April 18, 2024 - 7:00am

MPs who voted against Rishi Sunak’s proposed smoking ban this week should be in favour of legalising psychedelic drugs, former Government adviser David Nutt has claimed.

Speaking to UnHerd yesterday afternoon, the neuropsychopharmacologist said MPs were demonstrating “logical inconsistency” over the ban. He criticised the “absurd” double standard between defending cigarette-smoking and at the same time supporting the banning of psychoactive and Class C substances which cause far less damage to the user.

“I have no problem with Britons who choose to smoke,” Nutt said in exclusive comments. “But it is absurd to vote not to ban cigarettes, which kill eight million people [worldwide] a year, while nitrous oxide has killed a handful of people in the last 20 years [56 in the UK between 2001 and 2020] — and most of those weren’t directly related.”

In Tuesday night’s smoking debate, 383 MPs voted in favour of the Prime Minister’s proposal to prevent anyone born after 2009 from purchasing cigarettes in their lifetime. Of the 67 Members who opposed the bill, 57 were Conservatives rebelling against their own leader.

Last year the Government changed the classification of nitrous oxide — also known as laughing gas — to Class C, making possession of the drug illegal, with repeat offenders facing up to two years in prison. In all, 404 MPs voted in favour of the ban, with 35 against. Of the 57 Tories who challenged Sunak on the smoking bill, 42 voted to ban the use of laughing gas, including former home secretary Suella Braverman and former business secretary Jacob Rees-Mogg.

Nutt claimed that to take a stand in support of the right to smoke while seeking to criminalise use of “substances which have been found to do minimal harm” constitutes “total hypocrisy”. The professor previously worked as an adviser to the Ministry of Defence, Department of Health, and the Home Office. He was removed from his position as the Government’s chief drug adviser in 2009 after claiming that ecstasy and LSD are less dangerous than alcohol and tobacco.

Since then, Nutt has advocated for therapeutic drug use, arguing that psychedelics can serve to alleviate symptoms of depression. At an UnHerd event last May, he claimed that he had been “pleasantly surprised by the positivity” with which his proposals had been met in the academic community.

According to Nutt, the UK is some way off legalising LSD but progress may yet be made on Class B and C drugs, particularly cannabis. Speaking yesterday, he expressed his desire that the next decade might bring more awareness of research into drug harms. “The best scenario, from a legalisation standpoint, would be a Lib Dem-Labour coalition,” he said, citing his work on the Liberal Democrats’ 2017 general election campaign when the party backed the legalisation of cannabis. “That sort of approach is sensible,” Nutt claimed. “Radical, but sensible.”

is UnHerd’s Assistant Editor, Newsroom.