The British Medical Journal has called for the legalisation of illicit drugs for the first time.
Prohibition laws have failed to curb either supply or demand, reduce addiction, cut violence or reduce profits for organised crime, the journal argued, saying the so-called 'War on Drugs' had been a failure.
It said the ban on the production, supply, possession and use of some drugs for non-medical purposes was causing huge harm.
“There is an imperative to investigate more effective alternatives to criminalisation of drug use and supply," the BMJ said in an editorial.
The paper’s editor-in-chief, Dr Fiona Godlee, and features and debates editor, Richard Hurley, pointed to the fact drug use has grown substantially worldwide, with a quarter of a billion adults worldwide having potentially taken illegal drugs such as cannabis, cocaine or heroin in 2014.
World's 10 most deadly street drugs
World's 10 most deadly street drugs
1/10 10. Purple Drank
One of the more unusual drugs around at the moment, purple drank was popularised in 90s hip hop culture, with the likes of Jay Z and Big Moe all mentioning it in their songs. It is a concoction of soda water, sweets and cold medicine, and is drunk due to cold medicines high codeine content, which gives the user a woozy feeling. However it can also cause respiratory issues and heart failure
2/10 9. Scopolamine
Scopolamine is a derivative from the nightshade plant found in the Northern Indian region of South America (Ecuador, Colombia and Venezuela). It is generally found in a refined powder form, but can also be found as a tea. The drug is more often used by criminals due its high toxicity level (one gram is believed to be able to kill up to 20 people) making it a strong poison. However, it is also believed that the drug is blown into the faces of unexpecting victims, later causing them to lose all sense of self-control and becoming incapable of forming memories during the time they are under the influence of the drug. This tactic has reportedly been used by gangs in Colombia where there have been reports of people using scopolamine as way to convince victims to rob their own homes
3/10 8. Heroin
Founded in 1874 by C. R. Alder Wright, heroin is one of the world’s oldest drugs. Originally it was prescribed as a strong painkiller used to treat chronic pain and physical trauma. However in 1971 it was made illegal under the Misuse of Drugs Act. Since then it has become one of the most destructive substances in the world, tearing apart communities and destroying families. The side effects of heroin include inflammation of the gums, cold sweats, a weak immune system, muscular weakness and insomnia. It can also damage blood vessels which can later cause gangrene if left untreated
4/10 7. Crack cocaine
Crack cocaine first came about in the 1980’s when cocaine became a widespread commodity within the drug trafficking world. Originally cocaine would have attracted a high price tag due to its rarity and difficulty to produce, but once it became more widespread the price dropped significantly. This resulted in drug dealers forming their cocaine into rock like shapes by using baking soda as a way of distilling the powder down into rock form. People were doing this because it allowed for them to sell cocaine at a lower quantity and to a higher number of people. The side effects of crack cocaine include liver, kidney and lung damage, as well as permanent damage to blood vessels, which can often lead to heart attacks, strokes, and ultimately death
5/10 6. Crystal meth
Not just famous because of a certain Walter H White, but also because it is one of the most destructive drugs in the world. First developed in 1887, it became widely used during the Second World War when both sides would give it to their troops to keep them awake. It is also believed that the Japanese gave it to their Kamikaze pilots before their suicide missions. After the war crystal meth was prescribed as a diet aid and remained legal until the 1970s. Since then it has fallen into the hands of Mexican gangs and has become a worldwide phenomenon, spreading throughout Europe and Asia. The effects of crystal meth are devastating. In the short-term users will become sleep depraved and anxious, and in the long-term it will cause their flesh to sink, as well as brain damage and damage of the blood vessels
6/10 5. AH-7921
AH-7921 is a synthetic opioid that was previously available to legally purchase online from vendors until it became a Class A in January 2015. The drug is believed to have 80% of the potency of morphine, and became known as the ‘legal heroin’. While there has only been one death related to AH-7921 in the UK, it is believed to be highly dangerous and capable of causing respiratory arrest and gangrene
7/10 4. Flakka
Flakka is a stimulant with a similar chemical make-up to the amphetamine-like drug found in bath salts. While the drug was originally marketed as a legal high alternative to ecstasy, the effects are significantly different. The user will feel an elevated heart rate, enhanced emotions, and, if enough is digested, strong hallucinations. The drug can cause permanent psychological damage due to it affecting the mood regulating neurons that keep the mind’s serotonin and dopamine in check, as well as possibly causing heart failure
8/10 3. Bath salts
Bath salts are a synthetic crystalline drug that is prevalent in the US. While they may sound harmless, they certainly aren’t the sort of salts you drop into a warm bath when having a relaxing night in, they are most similar to mephedrone, and have recently been featured throughout social media due to the ‘zombification’ of its. The name comes from the fact that the drug was originally sold online, and widely disguised as bath salts. The side effects include unusual psychiatric behaviour, psychosis, panic attacks and violent behaviour, as well as the possibility of a heart attack and an elevated body temperature
9/10 2. Whoonga
Whoonga is a combination of antiretroviral drugs, used to treat HIV, and various cutting agents such as detergents and poisons. The drug is widely available in South Africa due to South Africa’s high rate of HIV sufferers, and is believed to be popular due to how cheap it is when compared to prescribed antiretrovirals. The drug is highly addictive and can cause major health issues such as internal bleeding, stomach ulcers and ultimately death
10/10 1. Krokodil
Krokodil is Russia’s secret addiction. It is believed that over one million Russians are addicted to the drug. Users of krokodil are attracted to the drug due to its low price; it is sold at £20 a gram while heroin is sold for £60. However, krokodil is considered more dangerous than heroin because it is often homemade, with ingredients including painkillers, iodine, lighter fluid and industrial cleaning agents. This chemical make-up makes the drug highly dangerous and likely to cause gangrene, and eventually rotting of the flesh
In the UK, a quarter of 15-year-olds may have taken illegal preparations of unknown quality and potency.
The BMJ said some countries have already removed criminal penalties for personal drug possession.
For example, Portugal replaced criminal sanctions for drug use with civil penalties and health interventions 15 years ago, while the UK’s new Psychoactive Substances Act criminalises the supply but not the use of synthetic drugs.
Some US states such as California have legal cannabis markets and the Netherlands has tolerated regulated cannabis sales for years.
The editors called for doctors to be at the centre of the debate on alternative policies to promote health and respect people’s dignity.
“Health should be at the centre of this debate, and so, therefore, should healthcare professionals,” they argued.
“Change is coming, and doctors should use their authority to lead calls for pragmatic reform informed by science and ethics.”
In the same issue, former Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg and Baroness Molly Meacher said the UK’s drug policy has been irrational for 55 years and argued this was the right time to establish a wider review of drug policy.
They urged the Government to reschedule cannabis for medical use and review policy on heroin-assisted treatment, which they said had shown positive results in Switzerland, such as a decline in drug use and crime and improvements in health and rehabilitation.
The Parliamentarians also called for an end to criminal sanctions for the personal possession and use of all drugs.
“British politicians should seriously consider introducing a version of the Portuguese model in the UK, involving a significant transfer of resources from criminal justice to treatment services,” they said.
They added that steps towards decriminalisation in the UK have already begun, with the Psychoactive Substances Act 2016, and argued changes to drug prohibition “could be good for the UK".
Ruth Dreifuss, former President of Switzerland and chair of the Global Commission on Drug Policy, said the need for more effective and humane drug policies was more urgent now than ever.
She argued the idealised notion of a “society without drugs” was an unattainable fantasy and said reforms must prioritise issues of public health, social integration and security, while respecting human rights and judicial process.
Decriminalisation can and must go further, she added.
In an upcoming report, the Global Commission will call for governments to regulate all illicit drugs, which it says would curb a massive revenue for organised crime worth an estimated $320bn.
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