American states that teach pupils to abstain from sex have higher pregnancy rates than those which teach contraception. The moral of the story: rather than trying to control people’s behaviour in a way that isn’t possible, give them the best available information so that when some indulge in the inevitable, they do it in the least harmful way.
This is far from the way in which issues surrounding drugs are dealt with in the UK. Take, for instance, the illicit substances MDMA and cocaine. Both come in powder forms and are enjoyed on nights out, making it easy to see how people might consider them on an equal level, perhaps having taken one, experiencing no adverse effects and seeing no harm in taking the other.
Neuropsychopharmacologist David Nutt and a team of experts devised a list of Britain’s most harmful substances based on these two main factors of harm caused and likelihood of dependence. One of the previously mentioned substances came in at number 18, as there is no strong evidence for long-term damage and it is not addictive. The other came second, behind only heroin, due to it’s massive potential for physical and mental harm, being one of the most addictive substances known to man.
If we had been properly educated on drug use, there would be 100% accuracy in deciphering which of these substances is which, with no hesitation to answer given the enormous discrepancy between the two. But from discussions I’ve had with people, this is clearly not the case. I’m sure many people reading this are either unsure or not entirely confident in their ability to answer correctly.
Nutt’s study found cocaine to be the second most dangerous drug with MDMA coming in at only 18. Why then is it people are so unaware of this division?
Perhaps that they’re both class A drugs according to a classification system that “as a scientific framework for assigning the relative weights to dangerousness of drugs in the UK it doesn’t have a lot going for it,” according to Dr John Marsden of the Institute for Psychiatry. Or maybe because much like the American pupils taught simply to abstain from sex, we’re told that all drugs are bad and we shouldn’t do them, meaning those who inevitably enter the world of drugs do so unaware that they are likely to damage themselves.
Yet when it comes to alcohol (ranked fifth in Nutt’s list) or tobacco (responsible for one fifth of UK deaths), we’re then told we can use them if we’re responsible, creating herds of liver, lung and brain damaged people convinced what they’re doing is fine because those in charge have arbitrarily declared these substances OK.
As Amanda Fielding, founder of the Beckley Foundation put it: “it’s a fact of life that people have always altered their consciousness and they’re going to continue doing so and therefore we as a society need to get a very firm grip on the relative harms of the difference substances which we need to teach to our children, and rather than forbid we need to educate.”