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Visiting Professor debates legal and illegal drugs

18th November 2013

Visiting Professor debates harms and benefits of legal and illegal drugs

Leading scientist and former British Government drugs advisor Professor David Nutt is visiting the University of Auckland’s Centre for Addiction Research in December.

A psychiatrist and neuroscientist, Professor Nutt from the United Kingdom, is internationally recognised for his research into the effects of drugs on the brain, and how this knowledge can be translated for clinical benefit in the treatment of brain disorders such as addiction, dementia and schizophrenia.

Professor Nutt is the Edmund J Safra Professor of Neuropsychopharmacology and head of the Centre for Neuropsychopharmacology at Imperial College London. He is also Past-president of the British Neuroscience Association, Chair of the Independent Scientific Committee on Drugs (ISCD) and Vice-President of the European Brain Council.

Earlier this month he was awarded an international prize for courage in promoting science and evidence on a matter of public interest, despite facing difficulty and hostility in doing so. The judges awarded the 2013 John Maddox Prize to Professor Nutt in recognition of the impact his thinking and actions have had in influencing evidence-based classification of drugs, in the United Kingdom and elsewhere in the world, and his continued courage and commitment to rational debate, despite opposition and public criticism.

(The John Maddox Prize is a joint initiative of the science journal Nature, the Kohn Foundation, and the charity Sense About Science. The late Sir John Maddox, FRS, was editor of Nature for 22 years and a founding trustee of Sense About Science.)

In 2010, Professor Nutt convened a panel of experts with specialist knowledge on the pharmacological, psychological, social and legal aspects of drug harms to rate each of the 20 most commonly used drugs in the United Kingdom today, in terms of harm to self and harm to others.

During his visit to the Centre for Addiction Research in Auckland, Professor Nutt will deliver a public lecture summarising the panel’s controversial findings on drug harms and their relative dangers, as well as drawing from his recent book Drugs without the hot air: minimising the harms of legal and illegal drugs (2012).

He will also discuss his view that drugs policy and legislation should be based on a proper scientific assessment of drugs and their relative harms. The lecture will include recent research into the relative physical, psychological and social harms of cannabis and alcohol, the two most widely used intoxicant drugs.

An outspoken commentator on drug regulation and addiction, Professor Nutt has published more than 400 original research papers, a similar number of reviews and books chapters, eight government reports on drugs and 27 books.

He broadcasts widely to the general public both on radio and television. In 2010 The Times Eureka science magazine voted him one of the 100 most important figures in British Science, and the only psychiatrist in the list.

The Centre for Addiction Research was officially launched in August 2013. It brings together researchers from across the University of Auckland who are exploring the effects of dangerous consumptions – such as tobacco, alcohol, other drugs and gambling – on individuals, their families, communities, and society.

Professor Nutt’s public lecture is 5.45pm for 6.00pm start on Friday 6 December at the Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences, (85 Park Road) Building 503, Seminar Room 028.


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