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Pontifications on Poison

Being some ramblings on events associated with poisonous plants.

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Wednesday 29th February 2012

I wrote, yesterday, about the many people who have suffered because of the INCB’s failure to ensure that countries are able to offer adequate pain relief. That’s not a new idea, by any means. This video from the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union includes one interviewee who says that millions of people have suffered unimaginable pain because of the failure to provide proper medication.

I said that these people were casualties of the war on drugs and that set me thinking about that phrase. Is there a war on drugs?...more

Tuesday 28th February 2012

There are many victims of the war on drugs. There are those who, because of the illegal status of the substance(s) concerned, fail to seek help when their use starts to become uncontrolled. There are those involved in supplying illegal markets who may find themselves incarcerated, wounded or killed as a result of their activities. And there are the relatives and friends of these first line causalities who, because of their association, have their lives blighted and become second line casualties.

But there are also those whose lives become blighted by the international regime for dealing with psychoactive substances and prosecuting the war on drugs without them taking any of these substances themselves and, quite possibly, without them being related to or knowing anyone who does. These are the victims of the International Narcotic Control Board (INCB) whose annual report is published today...more

Monday 27th February 2012

Two programmes on the same day looked at food poisoning in the UK. The first, though I didn’t hear it until today’s repeat, was BBC Radio 4’s ‘Food Programme’ broadcast Sunday lunchtime and the second was ‘Countryfile’ on BBC 1 TV in the evening.

Both programmes concentrated on poisonings arising from campylobacter in chickens. I’m not sure why this is suddenly topical because the problem has been around for some time. There were newspapers reports about it in October 2009 leading the NHS Choices ‘Behind the Headlines’ website to write this explanation of the situation...more

Sunday 26th February 2012

I sat down to write about one of the UN agencies involved in the implementation of the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs and the 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances. The International Narcotics Control Board has two functions; to make sure that people who might benefit from the therapeutic properties of these substances are able to get them and to limit the diversion of such medicines to illicit use. That’s my summary; the full mandate can be read here. The INCB has just published its projection for the 2012 requirements for these ‘Narcotic Drugs’ together with actual data for 2010. You can access the report via this page. It’s a 444 page document but it is in three languages so it is not as daunting as it sounds, though the pdf download is quite a size.

Before starting, I thought I’d have a quick look at Twitter and, as a result, I’m going to be writing about another UN body, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC)...more

Saturday 25th February 2012

I keep telling myself I’m going to give up. I keep convincing myself that the effort involved isn’t worth the reward and all the trouble that goes with it. But, I keep deciding ‘just one more year’.

Because I spent the first eight years of my married life in Zambia with a gardener to take care of everything horticultural, I didn’t get into the habit of working in the garden at weekends or during summer evenings. As a child, I had no interest in the garden once I was too big to be allowed to play ball in it so I was very happy leaving the gardening to someone else once married and with a home and garden not exactly of my own but for my wife and I to use...more

Friday 24th February 2012

Today, I feel a bit like Dirk Gently. He was the creation of Douglas Adams and described as an "holistic detective" making use of "the fundamental interconnectedness of all things". There have been several different strands to my day but they do seem to have, highly tenuous, links.

It begins with me reading about someone who is already dealing with young Jacobaea vulgaris, common ragwort, appearing in a paddock where horses are kept. And it ends with another shameless plug for ‘Is That Cat Dead? – and other questions about poison plants’...more

Thursday 23rd February 2012

There’s something wrong with the reporting of Lorraine Kelly’s horse-riding accident. The TV presenter was training for a charity fund-raising event when she fell off her horse. The fall itself was minor but, unfortunately, the horse then stood on her thigh causing a laceration with, apparently, quite serious blood loss.

She was taken to hospital where surgery under general anaesthetic was required to repair the damage. As is the way in the modern world, there was no need to wait for official hospital bulletins about her condition because Ms Kelly was very soon tweeting about the event, her treatment and the prognosis...more

Wednesday 22nd February 2012

I’ve mentioned, before, that I visit a gardening forum to see if anyone is discussing poisonous plants and to offer my thoughts on them. Previous entries on 8th August, 25th October and 29th January all resulted from this forum.

Today, someone was asking for advice about what to plant in a largish local authority border to give it a ‘tropical’ look. They received a number of ideas including examples of Ricinus and Brugmansia. I was pleasantly surprised to find that no-one chimed in with dire warnings about putting such ‘dangerous’ plants in a public garden...more

Tuesday 21st February 2012

A Retweet by Alex Stevens of a tweet from Russell Newcombe took me to this written answer from 9th February about the number of people ‘proceeded against at magistrates courts for cannabis possession’ in England since 2006.

The numbers show a doubling between 2006 and 2010 from 12,616 to 25,100. And this has been a steady increase as the year on year figures show;...more

Monday 20th February 2012

Ahead of the release of the UK government’s strategy for dealing with the problems caused by alcohol, the Prime Minister, David Cameron, has begun speaking about alcohol and suggesting ways that potentially harmful drinking could be countered.

As we know from the situation with illegal substances, no amount of legal force will change the way people use alcohol. What’s required is a change of attitude and I’ve been thinking about how attitudes are formed and whether they can be changed...more

Sunday 19th February 2012

I don’t usually listen to the radio on a Sunday morning but, today, I had to go out so the car radio meant I caught an item about present day life in Russia.

It was one of those long-form pieces from the resident BBC correspondent who had replicated a train journey, from Moscow to Petushki, used in a story written in communist times to show the state of the nation...more

Saturday 18th February 2012

I’m famous. Well, not really, but there are a number of people who may have read about me if they didn’t have anything better to do before Christmas.

Some months ago, I was contacted by a freelance journalist who said she was writing a piece about using plants as murder weapons and would I mind answering some questions. She said the piece would appear in ‘The Field’, she hoped, but couldn’t say when...more

Friday 17th February 2012

I ventured out into the garden just to see what’s going on rather than to do any serious gardening. I really should set aside a few hours to start tidying things up for spring but all I did was to have a potter around and take a look at how the hellebores are doing.

There’s quite a bit of folklore associated with plants from the Helleborus genus but what struck me today was the absence of one piece of folklore you might expect to be associated with these early flowering plants...more

Thursday 16th February 2012

The March edition of Addiction journal is now available online. In addition to the usual mix of items about the widest variety of psychoactive substances, this edition has a letter that introduced me to a world I didn’t know existed.

I’d never heard of the ‘dark web’ nor the Silk Road website until I read this letter from Monica Barratt of Australia’s National Drug Research Institute. Since then, I’ve read and heard more about it though, for reasons that will become clear, I haven’t seen the Silk Road site...more

Wednesday 15th February 2012

A while ago, I read something about the underlying problem with getting scientific topics properly reported. I can’t recall where I saw it so I’m paraphrasing from memory but it was along the lines of saying that scientific journalism won’t improve until scientists acknowledge that there are some bad scientists and journalists accept that there are bad journalists.

I’ve come across two examples on the same day. One from each side of the issue...more

Tuesday 14th February 2012

Last Saturday, when writing about Oklahoma’s moves to outlaw the commercial cultivation of Ricinus communis, castor oil plant, I said ‘I’m loathe to label politicians as stupid even if all the published evidence points in that direction’. After my Google alert for ‘ricin’ directed me to this report I find I’m able to conquer my loathing.

In fact, I think it is essential so to do and say that some of Oklahoma’s politicians are so stupid that they make me think that word needs to be redefined because most people’s understanding of what is meant by stupid goes only part of the way to describe what went on in the Oklahoma House of Representatives on 13th February...more

Monday 13th February 2012

I’ve heard back from the BBC after my complaint about its Radio 4 programme ‘The Report’ on Thursday 26th January on the subject of whether Catha edulis, khat, should be classified under the Misuse of Drugs Act.

The complaint has been answered by the programme’s editor in some detail, though that detail didn’t extend to providing his/her name. Here’s my complaint, again;..more

Sunday 12th February 2012

A bit of a downbeat turn to today’s blog as I want to write about a number of reports of deaths as a result of illegal drugs. This is not any sort of structured survey of recent stories; just a few that have caught my attention.

Shortly after reports, like this one from ABC News, about the continued high number of arrests in New York for low level marijuana offences, comes this story from the New York Times about Ramarley Graham, an 18-year old shot dead by police in an incident involving the teenager’s attempt to dispose of a small quantity of cannabis down the toilet at his home...more

Saturday 11th February 2012

The state of Oklahoma is well on the way to making the commercial farming of Ricinus communis, castor oil plant, illegal. I’ve read a number of reports about this situation since it was first mooted in November last year but I still have no idea what is really behind this move.

The first mention I saw of this was a report in ‘Tulsa World’ dated 26th November noting that bills to outlaw the production and transportation of castor oil plants were among the first to be filed for consideration in the 2012 legislative sessions...more

Friday 10th February 2012

A story from China makes me think I shall have to change what I say about deaths due to toxic fungi. It also made me think about Paracelsus and rhubarb.

The report said that researchers had discovered a fungus to be the cause for what was known as ‘Yunnan Sudden Unexpected Death’, a condition believed to have claimed over 260 lives in the past 30 years. Now, 260 deaths over 30 years is not a huge toll but it, probably, means I should stop saying that deaths from toxic mushrooms are ‘extremely rare’ and substitute ‘very rare’ or ‘quite rare’...more

Thursday 9th February 2012

I’ve written before about Kevin Sabet who was a senior adviser in the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy from 2009 to 2011 and now portrays himself as a rational centrist on the question of drug policy rather than an outright prohibitionist.

He came to my attention again as a result of two tweets about recent polling data on the matter of whether Cannabis sativa, marijuana, should be legal in the USA...more

Wednesday 8th February 2012

Something strange is going on in the world of addiction medicine. I can’t explain it so I’ll have to restrict myself to reporting it.

Reports from Mexico, originally picked up by Spanish language media in the USA and then appearing in English, say that the government’s National Institute of Psychiatry has patented a vaccine against heroin...more

Tuesday 7th February 2012

Ioan Grillo’s ‘El Narco’ that looks at the appalling situation in Mexico is divided into three parts. The first part ‘History’ looks at how the drug trade developed from the time of the Spanish occupation to the present day.

In one page, Grillo summarises the situation during World War II when, according to some people, the American government became the main customer for smuggled opium in order to obtain the morphine needed to offer pain relief to its field casualties. Grillo notes that there are still people in Sinaloa today who will state that such a trade took place and that a history of the drug trade on the wall of the Mexican Defence Department HQ in Mexico City includes reference to it..more

Monday 6th February 2012

Sometimes, I find myself amazed at the things that get written up as scientific papers. I’m not just talking about nonsense surveys of the sort that are supposed to show that one particular day is the saddest of the year or ‘prove’ that someone’s choice of shirt colour can be used to demonstrate their likelihood of committing a crime.

I’m meaning those papers that have conclusions that seem to me to be so obvious or so intuitive that I can’t believe that no-one has written a paper about it before....more

Sunday 5th February 2012

I’ve just finished reading ‘El Narco’ and I was intending to have a shot at writing a review of it. Grillo is a journalist who has covered Latin America since 2001 and is based in Mexico City. His book draws on his extensive experience of reporting on the activities of drug cartels and his attempts to understand why what is happening is happening.

A couple of websites I’ve seen in the last couple of days, however, make me think I shall get diverted into focussing on one aspect of the current situation in Mexico. That is the difficulty of really understanding what is going on...more

Saturday 4th February 2012

Timing is everything.

I thought I’d set myself an easy task today and make a photo tour of the garden to see how the spring plants like Galanthus nivalis (snowdrops), Narcissus (daffodils) and Helleborus (hellebores) are getting on and, also, to see if there’s any sign of new growth on things like the Solanum dulcamara (woody nightshade) and Atropa belladonna (deadly nightshade)..more

Friday 3rd February 2012

Esther Hegt, of ‘Ragwort, myths and facts’ sent me a pile of reading, a couple of days ago, and I confess I’ve only glanced at it, so far. Much of it is about illnesses that can afflict horses but get largely ignored by owners and some of the health products offered for treating illness in horses, including some that horses are physically incapable of suffering. Esther’s point is that the attitude toward Jacobaea vulgaris, common ragwort, is not based on logic.

I did make a start on this online version of a slide presentation created by Dr Elio Spinello of California State University. Dr Spinello starts by arguing that Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is definitely not ‘traditional’ and may not even be ‘Chinese’. A quick hunt around suggests that Dr. Spinello is a rationalist who offers evidence for anything he says but I shall want to look at this matter more closely before commenting further...more

Thursday 2nd February 2012

Sometimes, a number catches my eye and I think I should look at it a bit closer to see if it means what it seems to mean. It happened when I read;

‘Another aspect of reducing demand is to make sure that the drugs information we communicate in terms of the risks and awareness is up to date and as effective as possible. You might not have noticed, although hopefully our target audience did, but Frank was relaunched in October. The statistics on Frank in terms of awareness are very strong; 86% of 11-18 year olds, Frank’s target audience, know about the service and over 80% say they trust it to give reliable information.’...more

Wednesday 1st February 2012

There’s something Dickensian about the USA. As soon as I started to write that I realised that there is a great deal that is Dickensian about the USA, at least when viewed from the other side of the Atlantic.

There is a parallel between Jo, the crossing sweeper in Bleak House, clearing away the dirt so as it doesn’t cause problems for decent people, and the scenes we see of vagrants collecting materials for recycling in the hope of making a few dollars, their purloined shopping trolleys rattling with tin cans and glass bottles...more