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Pontifications on Poison

Being some ramblings on events associated with poisonous plants.

Monday 27th August 2012

I said in yesterday’s blog that there were plenty of lies and half-truths in Peter Hitchens’ advert for his own book published by the Mail on Sunday and a number of things have decided me to return to a consideration of some more of them, today.

First there was the response to that blog. You’ll never stop people like Hitchens from promulgating their prejudices but I think it is essential to expose them as such in the hope that it will arm more people with some reasoned response to replace the abuse he is hoping for.

Then there was a Tweet from Tom Lloyd, a former Chief Constable, pointing out one of the very odd assertions Hitchens made. And, finally, there was a response I wrote to commenters on yesterday’s blog.

It is easy to characterise Peter Hitchens as a buffoon and his views as laughable but I realised that he is, in fact, a very dangerous man who, probably, increases the total harm caused by drugs.

In the Mail on Sunday piece, he writes about;

‘the baseless and scientifically absurd belief that cannabis is a ‘soft’ drug, not to be bracketed with ‘hard’ substances such as cocaine and heroin’.

I won’t get diverted into considering what is ‘absurd’ about the huge mass of scientific and statistical evidence that demonstrates that cannabis is much less harmful than nearly all other psychoactive substances because I want to examine the effect of arguing that cannabis and heroin are equally harmful.

Young people will try cannabis; there can be no doubt about that. For some it will be an unpleasant experience they have no desire to repeat but for most it will do them no immediate harm and they may or may not continue to use it. But, if they have been told that there is nothing to choose between cannabis and heroin, some of them will move onto heroin because their experience of cannabis was that it was not the life-destroyer that Peter Hitchens wants them to believe.

I won’t rehearse the whole ‘gateway drug’ argument but lying about the effects of cannabis is the perfect way to encourage young people to move on from cannabis to ‘hard’ drugs. I want to believe that, for all his obvious intelligence, Mr Hitchens doesn’t understand that point. I want to believe that because there is no doubt that the more young people are harmed by their substance use the greater is the clamour amongst Mr Hitchens’ constituency for harsher action against users and suppliers.

Tom Lloyd drew attention to another piece of stunning buffoonery from Hitchens’ advertorial. Hitchens, in one of those ‘assertion as irrefutable fact’ paragraphs of which he is very fond, says;

‘The drugs named in the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 are illegal for a simple reason. The State still accepts that, even in their pure form, there is no safe dose. (emphasis added)’

In its 2011 Annual Report1 the International Narcotics Control Board’s President, Hamid Ghodse, notes;

‘About 80 per cent of the world’s population has limited or no access to controlled substances; that means that in most countries many people are suffering unnecessarily.’

That situation arises because governments, especially in under-developed countries, are fearful that use of morphine or diamorphine for pain relief will inevitably lead to misuse and create a greater substance abuse problem than they already have.

Telling the many thousands of people receiving morphine or diamorphine to help them cope with the pain of cancer or resulting from an accident or, in the case of military personnel, wounding, and the many, many thousands more family and friends of those unfortunates, that the pain relief they are being given has ‘no safe dose’ is not buffoonery. Nor is it dangerous.

It is contemptible.


1. INCB 2011 Annual Report Foreword International Narcotics Control Board 


From: John D 01/09/2012 16:25

Fully agree with you and I must congratulate you on this post and those in the thread to which Mr Hitchens contributed. I thought that your comments were unusually beautifully and eloquently stated. Perhaps a book on the catastrophe that is the War On Some Drugs could be your next undertaking.


Anyhow, I thought you might be interested in the questions I asked on one of the threads in Hitchens's blog concerning this 'safe dose' mumbo-jumbo:


"Since I raised the point about codeine in the earlier thread, as it seemed to me the most thorough refutation of PH's amazing statement about 'safe' doses, I had better add to this.


I have bought codeine-containing products at Boots a couple of times without the slightest interrogation. I asked for it, and I was handed it.


Notice how PH is now trying to muddy this issue by introducing talk of "tiny doses" vis-a-vis codeine and now speaks of safety "in unqualified hands". To address the first point, 12.8mg of codeine (that's in one pill) is not by my understanding a tiny quantity. That quantity of any substance is plain to see with the naked eye. But that's not the point. He has said that the State believes that there is no such thing as a safe dose of those particular drugs that happen to be controlled in this country.


So now, come clean and clear this up for us unthinking little people:

1) What leads you to say that the State believes that controlled drugs are unsafe at any dosage? I've never read any such assertion made anywhere else.

2) Do you believe that controlled drugs are unsafe at any dosage?

3) Please explain why preparations of the controlled drugs morphine, codeine and opium are available online or over-the-counter at pharmacies throughout this country.

4) Please explain why controlled drugs including heroin, methylphenidate, amphetamine, and a host of benzodiazepines are widely used in hospitals and prescribed to tens of thousands

5) Please name a substance controlled under the MDA or any other legislation that even produces measurable physiological effects at the dose of 1 nanogram (I'm being generous here and could have asked for femtogram over nanogram). In fact I doubt a microgram of LSD, astonishingly potent as that drug is, would produce any measurable change whatever in the consumer.

6) Please explain why there are millions (perhaps trillions) of Class A drugs (a consequence of the laws pertaining to structural similarity of molecules based on tryptamine and phenethylamine usually) whose harms have never been identified, have never been administered to a single person, and are probably entirely pharmacologically inert.


Searching questions indeed and they demand answers, especially from people who are eager to see millions made into criminals for daring to go near certain substances that are not sanctioned in this culture."


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