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Douglas Capraro Douglas Capraro

David Nutt’s Drug-by-Drug Guide to Sensible Policy

The neuroscientist and former UK chief drug adviser lays out exactly how he thinks each drug should be regulated.

6 Substance

David Nutt is the former chief drug adviser to the UK government, who was famously fired in 2009 for saying that ecstasy and LSD are less dangerous than cigarettes and alcohol. The leading neuroscientist and Imperial College professor just completed the first ever brain-imaging study of LSD and is currently working on a study of psilocybin (magic mushrooms) to treat depression. He recently sat down with Vice to give a drug-by-drug analysis of how he thinks a rational policy would deal with them.

“Drug products, like other risky products, need to be manufactured and sold in ways that manage those risks,” Nutt tells Vice. ”Therefore, drug-specific regulations are needed–from light-touch rules to strict pharmacy-only access.”

Here are some highlights from his guide to rational policy, laid out drug-by-drug:


The solution for marijuana regulation is simple, says Nutt: ”Cannabis, frankly, I think you could just sell in cafes like in Amsterdam.”


Nutt does not see any huge benefits to the white powder, especially with the availability of less toxic and complex stimulants. “If we had proper access to drugs like MDMA, mephedrone… stimulants of that class, people wouldn’t need cocaine,” he says. The same goes for cocaine’s close cousin, crack cocaine.

Magic Mushrooms/LSD

Nutt’s interest in the benefits of psychedelic drugs are well-documented, and his solution to the regulation of LSD and Magic Mushrooms reflect that. With regulated access and an annual limit, he believes that both drugs should have over-the-counter availability, saying: “They’ve never killed anyone, to my knowledge.”


As opposed to changing much about the way that tobacco is being sold today, Nutt believes it should be sold over-the-counter at pharmacies in generic packaging. This would reduce the influence of cigarette packaging in consumers’ decision making process.


“Heroin kills people in hospitals when doctors give it [to them],” Nutt says, “So I don’t think you can have heroin for personal use.” He thinks the opiate in its purest form should be available by prescription only.


Available over-the-counter in pharmacies and even perhaps clubs, Nutt believes MDMA should be allowed with a yearly allowance of 50 doses.


Says Nutt: “the massive increase in alcohol harm has been driven by availability in supermarkets in the 1960s and 70s.” So what would be a good solution? He thinks booze should be reclassified and therefore only available in pubs and other licensed premises.