03/04/2014 12:15 BST | Updated 03/04/2014 12:59 BST

Professor David Nutt Says Drug Education Should Be Treated Like Sex Education In Reddit AMA

Ian Nicholson/PA Archive
Professor David Nutt speaks at the Science Media Centre, London.

Drugs education must evolve to be treated in a similar way to sex education, Professor David Nutt has said.

The government's former adviser on drugs has said opinions on narcotics in the UK "are shifting in the right direction," but warned that "moralising" is getting in the way of solid facts.

In a Reddit Ask Me Anything (AMA), the drug research expert said that in the same way sex education used to be a totally taboo topic, drugs are still seen as a touchy subject in schools.

"A similar process was seen with sex education," he said. "It used to be very common for moralising to get in the way of actually informing people, but over time people saw that inadequate education based on a 'just say no' attitude increased rather than reducing harm.

"In sex education, it is now mainstream to take a 'harm reduction' approach, e.g. that it is better that young people know about and can access contraception, even if underage sex is not endorsed by teachers.

"We're hopefully gradually moving towards a similar situation with drugs, where phobias about talking frankly will melt away."

Prof Nutt, who admitted in the AMA that he has been "administered a broad range of psychoactive drugs in the context of medical research," also spoke out about the latest Nigella Lawson drugs controversy.

Discussing Thursday's reports that the celebrity chef has been barred from the US following her cocaine revelations, he said it was "a reminder that there are real policy-related harms to taking drugs when they are illegal, and to admitting to it.

"I only use drugs in jurisdictions where it is allowed, and am flying out to Denver soon," he joked.

On policies closer to home, the Professor – who is now the Chair of DrugScience, an independent drug research committee – said he was "hopeful" that the UK will adopt a "more rational drug policy with focus in the not too distant future.

"Harm reduction is not best served through free market availability - Uruguay may be a better model."

Uruguay passed historic legislation late last year – becoming the first country in the world to make the production, sale and possession of cannabis legal and bringing the debate around the regulation of the drugs in the UK back into the spotlight.

The Huffington Post UK spoke to one of the experts who advised the Uruguayan government on its landmark decision on whether Britain could benefit from a similar move.

At a time when Britain is facing brutal austerity measure, The Institute For Social And Economic Research recently estimated that a regulated market could reduce the government deficit by up to £1.25bn, whilst producing roughly £400m in "net benefit" for the country.

But the Neuropsychopharmacology expert said it would take radical political change for such a move to happen in the UK.

As the current government continues to indecisively to-and-fro on its drug policy, Prof Nutt said the Liberal Democrats and the Greens are only parties that have "taken any interest" in addressing drug harms.

David Cameron, who once called for "alternative ways" to tackle drugs, has been accused of "chickening out" of reforming Britain's drug laws.

A former government adviser previously told the Huffington Post UK the Prime Minister is "posturing with tough policies" and that his stance has hardened since he became Tory leader.

Prof Nutt said this was down to "pressure from the old men in the party who told him he could not get elected if he was not hard on drugs."

The biggest obstacles to reform that we face are "prejudice, ignorance and irrational fear fuelled by parts of media," he added and in the meantime, he said, the UK has adapted to the law by turning to the web.

"Dark net" sites such as Silk Road are an "inevitable" reaction to the current situation, he said.

But, he added, it's impossible to say if these sites are 'good" or "bad" – particularly as such easy access leads to problems controlling level of use.

He revealed that his body is now accepting Bitcoin donations – the same controversial currency that people use on the Dark Web.