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Independents' Day

The truth about David Nutt

David Nutt is a gift of a name for sub-editors on papers. The usual epithets of ‘Nutty Professor’ or ‘Nutts to you’ have been used to describe this distinguished academic. But who is he?

David Nutt is a gift of a name for sub-editors on papers. The usual epithets of ‘Nutty Professor' or ‘Nutts to you' have been used to describe this distinguished academic. But who is he?

David Nutt is an expert on the misuse of drugs. He is a professor at Bristol University, and heads up the Advisory Committee on the Misuse of Drugs. This he does pro bono publico, with no pay for it at all.

So far so good.

He and his committee give advice to the Government on drugs policy. This is an important piece of independent advice that is needed so that they can be sure of proper policy. Because I can tell you, as a Jobbing Doctor, that drugs policy is a mess. Essentially this is what Professor Nutt is saying as well.

Every day I have to deal with regular cases of the end results of drug abuse. A lot of my time is spent dealing with the side effects of all sorts of substances that people put into their bodies, such as heroin, cannabis, cocaine, alcohol and tobacco. The committee have given some simple facts for the policy makers to think on. The ones that really upset the downmarket tabloid newspapers (the Sun, Star, Mirror, Mail and Express) revolve around the use of cannabis.

Jobbing Doctor is a clinician of a certain age. I was young in the sixties and seventies. We experimented with drugs: everyone did. I had my first joint of cannabis as a first-year medical student (given to me by an old school friend and now a senior physician in a hospital in the Midlands). It really didn't do anything for me. I did inhale as well. I never smoked another one. A month later I gave up smoking.

I don't want you to think that Jobbing Doctor was an abstemious ascetic at University. I was a regular and conscientious imbiber of beer and wine, as we all were: we knew how to party! However, I do remember the peer pressure and the feeling of being with the ‘in' crowd that was associated with recreational drug use.

This makes me a sympathetic GP, I believe, as I try and be non-judgemental. This openness means that addicts have no difficulty in coming to see me, and they are generally very candid about their use of all types of drugs. The other day I was given a list of the best cannabis plants by one of my patients with a scoring chart of effectiveness!

So I would like to see some openness and honesty when it comes to drug policy, and here is where David Nutt comes in. He made the misjudgement of saying that cannabis (bad, naughty, illegal) is less dangerous that horseriding (posh, middle-class, beloved). Which it is. Horseriding is three times more likely to cause death than cannabis. Morbidity data are likewise able to be compared.

The chattering classes are outraged. How can they say that the enjoyment that is afforded to Francesca and Jemima is in any way comparable to what Dean and Tracey smoke in their council flat?

So David Nutt has been sacked. By e-mail. By the Home Secretary.

The politicians and the journalists are delighted. But it has not advanced the coherent discussion of drugs policy one bit. Indeed it has made it more difficult.

I thought we were supposed to be in an era of evidence-based policy, where policy is decided when considering the evidence. However, it seems that the evidence should be selected to fit the policy.

Policy-based evidence.

Jobbing Doctor

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