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The UK’s Psychoactive Substances Bill could mean jail for those buying herbal remedies


A shocking statement, I know, but the threat is very real.  This Bill is founded on good intentions and aims to ban ‘legal highs’ but the way it is drafted means that if you buy an herbal remedy online you could be branded a ‘criminal’.  The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) has been in contact with the UK’s Home Secretary Theresa May to advise her that a blanket ban could even include some “evidence-based herbal remedies” and also have a detrimental impact on scientific research on psychoactive substances.  Clinical trials are exempted but work carried out in Academic or industrial laboratories are not and therefore, this work will be banned under the proposed Bill.


Professor Les Iversen, Chairman of ACMD, has commented that the legislation was only supposed to tackle new substances but “the omission of the word ‘novel’ has widened the scope of the Bill beyond that originally intended” and “as drafted, the Bill may now include substances that are benign or even helpful to people, including evidence-based herbal remedies that are not included on the current exemption list”.


This proposed Bill reminds me of the comment made by Prince Charles when he described the EU directive on Traditional Herbal Medicinal Products as: “a sledgehammer to crack a nut”.


I do hope that the UK Government will listen to the reasoned and logical feedback from the ACMD as well as others and implement their recommendations.  If not, the Bill will have at least two negative impacts:


  • An already struggling herbal industry could all but disappear perhaps with the exception of a handful of key and large herbal manufacturers (thereby, reducing consumer choice), and
  • The excellent research being carried out on psychoactive substances in UK academic and industrial laboratories will be halted causing the UK to slip even further behind within the global life science sector.


Author: Greer Deal, Director of Global Regulatory Services