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Pontifications on Poison

Being some ramblings on events associated with poisonous plants.

January 2013

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Monday 28th January 2013

I think most people have their hobby horses; topics they return to time and again because they seem to be important but no-one seems to see that importance. For me, this would be a condition I describe as intellectual incest.

The best way to illustrate what I mean by that term is to look at the infamous affair of the British Airways tailfins. The BBC faux obituary is a good way to understand the issue if you are not familiar with it. BA decided to remove the Union Flag from its aircraft and, at a time when it was cutting staff to save money, decided to make a big fuss about the cost of the change...more

Saturday 26th January 2013


I’ve always resisted the adoption of online and text message abbreviated communication feeling that if something was worth saying it was worth saying clearly so that misunderstandings could be minimised.

But, today, I’ve realised the value of ‘OMG!’ as a means of expressing the near speechlessness induced by a piece of the most dreadful reporting in a major national newspaper. This won’t be the first piece I’ve written after something outrageous appeared in the press but it is the first time such a piece provoked that immediate cry of horror...more

Thursday 24th January 2013

To those who think I’m becoming obsessed with Catha edulis, khat, I’d like to point out that this piece is not about that plant. It is about maths and reporting standards, especially about how reporting involving ‘drugs’ is always overblown. It does, though, use khat as the ideal example of what I mean.

It begins with a Channel 4 report1, ahead of the release of the ACMD report, that included the statement that the khat market in the UK is worth over £400m per annum. I did a quick calculation and couldn’t get anywhere near that figure. I tweeted that Channel 4 was playing ‘think of a number’ and heard back from the reporter that he had taken the figure from a report published by the London Borough of Hillingdon2...more

Wednesday 23rd January 2013

Hooray for the ACMD!

The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs has published its latest report on Catha edulis, khat and in the covering letter to Theresa May, Home Secretary, the Chair, Professor Les Iversen, says;

‘On the basis of the available evidence, the overwhelming majority of Council members consider that khat should not be controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971.’...more

Tuesday 22nd January 2013

Spending a ninth day watching the snow falling and having to think carefully about even short journeys, it is easy to forget that there are parts of the world where summer is at its peak and plants are blooming and starting to set seed. A news report, and its follow-up, was a useful reminder.

The Christchurch Mail reported on a father and son who suffered burns from contact with Heracleum mantegazzianum, giant hogweed. The plant was in the man’s garden, having invaded from an adjacent vacant plot, and he thought his 12-year old son would enjoy working with him to remove it. He had no idea what the plant was...more

Friday 18th January 2013

Yesterday, I wrote about the issues, specific to Catha edulis, khat, that are of concern if the UK government announces, next week, that the plant is to be scheduled under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971.

The decision will not, however, be based solely on khat itself but will be taken in the context of the wider situation concerning psychoactive substances both legal and illegal. It is impossible, of course, for me to be able to measure the weight that will be given to the various aspects of the decision but, overall, I fear the government will favour prohibition...more

Thursday 17th January 2013

Though I’m not aware of any official announcement, it seems to be generally accepted that the latest report on Catha edulis, khat, from the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) will be published next week along with the government’s response to that report.

It seems to be a given that there has been no major change in the pattern of khat use or its effects since the last time the ACMD looked into it. It is possible, if anything, that there has been a decline in use in recent years seeming to imply that, if khat wasn’t worth scheduling in 2006, there is less reason now to include it in the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971...more

Wednesday 16th January 2013

I have a degree of hearing loss. I was going to write ‘I suffer from…’ but the truth is I don’t find it so affecting as to cause any real suffering. What I have is some high frequency loss in my left ear.

When I was working at the Alnwick Garden I did find it a bit of a nuisance so, in 2007, I paid for a hearing aid. In 2008, my name, finally, reached the top of the NHS waiting list and I received an NHS aid...more

13th January 2012

Two events occurring on consecutive days in two countries on opposite sides of the world suggested to me the complexity of dealing with the traditional use of psychoactive substances.

On Friday 11th January, the Plurinational State of Bolivia completed the process of getting official UN recognition of the rights of its people to grow Erythroxylum coca, the coca bush, in order to chew the leaves themselves. This marked the completion of a long and complex process and, as so often happens, ended up being more about international politics than drug policy..more

Friday 4th January 2013

I've set myself a task that, I think, will take me into the spring to complete. I'm updating/editing all the pages in the A to Z section of this site.

The idea for this website goes back to, probably, 2006 or 2007 but I did not start work on it until after I had finished working for the Alnwick Garden in May 2008. The intention was to get more information about poisonous plants online as quickly as possible and the site was up and running quite quickly based on the research I had done for myself in the previous five years..more


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