Cracked Nutt: Scientist Argues Drugs Should Be Legalized For Research

In June Dr. David Nutt made headlines as one of the primary authors of a document that indicted government marijuana research policies stating that the outlaw of substances like marijuana, LSD and MDMA were tantamount to, “the worst case of scientific censorship since the Catholic Church banned the works of Copernicus and Galileo.”

In the paper Nutt, formerly a drug policy advisor to the British government, argues that current government law and regulations restrict what could be meaningful and culturally significant advances in the understanding of controlled substances and how they affect the health and wellbeing of users.

According to Nutt, “laws have never been updated despite scientific advances and growing evidence that many of these drugs are relatively safe.” He also claimed that politics were the main motivation behind the continued restrictions on research.

This claim is based on the assertion in his paper that alcohol and tobacco are significantly more harmful drugs. Of course, alcohol and tobacco are almost universally legal and are backed by large, established industries and major lobbying groups.

Even though Nutt is from the UK, his claims also ring true in the US which, after the recent legalization of the drug by the states of Washington and Colorado, is currently in the middle of a national debate on the merits of legal recreational and medicinal use of the substance.

In the US, if an organization wants to do research on marijuana they need to acquire a license from the Drug Enforcement Agency and get the study approved by the Food and Drug Administration. However, even if a license and approval are obtained researchers still need to actually procure marijuana—something that requires researchers to go through a third agency, the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

However, procuring marijuana has proven extremely difficult for researchers (which is hardly surprising considering the institute defines its relationship with drugs in terms of “abuse”). In large part, the difficulty comes from marijuana’s classification as a Schedule I controlled substance by the Controlled Substances Act. Per the Act, Schedule I substances A) have a high potential for abuse, B) have no accepted medical use in the US and C) lack accepted safety for use of the drug under medical supervision.

In particular, the legalization by certain states of marijuana for medicinal use come in clear conflict with points B and C of the Schedule I definition. By legalizing marijuana for medicinal use states are clearly stating their objections to the classification.

It isn’t clear what the future holds in regard to marijuana research. However, one thing is clear—in light of recent legalization efforts and the growing support for legalization in the US marijuana research has never been more important.


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