US doesn’t want dagga the UK

12 August 2017 - 14:05 By Katharine Child
Professor David Nutt concedes that dagga can cause psychosis‚ a temporary condition of being paranoid or out of touch with reality.
Professor David Nutt concedes that dagga can cause psychosis‚ a temporary condition of being paranoid or out of touch with reality.
Image: Gallo Images/ IStock

When government scientists in the UK examined if dagga should be reclassified as a less dangerous drug and criminal penalties reduced‚ the US government was not pleased.

Professor David Nutt has repeatedly claimed the US put pressure on the British government not to decriminalise dagga.

Johannesburg residents Stobbs and Clarke are asking the Pretoria High Court to instruct parliament to write new laws on adult use and the sale of dagga. The couple flew Nutt to South African to testify in the trial.

Nutt is a psychiatrist‚ neurologist and a world expert in the comparative harmful effects of drugs. He worked for the UK government‚ but was fired in 2010 for telling the media that taking ecstasy was safer than riding a horse.

On Friday‚ Nutt was under cross examination by Doctors for Life advocate Reg Willis. Willis was sceptical and asked him why Nutt claimed the US‚ under Barack Obama‚ interfered with UK policy on dagga.

Nutt said much of his information was "confidential" but he had been approached by UK foreign office staff on the matter who said: "It does not sit well with the Americans."

Nutt argues governments do not take science into account when making drug policy and in both the US and the UK "politics overrules science".

Nutt has argued that science shows dagga is not as harmful as alcohol and should not be banned. He also argues that jailing people for the use of dagga does more harm than good.

Cross-examination on Friday became heated at times.

Willis became angry with Nutt and accused him of making up his testimony as he went along.

A bit later he said: "Maybe you should make sure you understand my question before talking‚ Professor."

Willis tried to use scientific studies to show dagga was more harmful than Nutt believes‚ but Nutt always had a way to show the study against it actually supported his view.

Willis was well prepared‚ unlike the state advocates‚ who asked Nutt the same questions repeatedly.

In one case‚ Willis pointed to a study that showed a link between the use of dagga and people being diagnosed with schizophrenia. Nutt then read a line from the same study that admitted in some countries with a notable increase of use of cannabis‚ there had not been any increase in cases of schizophrenia.

Additionally‚ Nutt explained to the court there was a correlation not a causation between schizophrenia and dagga use. This means people with schizophrenia use dagga‚ but it does not mean one causes the other.

Nutt said it appeared that the 100 or so genes implicated in schizophrenia seem to play a role in a person using dagga. So the same genetic variations for schizophrenia‚ may make a person more inquisitive and thus more likely to try drugs‚ he suggested.

He says some evidence points to the fact that using dagga helps people with schizophrenia think more clearly‚ which is why they may use it.

Nutt also conceded on the stand that people who are going to develop schizophrenia will do so a few years earlier if they use dagga. This means dagga leads to the early onset of the disease but doesn’t cause the disease. Nutt added schizophrenia was a rare disease.

Nutt also conceded that dagga can cause psychosis‚ a temporary condition of being paranoid or out of touch with reality.

He said this could be good because bad experiences with dagga mean people stop using it.

Willis suggested legalising dagga would harm families and children. He asked: "Is it not the worst thing to do to a child to expose it to drugs?" Nutt answered: "No‚ the worst thing is to take it away from its parents."

Nutt said jailing a parent for drug use was worse for families than parents using drugs.

The case continues on Monday‚ when a historian will testify how dagga was legal before colonial governments came to South Africa.