Thanks to Arné Verhoef we are happy to share with you the following conversation which was held in a leafy suburb in Jo’burg, South Africa, over some coffee and biscuits between Arné an professor David Nutt. He is a psychiatrist and neuropsychopharmacologist at the Imperial College in London, a world renowned researcher on drugs and drug harms, author and driver behind DrugScience, an independent scientific committee that aims to provide evidence based information on drugs. He also has an orchard of heritage apple varieties back home, which he shares with his wife Dianne, a labrador and a cat named Huxley.
Prof. Nutt came to South Africa to serve as an expert witness in the “Trial of the Plant” – The South African constitutional challenge on the legitimacy of Cannabis prohibition, brought forward by the Dagga Couple – Myrtle Clarke and Jules Stobbs. In the dock of the High Court for several days, the professor gave insight into the scale of harms of drugs, refuted prohibitionist and pseudo-scientific claims about Cannabis, and argued for reason and evidence based drug laws.
Professor, how far have we come from the 1961 UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs – Especially concerning Cannabis research?
Well, we haven’t come far enough. We’ve been seriously held back by the ’61 convention, which essentially denied medical value and therefore put great roadblocks in the way of people studying this plant. We’ve missed some huge opportunities over the last 50 odd years.
Some countries have fought back – The Dutch and the Spanish, and the Americans now. But still, the research opportunities lost have been vast. Where we’ve come to is at least restoring some of the areas of knowledge we had before the 1940’s, when Medical Cannabis was truly outlawed in the States. It had value – so we’re slowly putting it back where it needs to be, in terms of pain control and spasticity, tension, anxiety and sleep disorders. We still have a long way to go.
What do you think of the World Health Organisations’ critical review document? Are you involved in the Expert Committee?
No. We submitted a paper to the WHO expert committee before last Christmas, which gave them the background and authority to demand a review. It was decided by the WHO lawyers (Incorrectly I believe) that they couldn’t add it to the agenda. However, they have asked the WHO to ensure that there is a proper preview of the original (edit – The original document from which they formulated their ’61 stance) in anticipation of the next expert committee meeting in 2018. You’re never sure if they’ll actually do it. The WHO have been asked this on three occasions in the past four years and they’ve never bothered.
What’s your opinion on International Cannabis Policy?
Our international cannabis policy seems to be, thankfully, slowly collapsing. The American prohibition style control seems to be waning, now they have Cannabis being liberalised in their own country. There was an interesting comment made in the final document at the last UNGASS meeting – That they encourage local innovation and research projects to see whether there are better strategies than just prohibition. I actually think that it’s the beginning of turning the corner. I think the future, at least for most sane countries, looks promising.
What message would you like to send to politicians around the world regarding Cannabis?
I’d like to make a few points, but the main one is: Don’t believe the lies you’ve been told over the last 100 years by law enforcers and shady politicians and some doctors. Cannabis is a medicine and should be re-empowered as a medicine. People also like to use Cannabis to relax – and it can give them benefits such as increased creativity, insights into music and art. Just remember Jazz was the product of a Cannabis using sub-culture.
But we should also be careful, Cannabis can be potentially harmful to young people, so we should develop policies that minimise exposure to youth, to strong strengths, or to make sure that what’s sold contains a good balance of THC and CBD. And to do whatever you can to stop the rise of synthetic cannabinoids, because they are extremely toxic and unpleasant.
Also create a rational market. I think that the Dutch coffee shop model has been proven to work over the last three and a half decades, so it’s a good place to start for any country, with some adjustments.
Whats the best way to regulate Cannabis?
A regulated market with state control. Our research has shown that, when looking at all the variables that have to be taken into consideration, in relation to regulation – and there are 27 social factors that you have to consider, a regulated market with state-control of production and supply, through taxation, … comes out as the best benefit to society.
Where do you see the most benefit coming from Cannabis?
I think the most benefit will come largely from medical use, but I can see huge benefits with the growth of Hemp in other areas, in agriculture, construction and the like. The benefits of Cannabis would come mainly reducing the harms of opioids, and to some extent, reducing the use of, and the harms of, alcohol.
What about the risks of Cannabis?
All drugs are risky, and Cannabis is risky too. We know how to mitigate the risks – use less frequently, use less strong, use more balanced varieties, don’t use while you’re driving…We’ve also got antidotes, to sober people up. We could make those available. Again, they’re not being explored, natural antidotes, because they’re all controlled under these stupid conventions.
What’s your opinion on the fast growing Cannabis markets, around the globe, and the weaknesses they may face?
Well I’m glad it’s growing. The dangers are we’re going to run into problems – we’re going to have racketeering, we’re going to have poor regulations, side-effects and complications, selling to kids. So you know, those are the possibilities. A particularly rampant free-market could go badly wrong. Thats why our research showed that a state-regulated market is definitely better than the free-market. I think trying to keeping constraints on availability, quality control and taxation are the way forward.
What should the industry focused be on?
I think they should focus on having a strong, collective voice for reason and sense, rather than being stoically focused on maximising profits. Because there could be a backlash, and that would be dangerous. Better to go forward slowly, without errors, than to go fast and have to backtrack.
What do you know about Hemp?
Not a lot, but I’ve learnt a lot about it since my spell in South Africa, and it seems to just be a remarkable crop. I’m angry that we actually haven’t been told the truth about it for such a long time.
It’s bizarre to think that someone who’s spent the last 20 years working to understand the medical aspects of Cannabis, is still so ignorant about the value of Hemp. It’s a testimony to the stupidity of the prohibitionist regimes, where they stop people talking as well as researching.