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Drugs symposium: introduction
  1. R E Ashcroft
  1. Correspondence to:
 Dr R Ashcroft
 Imperial College London, Medical Ethics Unit, 324 Reynolds Building, St Dunstan’s Road, London W6 8RP, UK;

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Deputy Editor Richard Ashcroft introduces four papers on drugs and autonomy

In this symposium we bring together four papers which consider novel approaches to the use and response to what are popularly known as “drugs”. The language available here is not altogether helpful—the drugs discussed (cannabis, tobacco, cocaine) have very different pharmacological effects, social acceptability, long and short term psychological effects, medical uses, and legal status.1 Arguably, the way these three drugs (together with others, such as opiates) are considered as constituting a unified medical field can only be understood as a rather specific social and historical phenomenon, rather than being based on a coherent concept of “drugs”. Nevertheless a major part of international health and foreign policy turns on this social construction, and as doctors, ethicists, or policy makers we are obliged to work within this social reality, even as we criticise its basis.2

A central consideration in all four papers is the role …

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