Intended for healthcare professionals

Observations BMJ Confidential

David Nutt: Champions off-licence prescribing

BMJ 2015; 350 doi: (Published 27 May 2015) Cite this as: BMJ 2015;350:h2808


David Nutt has a short name but a long title: Edmond J Safra professor of neuropsychopharmacology at Imperial College London. He is famous for claiming that riding horses is riskier than taking ecstasy and for losing his job as a government adviser after his public criticism of drug policy. Many sprang to his defence, and he established the Independent Scientific Committee on Drugs, now called DrugScience, which he chairs. He supports a public health approach to drug addiction and an end to the criminalisation of users, and he has written a book arguing this case, Drugs Without the Hot Air.

What was your earliest ambition?

I decided that I wanted to be a scientist when, in junior school, my teacher showed how atmospheric pressure could crush a large tin can—amazing proof of something you’d never imagine without scientific inquiry and experimental evidence.

Who has been your biggest inspiration?

Ignaz Semmelweis. He collected data on maternal deaths from different practitioners and concluded that puerperal sepsis was caused by doctors transferring something from mortuaries to birthing suites. This predated the discovery of bacteria, so he was ridiculed by the medical profession—yet he was ultimately proved right. A lesson to us all not to let establishment orthodoxy get in the way of facts. I found his example very helpful when, during my early research career, we …

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