activism David Nutt is no stranger to both the drug prevention scene, and the cannabis activism scene. Among many other things, he is an eminent neuropsychopharmacologist from the United Kingdom who has dedicated his research to drugs. More specifically, his research focuses on how they affect the brain, and could possibly alleviate symptoms observed in depression sufferers, and addicts.
After quite a lengthy and laborious struggle with the powers –that-be, Professor David Nutt is this year’s winner of the John Maddox Prize for Standing up for Science.
Story of a stubborn truth seeker
From 1978 on, David Nutt focused on studying drugs and their impact on the human organism, researching illegal substances as well as prescription drugs in order to prove that some of the substances deemed illegal by the government could be used for medical purposes, while some authorized compounds are noticeably harmful to the patients using them.
In 2007, he published a piece of research which sparked much controversy. Two years later it resulted in unexpected fame for David Nutt, when he was sacked by the UK government from his post as one of their official drug advisors simply for writing it. The study, which is still quoted today in various publications dealing with the harm caused by cannabis and other drugs, concluded that cannabis (as well as LSD and ecstasy) were less harmful than alcohol or tobacco to both the individual user, and society as a whole.
The results of the study discredited the government drug policy in place at the time by proving that their rules were motivated by political agendas rather than scientific facts. The subsequent raising of awareness of the general public regarding this matter also triggered many negative reactions from government officials, as well as disagreements with other members of the scientific community.
However, David Nutt continued to broadcast his message through conferences and articles, as well as through his position in the UK government. Indeed, Nutt was appointed as the chairman of the ACMD (Advisory Council for the Misuse of Drugs) in 2008, while continuing with his research and public awareness campaign. This often triggered irate reactions from government ministers when attempting to address the reclassification of the substances which he had earlier proven to be virtually harmless.
Finally, he released a pamphlet in 2009 in which he combined the results of his 2007 studies with more recent ones to again advocate for the reclassification of many substances. He defined cannabis as a Class C drug (the least harmful type), and alcohol and tobacco as Class B drugs.
The reaction of the UK government to the determination of the scientist was immediate; the day after the publication of the pamphlet, David Nutt was asked by the Home Secretary of the time, Alan Johnson, to step aside from his position of chief drug adviser and chairman of the ACMD.
Fortunately, this incident did not have only negative consequences. Following the dismissal of David Nutt, a number of his fellow scientists and experts in the drug policy matter resigned from the ACMD and founded the Independent Scientific Committee on Drugs, an independent organization that aims to “ensure that the public can access clear, evidence-based information on drugs without interference from political or commercial interest.”
Since then, David Nutt has been continuously propagating the scientific facts that led to this infamous controversy. He has continued to research the possible medical uses of illegal substances and broadcast the results, not only through the aforementioned drug committee, but also in numerous publications, and of course at Imperial College London, where he functions as Edmond J Safra Professor of Neuropsychopharmacology.
Another relatively positive consequence of Dr. Nutt’s sacking from the ACMD was the creation of the Principles of Scientific Advice to Government, which “set out the rules of engagement between the Government and those who provide independent scientific and engineering advice”, and underline the importance of scientific sources untainted by political persuasions. These principles are now part of the guidelines followed by the UK Government Office for Science, and might hopefully be one of the pillars leading to a better regulation of drugs in the UK.
The John Maddox Prize affirms David Nutt’s work
It is only just that David Nutt would eventually be rewarded for the tremendous work he has provided over the years to his country and to the world.
This is why it is no surprise to the cannabis community, nor to advocates of alternative medicine, to see David Nutt win the 2013 John Maddox Prize for Standing up for Science. In fact, the general aim of this award perfectly describes David Nutt’s struggle:
“The John Maddox Prize for standing up for science rewards an individual who has promoted sound science and evidence on a matter of public interest. Its emphasis is on those who have faced difficulty or hostility in doing so.”
Sensi Seeds is positively delighted to see such an eminent independent thinker and fact-driven mind rewarded for his efforts and his troubles, and remains as ever wishful to see a more sensible drug policy implemented in the UK, and everywhere in the world.