I first read “Drugs Without the Hot Air,” David Nutt’s astoundingly good book about drug policy back in 2012; in the eight years since, hardly a month has gone by without my thinking about it. Now, there’s a new, updated edition, extensively revised, and it’s an absolute must-read.
Nutt came to fame when he served as the UK “Drugs Czar” under the Labour Government in the late 2000s; especially when Home Secretary Jacqui Smith fired him for his refusal to lie and say that marijuana was more harmful than alcohol, despite the extensive evidence to the contrary (Smith also threatened Nutt for publishing a paper in Nature that compared the neurological harms of recreational horseback riding to harms from recreational MDMA use, a paper that concluded that if horses came in pill form we might call them “Equasy”).
Since then, Nutt — an eminent psychopharmacologist researcher and practioner — has continued to campaign, research, and write about evidence-based drugs policy that takes as its central mission to reduce harm and preserve therapeutic benefits from drugs.
Like the first edition of Drugs Without the Hot Air, the new edition serves three missions:
1. First, to describe how a wide variety of drugs — benzos, cocaine, opoiods, cannabis, etc, but also alcohol, caffeine and nicotine — work in the body, in clear, nontechnical language that anyone can follow.
2. Next, to describe the harms and benefits of drugs, considered both on individual and societal levels — and also to describe what the best medical evidence tells us about maximizing those benefits and minimizing those harms.
3. Finally, to recount how governments — mainly in the UK but also in the USA and elsewhere — have responded to the evidence on drug mechanisms, harms and benefits.
Inevitably, part 3 becomes an indictment, as Nutt describes in eye-watering, frustrating, brutal detail how harmful, incoherent, self-serving and cowardly government responses to drugs have been, and how many lives they have ruined — through criminalizing harmless conduct, through treating medical problems as criminal ones, and through badly thought-through policies that caused relatively benign substances to be replaced with far more harmful ones (for example, Nutt traces the lethal rise in fentanyl partly to the successful global interdiction of opium poppies).
One important difference between the new edition and the original is visible progress on this last. In the years since Nutt was fired for refusing to lie about science, he has founded Drugscience, a research and advocacy nonprofit that has scored significant policy wins and made real therapeutic breakthroughs through hard work and rigour.
I don’t think you could ask for a more sensible, clear-eyed, and useful book about drugs, from the ones your doctor prescribes to the ones your bartender serves you to the ones you can go to jail for possessing. Nutt is not just a great and principled campaigner, nor merely a talented and dedicated scientist — he’s also a superb communicator.
Drugs Without the Hot Air is part of an outstanding series of technical books — mostly about climate change — that have greatly influenced my thinking. The publisher, UIT Cambridge, has several more that I recommend.
Drugs without the hot air: Making sense of legal and illegal drugs [David Nutt/UIT Cambridge]
“Before Clearview Became a Police Tool, It Was a Secret Plaything of the Rich.” That’s the title of the New York Times piece, and that’s the horrifying reality of how artificial intelligence and facial recognition are already being used in ways that violate your expectations of privacy in the world.
A person who works at Amazon.com’s corporate headquarters in Seattle, Washington, has tested positive for COVID-19, said the company.
Recession fears are spreading, along with COVID-19. The coronavirus outbreak and unknowns about preparedness caused massive financial losses this week. The Dow closed down 350 points. The S&P 500 dropped for the seventh day in a row, and posted its biggest drop in a single week since the 2008 financial crisis. More from Reuters: The […]
Yes, even air purifiers are smarter than people now. While you thought sucking particulates out of the air and generally scrubbing the breathable space in your home or office was responsibility enough, smart technology has moved into air purification — so now, purifiers can take on tasks they’ve never faced before. The Wynd Essential is […]
From business to science to sports, data can help answer virtually any unknown question. And if it can’t, it can certainly point you in the right direction. And with every company and organization looking for facts to validate their decisions, the job prospects of a well-qualified data scientist to sort all those numbers out are […]
Why don’t more American homes have a bidet? Sure, it may seem odd at first, but travel around the rest of the world, from Europe to Asia and beyond, and those happy little spritzers are standard issue in practically every home. Considering what a clean-freak, germ-phobic society America has become, it’s truly puzzling that this […]