For those that were looking forward to the liquid excesses of the festive season, here’s a sobering thought. In a study published in the medical journal Lancet by British scientists, alcohol has been declared to be more harmful than heroin or crack cocaine. Harm, in this case, includes the damage caused to the user and wider society and economy through crime and irresponsible behaviour. The usual offenders, LSD and Ecstasy, have been let off the hook, their impact on others regarded as least damaging.
The study, conducted by David Nutt (a former government scientist sacked last year who now heads an independent research commission), has more implications than the nutty researcher’s attempt at altering the way drugs are classified or trying to save Britishers from turning the pubs into their epitaphs. The Epicurean credo may have to be modified, so that you will eat, drink and then turn morose, thinking of all the ill you will be visiting on your fellow travelers in this life. Toby Belch, Shakespeare’s boozy, blundering reveller, will take on sinister shades, as upright readers recall with a shudder that alcohol accounts for 3.8% deaths across the world. With liquor being administered through drips for medicinal purposes, there will never be an alcohol-ravaged Jack London personifying the bottle as John Barleycorn in his Alcoholic Memoirs.
The ones losing their near-mystical sheen in the whole debate are, of course, the psychedelic hallucinogens, which have climbed higher up the forbidden ladder because of their cultural (or countercultural) associations than an actual assessment of risks they pose to society. Across the world, the mere presence of Ecstasy is capable of lifting an otherwise plebeian party to one that’s happening. If all that drugs do are injure your innards, then the riveting adventures of Electric Kool Aid Acid Test or Hell’s Angels will end up as insipid daytime TV drama. Perhaps the omniscient John Lennon knew it all and actually sang of a little girl Lucy in the sky with diamonds.