Kary Mullis has attributed his Nobel Prize winning discovery
of the PCR chain-reaction to his experiences visualizing
his molecular concepts with the aid of LSD. Here are notes
from Kary's lecture on drug policy in Europe.
BECKLEY FOUNDATION AT THE ROYAL SOCIETY
The speakers include Dr. Kary
Mullis (Nobel Laureate for Chemistry), Professor Leslie
Iversen (Professor of Pharmacology at King's College London
and at the University of Oxford), Professor Ciaran Regan
(Department of Pharmacology, University College Dublin),
Simon Jenkins (Former Editor of The Times), and Professor
Gustav Born (William Harvey Research Institute, London).
The discussion was chaired by Professor Colin Blakemore
(Waynflete Professor of Physiology, University of Oxford).
The Role of Drugs in Society
By Kary Mullis,
Nobel Prize winning geneticist.
Inventor of the Polymerase chain-reaction (PCR) used in
all modern DNA testing.
• Kary Mullis has taken LSD for recreational and
and his interest lies in the effect of psychoactive drugs
on the mind.
• Psychoactive drugs can be used as tools,
their transient effects on the brain enabling occasional
users to acquire
a greater understanding of the capabilities of their minds.
• Experimentation can increase awareness of the
thereby making users feel more humble about their role,
in turn encouraging a more liberal and tolerant attitude.
• As long as psychoactive drugs are taken in a controlled
e.g. users not operating machinery or having access to
weapons, there is little danger and
no reason why these drugs should not be freely available.
• Drugs tend to be much more expensive to buy than
to produce (especially cocaine and heroin)
ensuring that criminal organisations that control the
supply of these substances make massive profits.
• Sales of illegal drugs fund dangerous militant
groups, which are able to arm themselves
using the money raised from the trade, which is estimated
globally to be in excess of $500 billion a year.
• The high sales prices in consumer countries determined
by an illegal supply,
lead to increased crime levels because people are forced
to steal to support habits formed by using addictive drugs.
• Government prohibition does not prevent sales
of recreational drugs but the laws have massive effects
both internally in the consumer countries and on the poorer
manufacturing countries of the world.
• The social problems caused by prohibition necessitate
changes in legislation.
• Kary Mullis recommends that all drug laws be abolished;
accepting that due to years of prohibition
there will be an initial period of chaos, which will ultimately
be superseded by a significant improvement over the present
• If drugs were legalised, the number of users and
total intake is unlikely to change drastically,
still only a small percentage of the population choosing
to use them.
• Historically, society tolerated drugs with few
problems arising, e.g. opium was very popular in the 19th
century and many great works of literature were inspired
by its effects. When it became illegal, making it expensive
to buy and promoting cheaper and quicker methods of delivery,
(e.g. intravenous use of
heroin), the problems that we associate now with drug
use and addiction emerged.
Questions & Answers
What is wrong with present legislation?
The present Misuse of Drugs Act, created because of the
alarm caused to society by the use of recreational drugs
and the associated illegal trade, has not resulted in
people not using drugs. An unwanted side effect of the
ban is the creation of a massive crime wave. Large numbers
of people are imprisoned for drug-related crimes creating
massively overcrowded prisons. On release back into society,
these same people receive no support, increasing the likelihood
that they will re-offend. Ideally, we would be in a position
where members of society do not feel the need to use drugs.
In a society where people do feel this need, should they
be allowed to use drugs simply because they have a desired
The large numbers of regular ecstasy users every weekend
in Britain indicates the laws restricting their use are
ineffective and there is a whole culture that are not
deterred by their illegal status.
Is society ready for the unleash of drugs?
Although many of the things we desire are bad for our
health, their use is not restricted. There is no drug
more dangerous than alcohol, which holds legal status.
All drugs, hard or soft, legal or illegal, cause social
problems to some degree. A common misperception is that
heroin causes very large numbers of fatalities but the
figure is minute compared to alcohol. In fact, heroin
addicts often have very high tolerance levels and what
tends to kill them is the summation of multiple different
drugs resulting in death by overdose. The drugs themselves
tend not to be the problem but the way that they are dispensed
and sold. Cannabis use causes very few social problems
and many successful and productive people use cocaine
regularly, however the illegal status of these drugs pushes
the sales market into the hands of violent criminals.
Are the present social problems relating to the
sale of recreational drugs a result of the current Government
Would they still exist even if sales were legalised?
The clients will still be approximately the same, but
practice and trade will change through legalisation. Legalisation
would mean that people could buy drugs but only through
legal sources, removing a major criminal resource and
significantly reducing crime levels. In Holland where
the sale of marijuana has been legalised, illegal sales
still go on, mainly as a result of cannabis production
still being illegal. Those making money now are unlikely
to give up their markets easily, so black market trade
will continue but the profit margins will be significantly
reduced. Criminals will move to other illegal sales, e.g.
from drugs to tobacco. Drug barons are likely to find
alternative means of laundering money, such as the sale
of stolen diamonds.
Is it correct to assume that a controlled legal market
is easier to maintain than an uncontrolled black market?
When prohibition of alcohol was abolished in the US, gangs
initially tried to take over the sale of alcohol and the
associated profits but eventually it returned into the
hands of the lawmakers. Initially, it would be necessary
to provide drugs at a lower market price than illegal
dealers by taxing drugs less than nicotine and alcohol
are presently. When this has wiped out competition from
illegal sources, taxes could start to be increased. It
is important to avoid a situation in which the white market
coexists with the black market, which could happen if
the taxes levied were disproportionate. This presently
occurs within the tobacco market with criminal organisations
illegally importing massive quantities of cigarettes.
In terms of legislation, is decriminalisation or legalisation
Legalisation is preferable but drugs should be given moral
approbation rather than be endorsed. If certain activities
start to cause social problems, the state will have to
intervene but many drugs are thought to cause problems
simply because they are illegal. If the money presently
spent on law enforcement could be ploughed into treatment
and education, the health and social problems associated
with drug use would be dramatically reduced.