The war on imaginary drugs, U.K. style

What catches a politician’s attention even more than drugs? Why, the chance to appear in public pontificating about drugs, that’s what. And that’s how a Member of Parliament got scammed into publicly condemning an imaginary drug.

You can’t make this stuff up. Or—well, yes, somebody did, but I couldn’t. The best I can do is look on in amazement. The human imagination is endless. Not to mention bizarre.

Back in 1997, David Amess, a Conservative MP representing Basildon, filmed a video condemning a drug called Cake. Which does not now and never has existed. That left him so impressed with his own expertise that he got up in Parliament to ask what the government planned to do about the stuff.

Irrelevant Photo: Sometimes I feel like I'm being watched. That's Moose on the left and Minnie the Moocher on the right. And no, they can't come in.

Irrelevant Photo: Sometimes I feel like I’m being watched. That’s Moose on the left and Minnie the Moocher on the right. And no, they can’t come in.

Cake was invented—if an imaginary substance can be invented—by a TV show, Brass Eye, which among other things satirized moral panics. You made your point there, folks. It doesn’t take much to start one. The drug was also supposed to give users a bloated neck because they retained water and to distort the user’s perception of time by affecting a part of the brain called Shatner’s bassoon. Now, at that point some of us might feel a slight tug on one leg and think, Someone’s pulling that. We might do a bit of research or plug Shatner’s bassoon into Google or, y’know, ask a relative or neighbor who has some first- (or at least third-) hand knowledge of drugs if they’d ever heard of the stuff. But not the intrepid (I think that should technically be the Hono[u]rable) Mr. Amess. He just got up and condemned it as “a big yellow death bullet” and he mentioned that unhappy users were called custard gannets.

Excuse me for a minute. I’m laughing too hard to type. Custard gannets? Can’t you imagine the scene in the Brass Eye writers’ room where someone says, “Let’s call them custard gannets,” and the only sensible (or at least momentarily sober) person in the room says, “Oh, come on, you can’t call them that. Nobody’ll believe it.” But then the sensible person goes out for a cup of tea or—who knows—a shot of much-needed vodka and they quick put it to a vote and custard gannet it is. And poor Mr. Amess not only believes it, he talks about them on video and in the House of Commons.

Of such stuff are great political careers made.

His great moment came in October 2015 (which is why this admittedly old story re-surfaced), when he has appointed to co-chair a committee to shape the government’s new drug policy—the Bill Committee on Psychoactive Drugs. The bill they were considering has since passed and is expected to be signed by the Queen—also, I’m sure, an expert on drugs—in April. It makes formerly legal highs illegal and has been much criticized for being too broad. The substances that will become illegal include including laughing gas and poppers, and one brave soul got up in the House of Lords to say he uses poppers, which have a reputation for giving the user a sexual rush. A fair number of gay men do use them. I’m not sure how many, but enough that even I know about them, and being female and all I don’t hang out where I assume they’re used. For all I know even—gasp, wheeze—straight people use them. I also have no idea what, if anything, they do for women. Remember, I’m 603 years old and can’t be expected to do first-hand research on the subject. If you want to find out, you’ll have to do your own. What I can say is that sexual chemistry works differently in women than in men, as the makers of Viagra could explain. They’d have a second profitable drug if only it were that simple. So I’m guessing they don’t do much for women, but if I’m wrong do let me know.

Where were we?

The bill is so broad that according to the Independent it may accidentally ban marker pens, some glues, pheromone products, and lots of other fun stuff. It has to specifically exclude a few safe psychoactive substances like alcohol, and tobacco. And caffeine. Mind you, I won’t quibble about excluding caffeine. It’s not good for you but I know for a fact that it’s good for me, especially first thing in the morning, and it needs to stay legal. I don’t like breaking laws before noon. But proving that alcohol or tobacco do less damage than poppers or laughing gas—or cake—is going to take some fancy footwork.

So there you have it. Another great moment in politics. My thanks to P., who sent me the links. Without his high-minded civic action I’d have lived out the rest of my days not knowing how easy it is to start a moral panic. And how much fun.

82 thoughts on “The war on imaginary drugs, U.K. style

  1. They had better not ban caffeine!! The world would not survive if I had to go without coffee!!!

    Also, it is not that bad for you! Many of the side effects of caffiene are actually beneficial…
    Increased alertness (genuinely not just percieved)
    Increased fat metabolism
    Increased heart and lung function..

    OK…it can cause tachycardia in some people (not me, I checked it doesn’t raise my HR at all!)…but then so can exercise and that is not bad for you…after all tachycardia is defined as heart rate over 100bpm!

    Ok…it is probably 50:50 good vs bad side effects but still…

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I was living abroad in 97 so I missed this! So great that you shared it. I remember Brass Eye though – it was criticised heavily and taken off air eventually – I remember something about trees being cut down in churchyards because conkers were dangerous and paedophiles could hide behind them.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Ok, everything (which isn’t much) I know about poppers is what I read in a novel set in the ’70s that featured an orgy scene. No firsthand experience, and, in fact, I don’t know if I’ve ever met anyone who used them, though I’m thinking they probably would not share the circumstances around their experience with me, as I give off a school-marmish prude vibe.

    I don’t know if you need to be an expert on a subject in order to have an opinion on it. A lot of experts’ opinions, as history has shown us, turn out to be wrong. So I’m good with the Queen signing off on the law, even if she and Prince Philip haven’t added poppers to their boudoir repertoire (yet).

    And because I’m an ignorant American, I had no idea the Queen was involved in any way with law making in the UK, even if it’s just a ceremonial sign off. She can’t refuse to sign anything, can she? I’m guessing that’s her ace in the hole, though–if Parliament ever passed a law abolishing the monarchy, she’d say, “Screw you guys!” and give them all the middle finger.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I could be wrong, but I’m guessing the queen knows as much about giving people the finger as she does about drugs. And as far as I know, she doesn’t get to not sign the laws. When they abolish the monarchy–as surely they will some one of these centuries–I don’t think it’ll be submitted for her (or his, or whoever’s) approval.

      But that only goes to show what I know. Which ain’t much.


  4. I’m not going to do the research, but I’m reasonably sure we have laws against things that don’t exist. Irrelevant as your photo might be, the dogs are super cute. Does Minnie come if you sing “ho di ho di ho di ho”? Cause I would absolutely try that if I was ever close enough. Thanks for starting another Friday with a few smiles and a bit of head shaking.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. “Bill Committee on Psychoactive Drugs”

    Most committee work is boring, boring, boring. You sit in a stuffy room all day, staring at people who stare back and everyone is staring because it is far more interesting than anything anyone has to say… and after years and years of that, you get a plum assignment like this.

    It makes it all worthwhile.

    Liked by 3 people

  6. Mmm, cake. We have donuts this morning, which is a bit like cake, but mmm, cake! :P
    I don’t think many politicians actually live the way we civilians do. Some of them don’t read, some of them say things like “injecting the pot,” and some of them just do whatever their advisers tell them to do. They seem, at times, horrendously gullible to me. (But then, look where I live — there are moments I don’t know if political reports are real or satire at times.) I can easily understand how the custard gannets came to be, even though it’s ridiculous and hysterical.
    I am not inclined to moral panic. Do Americans even experience moral panic?
    Food for thought.
    Then cake!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I thought it was only the media that invented stories outright, how naive of me to have forgotten politicians! I usually agree with most of your writings, but have a few doubts about the Queen being an expert on drugs too. Oh, and though irrelevant, your doggies look marvellously cudly :)

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Sounds like yet another piece of badly thought out broad-brush legislation that will have unintended consequences. The problem is that these days politicians don’t feel that that they have enough time to think carefully about how to fix a problem in the public sphere – they have to be seen to be doing something, and fast. There’s an interesting BBC Radio 4 documentary about this, first broadcast in January this year. It’s called “Deciding Fast and Slow” and there’s a free podcast (mp3 format) at
    “What is it really like to make decisions affecting millions of people, knowing that a mistake might be pounced upon instantly and your career left in tatters? Government ministers face this challenge every day, and now under ever-rising pressures – not just 24 hour news, but also hugely influential social media and far stronger demand for more open and accountable decision-making. “

    Liked by 1 person

    • From what I’ve read, MPs (and Congressional representatives in the US, while we’re at it) seldom have time to even read the bills they’re voting on, much less think about them. Not a recipe for deep thinking, never mind good government. Wild Thing was just the other day telling me about an article in the New Yorker (great magazine if you haven’t read it) about the way governments respond to the public failures in child protection. Usually they do something quickly and make things either no better or worse. But at least they can say they did something.

      I think that’s why we’re bombing Syria, isn’t it? So we can say we’re doing something.


  9. Now you have reminded me, I vaguely remember the whole cake thing. So I guess being a gullible twazzock is no barrier to continuing a political career nor to becoming an “expert” in the very field you were revealed to be most twazzocky in. Good to know. There is hopes for us all to become policy makers then no matter our levels of ignorance.

    There seems to be a constant pendulum swing in Britain when it comes to tackling drugs. For every move towards decriminalising or reducing the penal levy on some drugs, there is a swing to make every chemical substance illegal. We cannot possibly have anything existing in grey areas after all. That would be anarchy.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I was retelling this to the best of my ability out in the backyard. Laughing so hard that I walked into a post. Apparently that added to the hilarity for my listener. Your blog ought to perhaps come with a safety warning?

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I had to stop immediately and check out Shatner’s Bassoon. I doubt it’s part of the brain, though. More likely associated with poppers and the relaxing of that anal sphincter.


  12. I just tweeted this to my followers, many of whom are chronic illness advocates, and currently fighting against restrictions on pain management medications. They will get a big kick out of this one, as I did. I love your writing style!

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Pingback: My Little Versatile Blog | The Richness of a Simple Life

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