This week the NSW Attorney General has claimed that certain substances are “deadly” and will introduce legislation to prohibit these. There is no direct evidence of harm presented, associating the substances AB-CHMINACA, AB-PINACA or AB-FUBINACA with the sort of health consequences suggested.

“Psychoactive substance regulation is not based on evidence of harms. There is no process to determine whether or not a psychoactive substance is harmful,” said Nick Wallis of the Eros Association. “Back in 2013, a Bill was passed which sought to ban all psychoactive substances. Not only did politicians admit at the time that they were banning things that didn’t even exist yet, they also failed to provide any justification as to why psychoactive substances should be put in the most restrictive category available in the legislation.”

A psychoactive substance is a chemical that primarily acts on the central nervous system, creating alterations to perception, mood, consciousness and behaviour. Caffeinated drinks such as coffee and energy drinks are psychoactive substances, along with alcohol, nicotine and to an extent, sugar.

Whether or not a substance is psychoactive does not indicate that it is a harmful substance.

The three chemicals listed by the Attorney General may have some direct evidence of their harms, but there is no requirement to provide scientific evidence when writing these laws. Mr. Wallis understands that the government is frustrated by the situation, “They’ve introduced half a dozen Bills or so in a matter of years to try and deal with this. The time and resources that go into each one of these could be far better spent elsewhere.”

The Victorian Government currently has an inquiry before parliament which will look specifically at the effectiveness of current laws and regulations for illicit and synthetic drugs. “Victoria has been smarter in their approach to the issue. They haven’t attempted to blanket ban substances simply because they are psychoactive, a route which both the New South Wales and Western Australian governments have explicitly taken and the South Australian and Queensland governments have moved toward,” added Mr. Wallis. “Frustrations will only increase for those governments that do not sit down and really take a hard look at the sort of policies they are making. Ice is a prohibited drug, but people are still harmed by it. How exactly will prohibiting new drugs make them less harmful?”

The New South Wales government has also introduced a Bill which will give police powers to seize and destroy substances they believe to be psychoactive substance, though no clear mechanism exists to prove that a substance is psychoactive.

“I can’t help but wonder about those exempt products. Alcohol is exempt from the laws on psychoactive substances, even though it is very harmful. Why can’t other psychoactive substances that are potentially less harmful than alcohol be sold under similar regulations?” said Mr. Wallis. “If the government were serious about actual harms, they would investigate alternatives to prohibition. The current approach will only make things worse.”