Public health served with good information and strict rules on sale
Let’s ban those mushrooms! screams a parliament majority after the death of a French girl in Amsterdam. Wait a minute, are we going to ban alcohol as well?
By Fredrick Polak
Source: NRC Handelsblad
13 oktober 2007
Big commotion arose after the suicide of a young French tourist on March 24th. Her death was attributed to the use of magic mushrooms. Undoubtedly, something really awful happened. But no matter how tragic every suicide is, we should see it in the right perspective. In many cases, it remains unclear what may have been the reasons for the suicide. It may be obvious to blame this suicide to mushrooms, but if it is correct to do so, we don’t know.
Still a majority of the Dutch parliament called strongly for a a complete ban on mushrooms that are currently legal, if freshly picked. Minister Klink of Public Health, CDA, had the wisdom to limit himself to the promise to investigate the matter again.
Such investigation already exists. The CAM (Coördinatiepunt Assessment en Monitoring nieuwe drugs, now a section of the Inspection for Public Health) did not see any need to install a complete ban in 2000. And in March this year, the famous English medical magazine The Lancet published a new list of twenty drugs, categorised according to their dangerousness. On top we find heroin and cocaine, alcohol is number 5, tobacco number 9, cannabis 11, LSD 14 and ecstasy 18. Magic mushrooms are not listed but belong to the same group as LSD.
But MP Fred Teeven of the conservative liberal party VVD knew it immediately: „It is a hard drug. People think they can fly. So we should not sell this anymore.” If Teeven thinks like this, how can he does not demand for a ban on cigarettes and alcohol? Teeven seems to have forgotten that his former party leader Pim Fortuyn could clearly explain why he was in favour of drug legalisation.
The most important argument for prohibiting hard drugs is the assumption that this is the only way to protect public health. I write “the assumption” because it has never been proved. In fact the oppositie could well be true. The experiences of the 20th Century have shown that since the establishment of drug prohibition the use and abuse of drugs and the addiction to it have increased worldwide.
The European Monitoring Centre on Drugs and Drug Addiction in Lisbon has shown that there is no relationship between the degree of repression in the different countries and the levels of use, abuse and addiction. In the UK and the US, repression is considerably more severe than in the Netherlands. Still those two countries have higher rates of problematic drug use than our country.
If something needs to be investigated, than it is if this assumption, the basic hypothesis on which drug prohibition is constructed, is right or wrong.
In a number of newspapers, several thoughtful comments started to appear. The newspaper NRC Handelsblad published a comment last saturday with the title: “Mushrooms should not be freely available’. It is difficult to find arguments against free availability in the piece. The argument is that young people and tourists have difficulties to predict the risks of the use of mushrooms and secure themselves against these risks.
There is a point there, but this also counts for other risky, but legal activities. And in a situation of prohibition, the chances for safe use of drugs do not get bigger. Assuming that the death of the French tourist had been the consequence of the use of mushrooms, the NRC article recognises that this would not have happened if she had been better prepared. Due to the commercial attitude of the smartshops, says NRC, mushrooms remain too risky for tourists and travellers.
Reading the product information that is delivered by the smartshops when selling the mushrooms, is a good idea. It is even better if young people know beforehand what can happen with them when they use these substances. Dutch youngsters can know this. They just need to read the book Uit je Bol van Gerben Hellinga en Hans Plomp (ninth edition, 2005). It is time to translate Uit je Bol on the expenses of the European Union. If the French tourist had read the chapter on mushrooms, things would have looked better for her.
Fredrick Polak is psychiatrist and Board member of ENCOD and the Dutch Drug Policy Foundation. From 1990 to 2003 he was parttime employed in the drug section of the Municipal Health Service in Amsterdam.Republish