Drugs - Without the Hot Air: Minimising the Harms of Legal and Illegal Drugs

Malcolm Bruce
David Nutt UIT Cambridge, 2012, £12.99, pb, 368 pp. ISBN: 9781906860165

This is a book aimed at the general public. Reviewing a book on drugs as an addiction specialist had the prospect of being an unrewarding experience. Simplistic, reductionist arguments presented in a journalistic style leaving you angry and despondent. However, having David Nutt as the author offered the prospect of something different and as the title suggests, ‘without the hot air’.

Did the book work for me and would I recommend it to you? In part it worked (even though I am not the target audience) and yes, I would recommend it, because it is full of sound referenced evidence along with key data, vignettes and anecdotes that make it a pleasure to read. For an addiction psychiatrist, parts of the book giving background understanding to subjects (e.g. ‘Why do people take drugs?’) can be skim read, along with other chapters for the non-specialist psychiatrist (e.g. ‘Prescription drugs’).

For me, the real strength of this book is in the sharing of the author’s depth of knowledge in the science and political history of the subject, along with his clinical perspective and a passionate desire to reduce the harm caused by all substances including alcohol and tobacco.

The longest chapter, ‘The war on drugs, and the drugs in war’, offers cogent arguments that the continuing status quo is just not good enough, but Nutt does not stop there. He offers alternatives for the future, and with the prospect of a wide readership, and people informing themselves of the issues, our children (including those in producer nations) will live in a more informed and less hazardous future.

Finally, as only a scientist in psychopharmacology research could do, David Nutt offers his vision of ‘The future of drugs’: a DNA-sequenced society choosing selectively to use substances to enhance performance and treat disease. If we make the right choices!