Psychoactive Substances Bill

Written evidence submitted by the Beckley Foundation (PSB 25)


The Beckley Foundation is a think tank founded and led by Amanda Feilding, which collaborates with leading scientific and political institutions worldwide. Since 1998 the Foundation has been at the forefront of the creation of a scientific evidence-base on which to base effective drug policies.

The Beckley Foundation undertakes and commissions pioneering scientific research into psychoactive substances in order to understand the mechanisms of action in the brain underlying the effects of these substances, and the possible harms and benefits resulting from their use. We investigate their potential medicinal and therapeutic uses. This research has been severely obstructed in the UK and elsewhere due to excessive regulatory burdens, depriving patients in need of effective treatments.

Understanding Risk and Harm


The regulatory challenge that novel psychoactive substances pose has arisen mainly due to the criminalisation of classic psychoactive substances. Novel psychoactive substance often have unknown risk profiles and dosage. Risk associated with ‘legal highs’ is exacerbated by the present regulatory framework in which distributors are unable to disclose the true purpose of their product and are thereby unable to give any dosage or general usage information. The proposed criminalisation of sale and production of all novel psychoactive substances does not address these key problems; it merely results in novel psychoactive substances being driven into the illicit market. Well-documented harms result from unknown contents and potencies, including doctors not knowing how to treat the patient when accidents arise.

The Bill bans substances based on assumed risk, with no requirement that the substances are shown to be harmful. Effective drug policy must address harms and implement methods to reduce these harms. With this aim in mind the Beckley Foundation initiated research leading to the Lancet paper: Development of a Rational Scale to Assess the Harm of Drugs of Potential Misuse, by Nutt, et al (2007 & 2010). This paper provides a workable model for assessing the harms of different substances; the necessary precursor to mitigating those harms. If the Bill goes ahead in its current form, risk profiles will become almost impossible to assess. The blanket ban on production will severely hinder all research into these substances.



We call for policies that focus on health, human rights, cost-effectiveness and harm reduction. It is essential that research into novel psychoactive substances is allowed. The best way forward is that the manufacturers and/or distributors bear the cost of the scientific research assessing risk. If the risk profile is considered low enough by government experts, the substance should be given a licence to be sold. If the results of use of the substance prove harmful, the licence would not be granted.

We urge the Public Bill Committee to support the abandonment of the Bill and advocate a complete review of the current UK drug laws looking at all regulatory alternatives using rational, evidence-based thinking. If the bill continues in its current form, we strongly call for provisions allowing for scientific research so that policy can be based on the emerging scientific evidence base.

October 2015

Prepared 29th October 2015