Saturday, 31 October 2009

Is the Professor a Nutt?

The claim by Professor David Nutt -- sacked on 30 October as the government's advisor on drugs policy -- that alcohol is more dangerous than cannabis and ecstasy defies credulity.
In the course of my work, I visit scores of breweries in Britain and abroad. They are open, legal enterprises where skilled and trained brewers take the finest raw materials -- barley malt, hops, yeast and water -- to fashion beers packed with flavour that give pleasure to millions. To compare brewing with lock-up garages and underground laboratories where dubious people manufacture hallucinatory drugs is palpable nonsense. It is also deeply insulting to brewers.
Beer has been made since at least 3000 years BC. Nomadic people in Egypt and surrounding countries stopped roaming and built settled communities to grown grain and from grain to make bread and beer. Until comparatively recent times, water was insanitary and beer not only gave pleasure to people but kept them healthy.
The British are moderate drinkers. In the world league of alcohol consumption, Britain ranks Number 16. The overwhelming majoritty of British people handle alcohol sensibly and moderately. We drink it openly and don't inject it into veins in toilets and other secret places.
There is also a large body of work that shows that moderate consumption of alcohol can be beneficial and help ward off heart attacks and some forms of cancer. Beer is rich in Vitam B and folate, good for maintaining healthy skin and bones.
Professor Nutt's remarks fly in the face of the facts and he has done a great disservice to the alcohol industry.


Blogger Johnny Norfolk said...

Again this is the kind of person Labour selects to give advice.

Nutt by name nut by nature.

31 October 2009 at 15:37  
Blogger Paul Bailey said...

Nicely put Roger, it makes one womder what planet these peole are living on!

31 October 2009 at 22:26  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mind-bogglingly wrong in so many ways Roger.

2 November 2009 at 11:20  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"It is also deeply insulting to brewers".

Oh yes the media and internet are awash with irate and "insulted" brewers. Yeah right.

2 November 2009 at 11:22  
Blogger Barm said...

Well, I dare say that Prof Nutt knows more about the effects of drug use than you, I or the Home Secretary.

If you read Prof Nutt's paper, he is not demonising alcohol, but using it as a benchmark. The point is to give an indication of how dangerous certain drugs are in comparison to the drugs that are most familiar to most of us. Everything we do in life has an element of risk. That's the point.

The point is to quantify the risk involved. None of us would do the lottery if we thought about the incredibly low chance we actually have of winning. We do it for the excitement, a moment's entertainment and the hope that we will be "lucky". It is based on faith and hope, not logic and reason.

I suggest that faith and hope are a poor basis for alcohol policy, especially when combined with spin, PR, bullshit, bluster and fear of what the Daily Mail will say.

You may not agree with Prof Nutt's views. They are, however, based on evidence, while Johnson's and yours are based on faith and prejudice. Why is this important? It means that you can argue with Nutt (by criticising his methodology, for example), whereas you cannot argue with the likes of Alan Johnson.

It is the same reason you cannot argue with the neo-prohibitionists who rant about the supposed need to increase alcohol prices and decrease availability, even though alcohol consumption has been falling substantially for the last eight years. I therefore think it is very much in the interest of beer drinkers to support a science-based approach to reducing alcohol harm, rather than the alternative based on whatever prejudices the government of the day might have.

I don't really see what relevance it has to point out that beer has been consumed since 3000 BC. There is evidence that this is also the case for cannabis. Ecstasy has been around for longer than alcopops; none of this proves anything about how harmful they may or may not be.

As I'm sure you do, I think society would have fewer alcohol-related problems if people drank good beer. But you know as well as I do that the majority of people and especially of alcohol abusers are consuming "vodka" made of watered down ethanol of unknown provenance, mass-produced barely-lagered "lager" and other concoctions. The majority of the alcohol industry is far removed from the romantic craft breweries you describe.

2 November 2009 at 12:48  
Blogger Barm said...

Correction to my comment: alcohol consumption has been falling steadily for the last five years, not the last eight.

2 November 2009 at 13:26  
Blogger Jeff Rosenmeier said...

As Barm said, the so called Nut was just giving some comparative risk of several familiar drugs.

I think your own sanity must be checked if you think that the hop's cousin (cannabis) is more dangerous than alcohol...

...when is the last time you saw someone kick the shit out of random strangers, someone rolling in the street in their own sick or drivin their car into a tree after smokin a spliff...come on, wake up and smell the ganja.

Kids need to be taught relative risk and putting cannabis with heroin and cocaine is insane. After a child has a spliff they think 'that wasn't bad, what the hell is the govt/parents talking about' and in their brain they say well, 'parents/govt must be bullshitting me about heroin' and that is a big problem.

2 November 2009 at 13:31  
Blogger David said...

The legality of alcohol vs cannabis and ecstasy is not the issue.
The fact that beer has been made since at least 3000 years BC is not the issue.
The issue is how dangerous are cannabis and ecstasy, and one way to help people gauge that is to compare them to a drug that most are familiar with.

3 November 2009 at 13:47  
Blogger Johnny Norfolk said...

I am just sick and tired of these people pontificating on how we should live our lives.
Why do we need all these warnings all the time. It strikes me there a far to many of these people with not enough to do.
Lets ban all these warnings on packets and bottles, print them in a book and provide copies free of charge to those that want them.

Just leave us alone.

3 November 2009 at 17:40  
Blogger Unknown said...

Barm said:

You may not agree with Prof Nutt's views. They are, however, based on evidence

Actually, the Lancet paper published March 24 2008 follows a methodology that appears to be quite doubtful, taking scores across various non-comparable dimensions of harm and then averaging them. I'm certainly not convinced by the methodology and the paper itself states that there are 'reservations'.

The paper also states:

direct comparison of the scores for tobacco and alcohol
with those of the other drugs is not possible since the fact
that they are legal could affect their harms in various
ways, especially through easier availability.

In short, Roger seems to be right.

I've written about this in slightly more detail here.

3 November 2009 at 21:22  
Blogger Curmudgeon said...

Alcohol can be consumed regularly in moderation throughout an adult lifetime without any adverse health effects, and even with some small benefits. Can that really be said for cannabis, ecstasy, LSD or cocaine?

And, if you were a parent, would you honestly prefer your teenage offspring to smoke a daily joint rather than having a glass of wine or beer?

3 November 2009 at 23:57  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

After reading your blog I am insulted as a brewer. You have obviously not done any any research when it comes to cannabis so let me enlighten you. For as long as man has been brewing beer he has also been smoking cannabis.
Official statistics record two deaths involving cannabis (and no other drug) in 1993, two in 1994 and one in 1995 but these were due to inhalation of vomit. This can not be said about alcohol? There is scientific evidence to suggest that cannabis may be useful in treating a wide range of conditions.
While your knowledge of beer may be top notch your spouting off about other subjects you clearly know nothing about makes you look stupid and have made me, for one, lose all respect for you.
If you are so inclined to do some research on the subject here are some links.

4 November 2009 at 21:53  
Blogger Jeff Rosenmeier said...

Totally agree with you that alcohol consumed regularly and moderately may be beneficial, but there is a higher risk that you could become physically dependent on the drug than for instance with LSD, ecstasy or cannabis (cocaine I believe is a different matter).

Therefore, alcohol is generally riskier or could be more dangerous than these drugs. This is all the chart is saying. Sure most people get on fine, but you cannot deny that there is a percentage of people in this country (UK) that have a serious problem using alcohol moderately and they tend to harm more than themselves, unlike the tobacco or cannabis smoker.

I am a parent and I will sit down with my kids when they are teenagers and given my life experience, the chart produced by Dr. Nutt is a good honest starting point in discussing the relative risks of all the drugs available. What I want for my kids is for them to have access to the latest scientific evidence to help make up their own mind, not to have it swept under the table or denied by governments (or beer bloggers).

Why can't you guys just admit that alcohol is pretty dangerous? If you don’t believe the scientific evidence regarding the other drugs, maybe it is time for you to do some research of your own and form an educated opinion.

As for the Anonomous posters, I totally agree with you, but please stand up and use your own name, what the hell are you afraid of?

4 November 2009 at 22:21  
Blogger Curmudgeon said...

This article really underlines Nutt's extreme anti-alcohol stance.

Why beer bloggers are even giving the guy the time of day completely escapes me. Basically, Roger is spot on on this issue.

7 November 2009 at 21:36  
Blogger Johnny Norfolk said...

As Churchill said.

Advisors should be on tap, not on top.

7 November 2009 at 23:36  
Blogger Roger Protz said...

The number of comments show this is an important issue and worthy of debate and further research. Could I just appeal for a more measured response from some contributors, especially those who for some odd reason remain anonymous. Rudeness doesn't help the debate. The reason we contribute to this forum is that we all care passionately about good beer. So lets be convivial, not offensive.

11 November 2009 at 20:14  

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