Originally published on 27 January 2016.
The blanket ban undermines past and current research, and threatens the future development of other low risk, non-recreational drugs and supplements that can be of potential therapeutic benefit to citizens.
The Psychoactive Substances Bill was proposed to “Protect hard-working citizens from the risks posed by untested, unknown and potentially harmful drugs” specifically targeting new “legal highs” (sometimes referred to as “new psychoactive substances (NPS)”), that are sold in “head shops” as alternatives to already scheduled and illegal substances.
The bill effectively proposes a blanket ban on any substance with psychoactive effects, which extends well beyond the intended targets of recreational and unsafe “legal highs”. Consequently, a number of amendments to the bill have been proposed, to specifically exempt psychoactive substances found in foods and medicines, in addition to more socially acceptable recreational substances (shown to harm citizens considerably) such as alcohol and tobacco..
This lack of definition means that this ban will also disrupt the use of non-recreational, low-risk psychoactive compounds such as nootropics (commonly referred to as “smart drugs”). These have have been shown to enhance one or more aspects of mental function (memory, cognition, alertness, focus, resilience to stress…). Citizens, academics, shift-workers, entrepreneurs and students currently employ nootropic substances responsibly to aid cognition and modulate mood during times of stress or when peak productivity is required. Nootropics are defined by their ability to act as neuroprotectants, and in this therapeutic role these substances can potentially delay the onset of mental disorders such as: anxiety, depression, age related cognitive decline or alleviate the symptoms of some forms of dementia and Alzheimer’s.
It is in this potentially therapeutic domain that the proposed bill will have its biggest negative impact; by denying citizens easy and legal access to what could be a beneficial intervention, the government will instead, enforce a reduction in “quality of life”, placing further pressure on the NHS who could delay the prescription of more costly interventions and medications.
Nootropics are sold by legitimate professional businesses that safely and responsibly produce, market and distribute these substances (and supplements). The proposed indiscriminate ban therefore risks pushing nootropics onto the black market (along with “legal highs”), giving rise to a market populated with unregulated substances of dubious origin and safety and distributed by persons of lesser moral fortitude, potentially harming those hard working citizens the bill aims to protect.
Only a few MPs, such as Cheryl Gillan (MP for Chesham and Amersham) have expressed concern over the unintended consequences arising from the Psychoactive Substances Bill. The Psychoactive Substances Bill as currently proposed demonstrates a severe lack of sound scientific knowledge and foresight on the part of the government and requires further exemptions to include the nootropic class of substances before it can be properly considered. Nootropics have long been shown to be much less harmful and addictive than current exemptions (such as alcohol and tobacco), but are astonishingly, yet to be included in the exemptions.
Transhumanist UK urges members of both the House of Lords and the Commons to consult with their scientific and medical advisors to familiarise themselves with each and every class of psychoactive substance this bill intends to ban. Furthermore, given the evidence of safety and efficacy of nootropics, the Transhumanist Party calls for exemptions to be added to the proposed bill to include the nootropic class of substances. Failure to do so will affect the wellbeing of citizens and will directly contradict the purpose of the bill. Furthermore, the Psychoactive Substances Bill may well impede the progress being made to understand mental health and neurodegenerative diseases.