HL Deb 04 August 1966 vol 276 cc1461-5

3.25 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that the Drugs (Prevention of Misuse) Act 1964 Modification Order 1966, a draft of which was laid before the House on July 21, be approved. The Order adds certain hallucinogenic substances, notably LSD-25, psilocybin and mescaline, to the Schedule to the Drugs (Prevention of Misuse) Act. As your Lordships will be aware, when a substance is controlled under the Act, manufacturers, and dealers in bulk, have to register with the Home Office. Import is prohibited except under licence, and anyone who obtains drugs, other than on prescription, commits an offence, unless it is necessary for him to have the substance in his possession for professional purposes.

In 1965, LSD-25 (lysergic acid dyethylamide) and psilocybin were first included in the Fourth Schedule to the Poisons Rules (under the Pharmacy and Poisons Act 1933), and were thus restricted to sale on prescription from registered premises by or under the supervision of a qualified pharmacist. The Poisons Board recommended that these substances should be more strictly controlled by a Rule prohibiting retail supply except to duly qualified medical practitioners or bona fide research workers. Effect was given to this recommendation in Rule 17(4) of the Poisons Rules 1966, which came into operation on July 6. The Board also recommended that the substances should be controlled under the Drugs (Prevention of Misuse) Act 1964. Mescaline has not been controlled under the poisons law because there has been no evidence of its being used in this country. But the Poisons Board has recently recommended that it should be so controlled and also that it should be controlled under the 1964 Act in case it should be imported and misused in substitution for LSD-25 and psilocybin.

The Order now before you is in accordance with the recommendations of the Poisons Board, which my right honourable friend the Home Secretary is required to consult, under Section 6 of the Act, before making an order to modify the Schedule. It is the view of the Poisons Board that control should be applied by using generic descriptions so as to ensure that any new analogous compounds which are produced may be automatically controlled. This makes the Order difficult for the layman to understand—a not unusual circumstance—and it is further complicated because the Schedule to the Act, which has not been modified hitherto, was cast in a form to cover not only specified substances and compounds, but also their salts, and substances containing any proportion of the substances, compounds or salts. Additions to the Schedule therefore have had to be made by interpolating fresh paragraphs and recasting some of the existing ones.

LSD-25 (lysergic acid dyethylamide) is the best known of the substances which will be controlled under the Order. It is a powerful hallucinogenic drug and is used by psychiatrists in the investigation of mental illness. It interferes in a way as yet unknown with brain chemistry but is thought to have a value in treating chronic alcoholics and severe psychoneurotics. Extremely small doses produce profound effects upon mental functions and it can cause psychological disturbances and changes in perception, including visual hallucinations. Doctors are generally agreed that it can have harmful effects when used without medical supervision, and there is some evidence that it is being misused, particularly by young people. It is colourless, odourless and tasteless, and is commonly taken by drug users onlumps of sugar or even with impregnated blotting paper, which they suck. Among the more important analogous compounds falling within the generic description in the Order, are lysergic acid amide and isolysergic acid amide, which are about one-twentieth as powerful as LSD-25. It has been established that very small quantities—0.06 per cent—of these amides may be present in one species of Morning Glory seeds (Ipomea violacea) available in this country, and slightly less in what is somewhat euphorically described as the "Pearly Gates" variety. But there is a consensus of expert opinion, based on clinical research reported in America, that the risk arising from misuse of these seeds is negligible. Seeds are therefore exempted from control under paragraph 7A of the Schedule to the Order.

Psilocybin is another hallucinogenic drug capable of being misused and this falls within the generic description in paragraph 5C. Mescaline, which is comparable in effect to LSD-25, but less potent, is controlled by paragraph 5E of the Schedule to the Order. There is a very restricted trade in the cactus from which this substance is derived, and my right honourable friend has been advised that no harm would be done by allowing this to continue. Provisionis made for this by the exemption in paragraph 7A. This exemption applies when the cactus is alive but not when it is dead.

This Order, which I am asking your Lordships to approve, will not interfere in any way with the use of these substances by qualified psychiatrists, but it will both regulate the licit trade in them and enable the police to take action when persons are found to be in unauthorised possession of them. My Lords, I beg to move.

Moved, That the Draft Drugs (Prevention of Misuse) Act 1964 Modification Order 1966, laid before the House on July 21, 1966, be approved.—(Lord Stonham.)


My Lords, I am sure that we all welcome this Order, and would like to thank the noble Lord for his usual lucid and, on this occasion, fascinating introduction of the Order. One can well understand that, with all the other things on their mind, Her Majesty's Government do not want to have to contend with hallucinations as well. I am particularly asked by my noble friend Lord Derwent, who is unfortunately not able to be with us this afternoon, to thank the noble Lord for reacting so speedily to the suggestions he made when we were last discussing this subject on June 30.

Noble Lords will have seen in The Times of Tuesday this week a rather alarming report from America about what is going on in connection with these drugs over there. That article makes the point that LSD is not particularly difficult to manufacture if you can get hold of some lysergic acid. Not being a chemist, I am not quite sure whether this substance is included in the Order, and I think it might be helpful if the noble Lord assured us that it is, because otherwise the Order does not seem to be entirely effective. I think we should also be helped if, before we leave the subject, he could assure us that he and the Home Office have all the powers they need with which to curb and control the misuse of these drugs.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord whether LSD-25 is the drug that enables you to remember what happened when you were born?


My Lords, I think that the hallucinatory effect created is not to enable you to remember back like that, but rather to forget and imagine that you are otherwise and elsewhere than you in fact are. But, of course, LSD is not the only substance that can create that illusion: I have known people who thought they could fly on four pints of bitter.

I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, for welcoming the Order, and for his kind words about the prompt action we have taken, which I think was most necessary. He referred to the interesting article in The Times, under the heading, "Reports from America", and raised the particular point about whether other substances derived from these chemicals which, he said, quite truly, were fairly easily manufactured, would be covered. The answer is "Yes", because we have described the generic substance, so that if there are new derivatives and new inventions from that, they will be covered by the present Order. As to the powers, we have taken all the powers that it is possible for us to take at present under the law. They will give the police adequate power in the event of misuse, except that, of course, as with all crimes or breaches of the law, the police have first to discover the criminal.


My Lords, may I intervene for one moment, to say that the noble Lord, Lord Saltoun, is quite correct in thinking that LSD does in some people produce what may be a complete illusion that they can remember natal experience.


My Lords, that is the hallucination; it is not a fact of memory.


My Lords, may I also add a note of welcome to this Order? Perhaps I might also ask my noble friend whether he is quite satisfied that the penalties imposed for a breach of this Order are adequate to suppress any abuse of these drugs?


Well, my Lords, they are the penalties imposed under the 1964 Act, and, apart from fines, they include a penalty of up to two years' imprisonment. In so far as our knowledge of the working of the Act goes—and there have been a number of prosecutions under it—the penalties are adequate. But if they should prove not to be so, of course we will look at the matter again.


My Lords, is it the case that any doctor is able to prescribe LSD, or lysergic acid in some form, as a treatment for certain disorders? If that is the case, must we not reckon with the fact that a certain number of doctors will over-prescribe? And has the noble Lord any plans to stop up this loophole?


My Lords, a doctor is a professionally qualified medical practitioner, and therefore has the authority to prescribe any legal drug or substance. With regard to the second part of the noble Lord's question, he will probably be aware that this matter was considered by the Brain Committee, and that we are at present urgently considering their recommendations and discussing, in particular, with the British Medical Council the question of the control of the prescription by doctors of drugs of addiction. I am hopeful that we shall come to agreement soon on this particular and important point.

On Question, Motion agreed to.