MCDA Data Analysis To Inform Drug Policy By Prof David Nutt

Posted on: June 20, 2019
Last Updated: November 25, 2023

David Nutt is currently the Edmond J. Safra Professor of Neuropsychopharmacology and director of the Neuropsychopharmacology Unit in the Division of Brain Sciences. In addition to several prestigious appointments in the past, David is currently Chair of DrugScience (formally the Independent Scientific Committee on Drugs (ISCD) and President of the European Brain Council. He has edited the Journal of Psychopharmacology for over two decades and acts as the psychiatry drugs advisor to the British National Formulary. David  broadcasts widely to the general public both on radio and television including BBC science and public affairs programs on therapeutic as well as illicit drugs, their harms and their classification.  He has published over 400 original research papers, a similar number of reviews and book chapters, eight government reports on drugs and 27 books. 

Author Quotes: 

What I didn’t know at the time of doing this, and what I’ve learnt as being part of a process where we had 15 real tobacco experts, is that half of all the fires in the world are caused by cigarette stubs; 2500 people each year are burned to death, either in their beds, or because someone has thrown a cigarette stub out and they have been caught in a forest fire. And that’s why cigarettes are hugely harmful to other people. They are also very harmful to the user.

(…) I firmly believe we should be encouraging everyone who smokes to switch to vaping.

Norway is the richest country in the world, even richer than Australia per capita. Yet it has heroin death rates more than Scotland because it doesn’t have a policy which protects people.

Summary and slides: 

The relative harm of different formulations of nicotine is discussed in this final video excerpt, followed by Professor Nutt’s findings of the comparative harms of nicotine products. 

MCDA has also been used as an approach to develop better policies.  

The Drug Harm Policy value tree, where all variables are applied to the 27 separate aspects is grouped into seven impacts (i.e. health, social, political, public, crime, economic, cost) 

Professor Nutt goes on to describe published findings using MCDA to develop policies on cannabis and alcohol in Norway The presentation ends with the story of 16-year-old Robert, and why a regulated market for drugs is the way forward. Professor Nutt points the audience to his book, “Drugs without the hot air”, which funds his charity. 

Take-home Points:  

  • Vaping/ENDS (electronic nicotine delivery systems) are between about 20 and 50fold less harmful than tobacco.  
  • There are four distinguishable policy options; absolute prohibition, state control, decriminalization, and a free market. The four policy options affect different elements of drug availability, production, supply, taxation, etc. 
  • Findings suggest that for both alcohol and cannabis, a state-controlled market is the most logical market.  


Learn more

  1. Illegal Drugs and the Analysis of Harms By Prof David Nutt
  2. Post-Multicriteria Decision Analysis (MCDA) analysis of drug-related harms – Prof David Nutt
  3. Psychedelic therapy and synthetic alcohol – future treatments? – Prof David Nutt
  4. Alcohol – New Therapeutic Approaches and the Burden of Harm – Prof David Nutt
  5. Multi-Criteria Decision Analysis (MCDA) to evaluate drug-related outcomes By Prof David Nutt