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Pontifications on Poison

Being some ramblings on events associated with poisonous plants.

Sunday 16th March 2014

I told you so!

I’m not intending this to be a piece of self-congratulatory narcissism but, knowing that there is a danger of it being read like that even if not written that way, I thought I’d get it out in the open. Two topics have featured in recent days that I have covered before so I wanted to compare what has been said recently with what I’ve said on these subjects. I’ll deal with one here and leave the other for the next time.

In my talks, I introduce the topic of plants capable of having psychoactive effects by showing pictures of Camellia sinensis, tea, because tea contains caffeine and caffeine is a stimulant capable of producing dependence in regular usage. Many people recognise my description of the sort of symptoms that occur if there is a sudden change in the amount of tea or coffee being drunk. Though coffee is more generally thought of as the main source of caffeine, I refer to tea so that, in addition to the main point that the term 'addict' is unhelpful as it could be applied to most of the population, I can make the point that psychoactive effects are not limited to a few well-demonised plants.

In the past week or so, the question of caffeine and its stimulant properties seems to have come into focus for a number of people. Since the growth in the sales of ‘energy’ drinks and a few deaths that have been associated with them, there has been more focus on caffeine but it is the pre-publication publicity for a book called ‘Caffeinated’ that has successfully brought the issue into wider interest. The author, Murray Carpenter, wrote this long piece for the Guardian (though there is no mention of the book and no attempt to promote sales directly, a welcome rarity).

What I found interesting was that you can put almost any other drug name in wherever the word caffeine appears. Thus, when Carpenter talks about the difficulty of getting consistent dose and the problems that can arise when someone gets a dose that is much stronger than normal or the way that inquests have put the blame on caffeine when there were other health issues involved or the moves to create unenforceable bans, etcetera he could just as easily be talking about cannabis or cocaine or the latest NPS.

Just at the moment, a key comparison is with Catha edulis, khat. The problems for extreme high users of khat sound very like those who consume excessive amounts of caffeine and the lack of problems for the overwhelming majority of users of both substances illustrates that Theresa May's decision to schedule khat as Class 'C' is entirely without merit.

Further confirmation that society’s approach to psychoactive substances is not based on science comes more strongly in an article explaining how extreme athletes taking part in the Ironman World Championship make use of caffeine, openly and within the rules, to provide the stimulus needed to complete the event.

When some controlling bodies are tying themselves in knots trying to work out what to do about cannabis, marijuana, if a competitor has consumed it within the state laws now taking effect, it seems remarkable that a stimulant openly taken in order to chemically induce improved performance causes no concern for other such organisations.

The other ‘I told you so’ comes from taking an American report and applying its findings to the UK. But I’ll deal with that separately because it is a big topic with, for me, implications for a post-reform world.  



A great piece with some very interesting links. As you say, you told us so, but will you tell Peter Hitchens please. He remains convinced caffeine is not psychoactive despite being (or perhaps because he is) a daily user.

The Poison Garden

Thanks. I've long sinced despaired of Peter Hitchens ever changing his opinions in the light of evidence. But, as I concluded in this piece, intransigence in the opposition makes their position more obviously wrong.


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