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UC expert asks if recreational drugs should be legalised

UC expert asks if recreational drugs should be legalised

July 9, 2013

A University of Canterbury (UC) expert has raised a debate on whether recreational drugs should be legalised.

UC toxicologist and food safety expert Professor Ian Shaw says millions of young people throughout the world party under the influence of a new generation of psychoactive drugs including synthetic cannabinoids, benzylpiperazine (BZP) and methamphetamine. 

``The question is, should we legalise the recreational use of these drugs?  Legalising them would mean that their safety would be assessed and the cost of policing and prosecuting illicit drug use would be cut.

``The Netherlands was the first country to legalise a recreational drug, cannabis, with an arguably successful outcome. But, should we go further?  Should such drugs and their synthetic derivatives become legal products marketed by a new pharmaceuticals industry?

``The New Zealand Government has decided to legalise psychoactive recreational drugs and has embarked upon the process of setting the requirements for safety evaluation. 

``There is significant controversy about whether it is ethical to use animals to test drugs with an, at best, dubious benefit. This debate is important because it addresses the question, when is the use of animals in drug testing ethically acceptable? 

``Indeed, it was conceivable that this debate might derail the Psychoactive Substances Bill (2013), and, as a result, the Parliamentary Select Committee has refused to consider submissions on the ethics of animal use in testing recreational drugs. 

``The rationale behind this decision is that ethics committees will decide whether the use of animals to test recreational drugs is appropriate or not. But it is likely that recreational drug manufacturers will hail from parts of the world where ethics are far from most people’s minds – especially when there a significant financial benefit that depends on animal use. 

``Toxicologists have been through a painful and arduous process (mainly in the 1980s) to understand the ethics of animal use in their work. 

``It took significant action by extremist antivivisectionists and reasonable protesters alike to precipitate a rethink of animal use. Now most toxicologists take the use of animals in their work very seriously and will not use animals unless the outcome of their work is important.

``Defining `important’ is difficult, but in the context of drug safety evaluation this would be that the resulting drug has a benefit that balances the sacrifice of animals as part of its development process,’’ Professor Shaw says. 

Previously, SPCA head and staunch animal welfare advocate Bob Kerridge has said publicly that some animal testing will be required as part of a new regime which is designed to prove the safety of party pills and synthetic cannabis.


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