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Former UK Adviser: Cannabis and Ecstasy Bans Prevent Scientific Research

Almost all the drugs that could help scientists to understand brain phenomena such as consciousness, perception, and psychosis are illegal, including ketamine, cannabis, and MDMA.

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Nutt said that the lack of scientific research was a direct result of the UK’s arbitrary classification of drugs. “Drugs are drugs – they differ in terms of their brain effects but, fundamentally, they’re all psychotropic agents and it is arbitrary whether we choose to keep alcohol legal or ban cannabis or make tobacco legal and ban ecstasy. Those are not scientific decisions, they’re political or moral or religious decisions.”

According to Nutt, research into the effects of drugs would lead to a more rational approach. He said the laws around the misuse of drugs needed to be rewritten, after a thorough, independent review of the harms involved.

“I’m not in favour of legalisation, a free open market of all drugs – that does lead to more use,” he said. “We need regulated access across the board.”

This would mean drugs such as cannabis, MDMA or PZP being made available for treatments through a pharmacy. Patients could be issued with a card and given access to an annual supply, he said. “Then at least you would know what you were getting.”

Alok Jha is a science correspondent at the Guardian. In addition to writing news and comment, he presents the Science Weekly podcast and looks after the Guardian's science website. A physics graduate from Imperial College London, he has been at the Guardian since the launch of the science supplement, Life, in 2003. He is also the author of The Doomsday Handbook: 50 Ways to the End of the World and How To Live Forever And 34 Other Really Interesting Uses for Science, both published by Quercus.