Have you ever wondered why some drugs can be sold in shops and purchased for as little as 20p, while you can be fined thousands of pounds and years in prison for being found in possession of others?
This article will explore what makes a drug illegal and why some drugs are outlawed while others remain readily available. Let’s get into it!
1. They’re Not Regulated
Drug regulation is important in getting a new drug onto the market. Regulation is doing in-depth research to track changing legislations and monitor drug safety risks with regulatory, pharmacovigilance, and HTA (Health Technology Assessment) intelligence.
A biopharma research company usually conducts this and yields important data and information that helps manufacturers make their drugs safe and compliant with current guidelines. It ensures that the drug is up to scratch to be used by the public without causing harm.
Non-regulated drugs are often illegalized as there is no proof that they will be able to be used by people without having negative side effects. A drug must go through an extensive series of research, checks, regulation, trials, and licensing before it can be sold in shops or even prescribed to patients by doctors.
2. They’re Known To Cause Harm
One of the most common reasons that some drugs are illegalized is because they’re known to have incredibly harmful effects on the body, the mind, and the user’s life.
While this isn’t the case for all illegal drugs (for example, Marijuana is known to have medicinal and recreational purposes), most illegalized drugs are known to cause harm to users. Some common harmful effects include:
- Mental health effects (e.g. severe anxiety, depression, schizophrenia).
- Physical changes (e.g. damage to teeth, severe loss of weight, increased heart rate).
- Social issues and trouble communicating.
- Drugs injected with needles can lead to increased HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis B and C risks, amongst others.
- Smoked and inhaled drugs can lead to cardiovascular disease, stroke, and cancer.
- Financial issues (e.g. severe debts from buying drugs).
Overall, while even the most regulated drug, like Paracetamol, has the potential to become addictive, it’s not known to cause significant harm to users. If a drug is known to cause severe harm, it will most likely be illegalised to protect public health.
3. They’re Overly Addictive
While there are plenty of ‘legal’ drugs that are known for being addictive, for example, alcohol, the effects are often more manageable than something like Cocaine – which creates a physical effect that makes you crave more of it soon after each use.
Cocaine speeds up your brain activity and stimulates your nervous system, increasing your energy, resulting in restlessness, a faster heart rate, and higher blood pressure, which can produce a sense of ‘euphoria’ in users.
Cocaine blocks dopamine transporters, creating a build-up that feels like a ‘high’; the issue is that it quickly disrupts the body’s natural processes. When the user realizes they can’t get the same feeling naturally, they can sink into a ‘low’. Continued use can cause serious damage to the dopamine receptors – meaning that without the drug, people will struggle with depressive feelings and suffer continuous ‘lows’.
Due to this, users may get to a point where they feel like the only way they can function is when they are on the drug, leading to serious issues with addiction and irreversible damage to the brain and body.
5. Unknown Formulas
Because illegal drugs aren’t regulated, it makes it surprisingly easy for people to sell highly toxic formulas and blends to people. As drugs aren’t discussed much, people often don’t know how to identify if a drug is ‘pure’ or not, which can mean they ingest something that can harm or even kill them.
Methamphetamine or ‘Meth’ is a common killer because people mix unknown compounds into it before selling it. Though people with Meth addictions can use kits to try and check if it’s real, they’re not readily accessible, as governments don’t want to encourage or endorse the habit. Unfortunately, this means many people suffer the effects of unknown and harmful formulas daily.
4. The Economic Effect
One of the most controversial factors in legalising drugs is economical. You may be wondering why some drugs like nicotine and alcohol are legal in the UK while something with medicinal properties like Marijuana isn’t – the truth is, it all comes down to money.
Currently, the UK Government makes a fortune each year in taxes from cigarettes and alcohol, meaning that illegalising common drugs like nicotine would result in a major loss of profit. At this point, a high number of people are already also casually addicted to them, meaning without the resources to look after their mental and physical health if the drug was taken away, there could be rises in both crime and health issues as people try to get the drugs via illegal pathways.
The issue surrounding Marijuana or ‘weed’ is very similar to this. Currently, the Government argues that it causes too much harm to be legalised, while advocates argue that it costs more money to police it than it would to legalise it. Recent studies show that legalising weed in the same way that nicotine is legalised in the UK could result in huge economic tax gain – however, the Government maintains that it is a separate issue to public safety.
Can A Drug Become Legal?
An illegal drug can become legal. There have been countless cases of drugs being legalised for certain purposes – for example, the drug Codeine is commonly prescribed by doctors as a form of pain relief. It’s illegal to purchase from dealers but legal to take if prescribed. The same goes for things such as Nitrous Oxide or ‘Nox’ – it’s fully legal for doctors and dentists to use as pain relief; however, it’s still illegal to purchase off the street.
At the end of the day, whether a drug is legal or not comes down to the Government’s discretion. Once they’ve identified what makes a drug illegal, they can weigh the pros and cons of changing this standpoint.