Being fired from your role as a senior UK government drugs adviser isn’t something that most people would draw attention to, but for Professor David Nutt it’s rightly a badge of honour.
Having spent his entire career separating pharmaceutical fact from fiction, the future Chair of the Awakn Life Sciences Board wasn’t prepared to ignore the evidence and 'Just Say No' as was the Labour party wont under Tony Blair.
No blushes – especially those of former Home Secretary Alan Johnson – are spared in his Nutt Uncut memoir as David recounts the political machinations of October 2009 that lead to his removal as Britain’s so-called Drugs Tzar.
“Evidence was nowhere in sight, logic had gone out of the window, all to appease the hysteria of the press,” he says of Johnson’s apoplectic reaction to him telling the BBC that Labour had got their drug classifications all wrong.
“A government that could pretend magic mushrooms were as dangerous as crack cocaine couldn’t, we felt, be trusted on other matters,” he continues. “I began to wonder if we would ever put evidence in the centre of decision-making and vowed that wherever possible I would ensure that the truth about drugs was told."
Professor Nutt’s subsequent sacking was greeted with glee by the tabloids, one of which attempted to smear his family, and dismay by the 3,000-plus academic colleagues who petitioned Prime Minister Blair for his reinstatement.
David immediately made good on his truth-telling promise by setting up Drug Science, a non-profit, which has vigorously campaigned for drug policy to be based on hard data rather than the likely reaction of the mainstream media.
Sadly, as the book’s And It Gets Worse! More Policy Madness with the Psychoactive Substances Act 2015 chapter highlights, the Conservative government that replaced Labour has the same allergic reaction to being presented with evidence-based research.
Singer Lily Allen and footballer Raheem Sterling are both weaved into the bizarre ‘hippy crack’ narrative of how politicians once again paid more heed to the editor of The Sun than they did to people with medical qualifications.
As David explains in Nutt Uncut, it took eight years of jumping over “immense regulatory hurdles” before he was given the 2018 green light to research the therapeutic benefits (or otherwise) of the psychoactive compound in magic mushrooms, psilocybin.
That research's success in establishing efficacy is underlined by the participating patients who variously tell him that, “My outlook has changed significantly. I’m more aware now that it’s pointless to get wrapped up in endless negativity”; “I felt my brain was rebooted. I had the mental agility to overcome problems” and “The reset switch has been pressed so everything could run properly, thoughts could run more freely; all these networks could work again.”
Recommending Jay Stevens’ Storming Heaven: LSD And The American Dream as further reading, David reminds us that LSD was successfully used to treat alcoholism in the States until Timothy Leary’s 1966’s “turn on, tune in, drop out” counterculture pronouncement spooked the federal government into banning it.
“Since psychedelics were banned over 100 million people worldwide have died prematurely from alcohol use,” David reflects. “If only ten per cent had responded to psychedelic treatment that would have saved ten million deaths.”
Thankfully, Nutt Uncut is able to end on an optimistic note with a chapter devoted to the psychedelic renaissance that Awakn Life Sciences is proud to be a part of.
“The outcomes these psychedelic medicines offer are incredible,” he notes. “After fifteen years of rigorous research and trials, we’re now at the point where ketamine is a proven treatment for depression, and psychedelics and MDMA are looking very promising for depression and alcoholism respectively.”
Such is Professor Nutt’s rock star status in the field that he also hit the shelves before Christmas with Drink? The New Science Of Alcohol + Your Health and an updated edition of Drugs Without The Hot Air: Making Sense Of Legal And Illegal Drugs.
Doing exactly what they say they do on the cover, both display the common sense, plain talking and no little humour that have been hallmarks of Professor Nutt’s five-decades-long career.
While most of what he’s writing about is by definition academic, the tone is anything but superior with David knowing when to entertain as well as inform.