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Laughing gas less toxic or addictive than alcohol

Written by on January 16, 2020

Laughing gas \'less toxic or addictive than alcohol\'

Alcohol is the most damaging drug people can take, with laughing gas being far less toxic or addictive, a former drug tsar has said. Professor David Nutt was sacked in 2009 as the government’s chief drug adviser, a day after claiming that ecstasy and LSD were less dangerous than alcohol.

He alleged in a research paper that alcohol and tobacco were more harmful than many illegal drugs, including LSD, ecstasy and cannabis.

He stands by that claim, saying “alcohol is the most damaging drug in pretty much every Western country”.

As the revised second edition of his book Drugs Without The Hot Air is published, Prof Nutt said that, if looking at the UK, alcohol is the most harmful drug overall.

He added: “Every family in Britain is damaged to some extent by alcohol. If not in terms of physical or psychological damage, then in terms of the financial damage that excess drinking causes.”

He said one thing that has become “very clear” over the last 10 years is that “there has been absolutely no action whatsoever on the fact alcohol is the most harmful drug”.

He said there was a continued attempt to undermine the harm of alcohol by saying it has health benefits.

But, he argued, any health gains from alcohol are limited to consumption of 5g of alcohol per day – the equivalent of sharing one 175ml glass of wine between three people.

Prof Nutt also said nitrous oxide – known as laughing gas and sometimes hippy crack – is a “great British discovery” used for pain, such as in childbirth.

He said the drug is fun “without the risks of alcohol”, adding: “It’s effect is over in a few minutes – you’re perfectly safe, you can go back home, you can drive, you’re not going to be mugged, you’re not going to have a hangover.”

Laughing gas represents “a logical alternative to alcohol for those people who don’t want to be impaired and it’s less toxic and less addictive”, he added.

However, the supply of nitrous oxide for recreational purposes is illegal, while alcohol remains legal.

Turning to opiates, Prof Nutt told journalists that the UK “breaks the record for the number of deaths from opiates” every year.

Yet in other countries, opiate deaths have fallen dramatically.

In 2004, possession of all drugs was decriminalised in Portugal, with a particular emphasis on opiates, which led to a huge drop in death rates, he said.

“In the last government, drug ministers went to Portugal and said ‘Oh yes, it works’ but we don’t do anything about it,” he said.

“This is one of the worst examples of ignoring international evidence.”

Prof Nutt also said fentanyl – a powerful synthetic opioid that is similar to morphine but is 50 to 100 times more potent – is a growing problem in the UK.

“Fentanyl is being put into all sorts of drugs because it’s a very powerful drug”, he said.

“It gives you a powerful effect and it’s very cheap.

“Unless we do something, we will get a growing problem with fentanyl.”

He said that because policy had been trying to eliminate heroin and not putting enough people into treatment programmes, people will turn to other drugs such as fentanyl instead.

“The black market looks for alternatives. Fentanyl is 50 times as powerful as heroin and a third of the price.”

The profit margins for fentanyl “are enormous and so now the black market is moving to fentanyl”, he said.

“Trying to stop people using heroin has led this terrible monster … there are 80 different fentanyls detected in Britain.”

Prof Nutt is calling for drug policy to be moved from the control of the Home Office to the Department of Health, for widespread drug testing and for regulated access to drugs less harmful to users than alcohol.

In October, a cross-party group of MPs said some drug offences should be decriminalised in an attempt to stem the rising number of related deaths.

Stephen Ream, director of Re-Solv, the solvent abuse support charity, said: “Inhaling nitrous oxide, like any substance used for intoxication, carries risks.

“It is rare, but some people have experienced significant problems with the substance after developing a psychological addiction.

“There have been incidents of people using nitrous oxide while driving, which is concerning.

“There have also been at least 19 deaths associated with inhaling nitrous oxide in the last six years in the UK.”

A spokesman for the Alcohol Information Partnership, which is funded by the alcohol industry, said: “Prof Nutt’s focus on the effects of harmful drinking should not be allowed to detract from the fact that, as evidenced by the latest Government figures, our relationship with alcohol has changed significantly over recent years, with the vast majority of UK citizens drinking alcohol within the recommended guidelines.”

A Government spokeswoman said: “The Government has no plans to decriminalise drug possession.

“We have commissioned a major review of drug misuse including looking at who drug users are, what they are taking and how often, to build the most in-depth and comprehensive picture of this issue to date.”

Published: 16/01/2020 by Radio NewsHub