HIT Hot topics 2019: Key insights

«Harm reduction is making a comeback!» Pat O’Hare proclaims in the opening of the HIT Hot Topics 2019 conference. O’Hare is the founder of the conference, which is arranged for the 9th time and sold out for the first time ever. There is a sense both among the speakers and the audience that things are about to change for the better, and that that’s about time.

A fact that gets repeated several times by the speakers is that in 2019, there are more people dying from overdose in Great Britain than ever since the registration began in 1993. What a good time for harm reduction to make a comeback.

The first session is titled Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds. A nod to both the hosting city’s (Liverpool) most famous cultural export, The Beatles, and the psychedelic LSD which the song probably is named after.

Here, we got to hear from Katy MacLeod, communication director at Chill Welfare, who told about how her organization provides trip sitting for anxious psychedelic users at festivals and also, more controversial maybe, drug testing at the festival site. The latter has saved many LSD users from taking a chemical they thought were LSD which turned out to be NBOMe or DOB, drugs that could make the trip last for up to 48 hours and increase the risk of toxification dramatically.

Nadia Hutten, PhD from Maastricht University, presented her research on microdosing of psychedelics. Self-reporting indicates that microdosing can be more effective than regular treatment for ADHD/ADD and anxiety disorders.

Afterward, I ask her about the safety of microdosing psychedelics. There is still very little to know about how safe it is to take a microdose of psychedelics on a regular basis, Hutten says. «Best to be cautionary».

Here Comes the Sun is the title of Sanho Trees talk where he provides an interesting insight into the lives of coca-farmers in Colombia. Things are not as simple as just telling them to grow vegetables instead. International trade agreements make it impossible to compete with large corporations, and much of the soil is ruined after the U.S. initiated spraying of pesticides in order to eliminate cocaine production. This has also severe negative effects on the health of the population living in these areas. Not to mention it doesn’t work to eliminate the Coca plants.

The second session is titled Revolution. Pavel Bém, psychiatrist and former mayor of Prague, tells the story of the Czech republic’s drug policy battles. The country decriminalized use and possession of small quantities of drugs in 1990, but in 1998 a more «tough on crime»-government recriminalized it again. After providing 5 major studies and 26 sub-studies which showed that criminalization had no positive effects on use and increased police costs dramatically, use and possession were once again decriminalized in 2008. This is valuable information for Norwegian decision-makers, in a time when Norway moves toward decriminalization.

Lizzie McCulloch from the advocacy organization Volteface delivers an optimistic speech about positive responses toward cannabis legalization from many MPs in the British parliament. Legalization is now supported by 53 % of the public and opposed by only 32 %. Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has proposed legalization to reduce violent crime.

These where only some of many interesting sessions at the HIT Hot Topics conference 2019. A quote from John F. Kennedy, provided in Sanho Tee’s presentation, shows that the drug war fought over the last 50 years could have been avoided had only Kennedy’s views been adopted by the public:

«Now, more than at any other time in our history, the addict is a product of a society which has moved faster and further than it has allowed him to go, a society which in its complexity and its increasing material comfort has left him behind. In taking up the use of drugs the addict is merely exhibiting the outermost aspects of a deep-seated alienation from his society, of a combination of personal problems having both psychological and sociological aspects. The fact that addiction is bound up to the hard core of the worst problems confronting us socially makes it discouraging at the outset to talk about ‘Solving it’. ‘Solving’ it really means solving poverty and broken homes, racial discrimination and inadequate education, slums and unemployment…»

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Norwegian sociology student and journalist. Work for the Association for Safer Drug Policies. Write about science, religion, popular culture, politics…etc.

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Mikkel Ihle Tande

Mikkel Ihle Tande

Norwegian sociology student and journalist. Work for the Association for Safer Drug Policies. Write about science, religion, popular culture, politics…etc.