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Government to ban psychoactive drugs

Psychoactive drugs

"Drugs are bad, M'kay" so says South Park Elementary school counsellor Mr Mackey.  Clearly, the Home Secretary agrees and has proudly proclaimed that she has banned over 500 drugs in the past 5-years.

I imagine that making all those orders to ban drugs must get quite tedious, which is why Mrs May has come up with the ingenious solution of banning all psychoactive drugs.  The point of this is to prevent people taking legal highs, which are often made by untrained people, working in unsafe environments and using questionable ingredients.  Quite how that doesn't already breach some health and safety law is beyond me, but apparently it doesn't because the government wants to stop people taking them.

As a lawyer, there are two questions I think are important.  First, what is a legal high?  Secondly, what is a psychoactive drug?

To answer the first question, I asked Frank who told me that "'[l]egal highs' ... contain one or more chemical substances which produce similar effects to illegal drugs".

The World Health Organisation defines a psychoactive drug as "Psychoactive substances are substances that, when taken in or administered into one's system, affect mental processes, e.g. cognition or affect."

The Government of the Northern Territory in Australia goes on to say "The term 'psychoactive drug' is used to describe any chemical substance that affects mood, perception or consciousness as a result of changes in the functioning of the nervous system (brain and spinal cord).
"Psychoactive drugs are divided into 3 groups:
  • depressants: they slow down the central nervous system; for example: tranquillisers, alcohol, petrol, heroin and other opiates, cannabis (in low doses)
  • stimulants: they excite the nervous system; for example: nicotine, amphetamines, cocaine, caffeine
  • A steaming cup of coffee
    Coffee: a popular legal high
  • hallucinogens: they distort how things are perceived; for example: LSD, mescaline, 'magic mushrooms', cannabis (in high doses)."
The fact that alcohol, petrol, nicotine and caffeine are all psychoactive drugs that many of us use every day makes me wonder whether this is the correct way to tackle drug use... by the way fans of anal sex might like to know that poppers are also a psychoactive drug!!  Watch out Ann Summers.

Diphenhydramine is a drug that blocks a neuro-transmitter called histamine in the brain to relax involuntary muscle movements and to help people get to sleep, which is why it is the active ingredient in Nytol.  

Obviously, Mrs May is not about to ban booze, fags, Starbucks and sleeping aids so she'll create a special exception for them.  That's nice, but lets not forget that there are a lot of medical uses for psychoactive drugs that aren't obvious to the average person on the street.  I suspect that if Mrs May does go down this route then she may find herself creating as many exceptions to the new law as substances she banned under the old law!

Group of friends enjoying a beer
Wild-eyed drugs users
I find Mrs May's approach odd for two reasons.  First, the Tories have always struck me as a party that, on the whole, believes in a libertarian style of government - albeit one that at times imposes somewhat draconian rules on people it isn't very fond of.  Secondly, the legal system in England and Wales has always been one that allows people to do whatever they like until such time as the law says an activity is banned.  Continental systems are often the opposite in that they have a legal code that regulates what can be done by an individual.  So, it seems odd that a famously anti-Europe party seems to be driving us toward a more European style of law making.

My personal view, is that the UK should follow Portugal by effectively decriminalising drug use while simultaneously bolstering support services for those who want to stop using drugs.  I think that this offers the best way to a) cut down on drug related crime; b) regulate and thus make drugs safer for users; c) rather than draining money from the economy through law enforcement, courts and prisons, drugs users could contribute to society by paying tax on their drug use; and d) it will make people more likely to seek help to kick their habit if they know they will not be prosecuted and that there are services out there that can help them.


  1. If cuts are affecting the police as much as they claim, why isn't ACPO campaigning for drugs to be legalised? The war on drugs isn't winnable, and if something doesn't work, the rational approach is try something else.

    1. Call me a cynic, but I don't think politicians like being seen to change their minds on big policy areas. Also, senior police officers don't like to be seen siding with "criminals". I'm 90% sure they always ask themselves "what will the Daily Mail say if I do this?"

      Also, with police - they are paid to arrest criminals so maybe they are more likely to see things in terms of criminal behaviour, just as social workers are perhaps more likely to see drug use as part of social problems in a person's life?

  2. This very silly Bill would allow Theresa or her successors to take caffeine off the exempted list. Now there would be the black market to end them all . . .


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