Ecstasy should be downgraded, says drugs expert

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The leading scientist who advised the Government it was safe to downgrade cannabis to a class C drug yesterday called on ministers to change the laws on ecstasy.

Professor David Nutt, who is a senior member of the drugs panel which recommended cannabis reclassification, said grouping ecstasy in the same high-risk category as heroin and cocaine was misleading for users.

"Ecstasy is not a class A drug. It shouldn't be," said Professor Nutt, of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs and chairman of its technical committee that concluded that cannabis did not pose the same risks as other class B drugs.

David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, says he has no plans to relax the laws on ecstasy, and last year three leading psychologists provoked an outcry after claiming there was no conclusive evidence that ecstasy damages the brain.

The Independent on Sunday has learnt that the council, which advises the Home Secretary on the risks of drug use, is carrying out a full review of the classification system.

Professor Nutt's commentscome less than a week before cannabis is reclassified from a class B to a class C drug. From Thursday, officers will only arrest people found with the drug in extreme circumstances, for example if a user repeatedly offends.

Professor Nutt said many of the concerns over cannabis law reform were based on "misconceptions and prejudice".

"Four years ago everyone was saying we were not going far enough. Then everyone was very positive and a month before the legislation everyone discovers cannabis is a deadly toxin," Professor Nutt said.

"Almost nothing has changed. This thing about it might cause schizophrenia - that is still a possibility but that is not a reason for not reclassifying, it's a reason for making sure people are aware of the dangers."