Once I'd changed from the train from Berwick to the one for Canterbury, I no longer had the power to keep my old laptop going so I turned to 'El Narco' by Ioan Grillo. It tells the story of Mexico's involvement in drugs from the start and was last week's book of the week on BBC Radio4. Knowing that only part of a book can be delivered in the five segments of that format I thought I should read it all. I'm about a third of the way through, so far, but I'll certainly want to write about it when I finish. It is a little bizarre reading a book that you know you haven't read before and then coming to a section that is familiar but that isn't happening that often, a sign that the abridged radio readings could only give a flavour of the whole.

And then, of course, I got  to Canterbury and attended Prof David Nutt's lecture. The 300 seater theatre was full and the audience was attentive throughout the 80 minute talk and 20 minutes or so of questions. Nutt can be very amusing while making some very serious points and there was plenty for the audience to laugh at. I recommend a look at the Independent Scientific Committee on Drugs website for more information about Nutt and colleagues. I was interested to see how big a laugh he got when he put up his slide about Equasy. Equasy (Equine Addiction Syndrome) was a name Nutt coined to draw attention to the divide between the harmful things that people are allowed to do and the (less) harmful things that the drug laws say they musn't do. The first page of his piece about it is here. It was very clear from the response that very few people had come across this term before making me think that they were fairly new to the drug reform debate.

If I'm right then it just might be that Nutt's sacking from the ACMD, which looked like a big setback in the move toward evidence based policy, will have done enormous good by bringing many more people into the debate.