Coming soon: the recreational drug with no side-effects

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Indy Politics

Experts looked 20 years into the future to discover what kind of drugs we would be taking, and came up with a surprising range of findings, that open up the prospect of Sunday mornings without a thumping hangover or the "parrot's cage" mouth.

They have also been able to separate the effect of one psychoactive substance from its addictive properties, leading an expert panel to advise Government ministers that "this could pave the way to non-addictive recreational drugs".

One of the new substances has even been found to reduce the side effects of recreational drugs. "Such compounds might allow users to shape their drug experience," said the panel headed by Sir David King, the Government's chief scientific adviser.

His report to the Trade and Industry Secretary, Alan Johnson, raises the possibility that, in a generation, Britain's dinner parties could become more like Woody Allen's "orb" scene in the futuristic film Sleeper, where guests get high by rubbing the orb instead of inhaling a joint.

The report said: "There are a number of new and developing technologies that could be used to deliver drugs in new ways. Examples include patches, vaporisers, depot injection and direct neural stimulation ... this may encourage the development of technology for the slower release of recreational psychoactive substances, which could reduce the risk of addiction."

Some drugs developed to tackle health problems are capable of being used for improving the performance of the brain. Madafinil, which was introduced to treat narcolepsy, can keep normal people awake for three days, says the report.

Other drugs could be used to stop alcohol triggering a need for a cigarette. "Drinking with friends might no longer create a trigger for an individual to smoke tobacco," the panel said.

Illicit laboratories that have supplied the black market with drugs for years may also accidentally discover drugs that could help sufferers from degenerative diseases in old age. "Perhaps the next major breakthrough in treatments for Parkinson's or Alzheimer's, may come from some informal developer seeking to find the next rush," says the report.

However, the report could give ministers a hangover. It raises questions that they would prefer to be swept under the carpet.

In addition to raising the possibility that new drugs could remove the nasty side-effects of recreational drugs, it raises taboo subjects such as whether in future, prohibition is the right way to stop young people using drugs such as ecstasy.

It says an early warning of new drugs on the scene is essential in order to manage their use. "Such insights could play a key role in limiting the harm of any new recreational substances. It might also become apparent that some psychoactive substances are less harmful. Their use might be encouraged to replace more harmful ones."

Such a move would require a change in the drug laws because such drugs would be illegal. Sir David says in a foreword to the report: "We are on the verge of developments which could possibly move us into a world where we could take a drug to help us learn, think faster, relax, sleep more efficiently or even subtly alter our mood to match that of our friends."

The expert team ran a number of different workshops with members of the public to find out their views on how society would react to new drugs, and also did extensive scientific reviews. They also looked into the prospect of medical advances for tackling mental illnesses - such as clinical depression - by incorporating drugs in food.