Please login to the form below

War on drugs: the use of controlled substances in medicine

Infamously coined America’s ‘public enemy number one’ by President Nixon, are controlled substances a fundamental missing part of modern medicine? By Emma Gorton, Senior Director at Hanover Communications

On 17 June 1971, President Nixon declared drug abuse as America’s ‘public enemy number one’ and launched what has since become known as the ‘war on drugs'.

Controlled substances were from thereon positioned as a common enemy to unite people, and many argue that President Nixon used the war on drugs as a political tool to criminalise certain groups who were viewed as enemies of the Nixon administration.

Nixon’s war on drugs meant that all research into controlled substances’ efficacy on health conditions was halted. These substances were deemed the enemy and that was that.

Now, fifty years later in 2020, we are seeing a rise in the number of clinical trials investigating controlled substances for the treatment of medical conditions; medical conditions such as mental disorders which are now among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide.

Psilocybin (aka magic mushrooms) has shown promise in treating a variety of difficult-to-treat health conditions such as depression and cancer-related anxiety. Ketamine has shown efficacy in the treatment of mental health conditions with the FDA approving a version of it, esketamine nasal spray, in March 2019 for treatment-resistant depression. Earlier this year, the FDA granted application for an Expanded Access Program for MDMA-assisted psychotherapy for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. And not forgetting cannabis, a drug which is booming and infiltrating all areas of health and wellness including skincare and beauty treatments. It has shown promise in mental health conditions, skin conditions and a cannabis-based medicine is now available on the NHS for the treatment of epilepsy.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise to us as in our earliest days as a species, we used controlled substances in a medicinal way. In shamanism, for example, psychedelics would be commonly administered for those with severe medical or psychological problems as part of healing ceremonies.

So why are we in the western world in 2020, only just kickstarting our research into these breakthrough substances now?

Nixon’s war on drugs certainly plays a role and has had a significant detrimental impact on the advancement of treatment for mental health conditions. If Nixon hadn’t launched his war on drugs back in the 70s, we would have an extra fifty years of research into controlled substances behind us and mental health conditions may  be better managed and treated. It is frightening how little we actually know about the brain and the war on drugs has contributed to this lack of progress.

Looking to the future, the rise of clinical trials in controlled substances is something to be optimistic about, however, bringing these medicines to market will have challenges. Most significantly, there are fifty years’ worth of bad reputation to contend with, so ultimately even if these substances are found to be efficacious there will be a huge need to change public perception and to ensure the correct policy is in place so patients can access the treatments. Our speciality of mix of communications, policy and market access at Hanover is designed to do just that.

15th April 2020


Company Details

Hanover Communications

+44 (0)20 7400 4480

Contact Website

70 Gray's Inn Road
United Kingdom

Latest content on this profile

EU Pharmaceutical Strategy Roadmap
As discussed in a recent article, the next few years will define the future of life sciences and especially the regulation of breakthrough advanced therapy medicinal products (ATMPs) and orphan medicinal products (OMPs) in the EU. Here Senior Healthcare Director Emma Eatwell examines the impact of the recently-published European Commission Roadmap to develop an EU Pharmaceutical Strategy and considers what the the future looks like for ATMPs and OMPs.
Hanover Communications
Does digital primary care offer a sustainable solution?
After years in which the local GP surgery seemed stuck in the digital doldrums, the last few months have seen a digital revolution sweep across GP practices, driven by the extraordinary circumstances of the Coronavirus. NHS digital figures show that in 2019 less than one in every 100 GP appointments were carried out by online video consultation, and nearly 4 in 10 people had no access to online consultations at all. In the space of two months this has shifted, with GPs having to adapt to a new way of working while tackling the demands of a new disease. What does this all mean for the future of primary care? By Jack Turner, Senior Account Director, Hanover Healthcare.
Hanover Communications
Global communications during and post a worldwide pandemic: how can organisations break through the noise?
COVID-19 has understandably dominated the news agenda like no other story in a generation. But what about other disease areas that are both important and deserve public attention? How do we break through this wall, particularly as coronavirus looks set to govern the news agenda for the next few months at least, if not longer?
Hanover Communications
War on drugs: the use of controlled substances in medicine
Infamously coined America’s ‘public enemy number one’ by President Nixon, are controlled substances a fundamental missing part of modern medicine? By Emma Gorton, Senior Director at Hanover Communications
Hanover Communications
L.E.A.D by example: the art of corporate storytelling
Alex Davies, Director at Hanover Health, considers the art of corporate storytelling and how we must challenge our clients to achieve a powerful narrative.
Hanover Communications
Addressing Climate Impact: The Healthcare Paradox
For the healthcare and pharmaceutical industry, the impact of climate change is twofold – responding to the increased risk of certain diseases and conditions and decarbonising their own processes and products to prevent worsening impact.
Hanover Communications