Could Sensibilities Cost People Their Health?
April 7, 2014

Could Sensibilities Cost People Their Health?

The BBC and many other major news agencies reported this week that the drug ketamine, which is these days most famous as a recreational drug, has proved very successful at treating people with severe depression.

Much of the reporting, even from conservative outlets such as Fox News and the UK’s Daily Mail, has been positive. They chose to focus on the impressive results, such as a woman who had been unable to leave her house for 10 years due to depression but could do so after only one treatment session. But the focus was not entirely on the new hope for people suffering from a terrible condition; we still had to see the words “party drug” and “horse tranquilizer” splashed everywhere, and even on one Daily Mail page a picture of a horse, just in case we weren’t sure what one looks like, and the tag “Ketamine is a horse [tranquillizer] and in humans it can cause severe bladder problems.” The Mail also pointed out that some patients reported seeing things after the treatment.

But as I said, the positivity was still surprisingly apparent, and I suspect this is because ketamine does not occupy quite the same place in the minds of some people, including in the media, as other illegal drugs do. As such, opposition to its use as treatment doesn’t appear to be too strong at the moment, even if we do need to be reminded that it’s enough to floor a horse.

Not so when it comes to cannabis, famously, where widespread examples of taking the drug just as you would if you did it purely for the fun of it, but doing so with the sole purpose of treating severely impactful conditions, are derided as trying to get illegal drugs into mainstream society through the back door. The very small doses in the ketamine clinical trials are almost unrecognizable from the street drug and were administered in a highly controlled medical environment, and this is important to note, but I do wonder how the conservative press would react if a safer version of ketamine was somehow developed and it was proved that snorting it while listening to trance music until 4am was highly effective in treating depression with no discernible side effects.

The appearance that the moral fabric of society was being torn apart might be strong enough to override any willingness that some might have to see depression combated more effectively.

A similar problem applies to e-cigarettes, which admittedly have not been around long enough to know for sure what long-term problems might result from them (the same still just about applies to cell phones) but which are almost universally thought to be far, far better for users than traditional cigarettes. Nevertheless, they are being banned with increasing pace, from public places in New York City to entirely and completely in most of South America.

The reasons given are that they are as yet unregulated semi-medical devices, they ‘normalize’ the act of smoking, and are potentially a gateway to real smoking. Pressure from traditional big tobacco may also be a factor. I suspect, though, that smoking is now so evil in the public consciousness that we can’t even stand to be reminded of it by watching people use e-cigs, which looks exactly like smoking. Even if what we are actually watching is people saving their own lives and those of others. It’s nice if people don’t die prematurely, but keeping society nice and tidy must come first, it seems.

Image Credit: Thinkstock

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John is a freelance writer from the UK, currently living in Japan and thoroughly enjoying their food and whiskey. His first novel, Three Little Boys, and his travel book, Following Football, are currently available on

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