From the past: UK’s The Sun vs. DMT

Written by on September 15, 2013

Back in 2010, the trashy British publication The Sun tried to take on DMT and frame it as, “The new crystal meth.”  When I read the article, which is posted below, I found it so utterly ridiculous that I filed a complaint with both The Sun and the PCCC.  The PCCC is obligated by law to respond to complaints, while a newspaper may ignore them.  Eventually, the paper took down the story from their website but refused to publish any correction.  I have an old blog which I posted the whole story on.  Thought it might be an interested re-post.

First up, here is the article from the UK’s “The Sun”

Mind-busting jungle drug hits the UK

Published 07/10/10

A BRAIN-bending jungle drug is set to become a bigger menace than crystal meth on Britain’s streets, it was feared last night.  Border guards have intercepted a record £13million haul of DMT – a powerful hallucinogen used by Amazon tribes.

Smokers of the crystals almost immediately suffer intense and often terrifying visions.  Side-effects include paranoia and flashbacks weeks or months later.  The Class-A drug has also been linked to schizophrenia.

It is feared smugglers are now trying to flood the UK – as they have in recent years with deadly methamphetamine, also known as crystal meth.  A senior police source said: “We’ve never seen quantities of DMT like this. This is clearly the latest drug trend. Dealers have seen big money to be made here.”

The UK Border Agency recently intercepted 126 kilos of DMT being smuggled into Britain in 15 parcels from Brazil and Peru. Five found at the postal depot at Coventry Airport were heading for London.  Amazonian spiritual healers have traditionally used vines naturally containing DMT to make sacred brews, which they claim help users experience the afterlife.

Millions of television viewers saw adventurer Bruce Parry’s agonising DMT trip in the Amazon on the BBC’s Tribe in 2008.  He was violently sick and had nightmares.

The drug extract is broken down into smokeable crystals by South American smugglers. Peter Stoker, of the National Drug Prevention Alliance, said: “We must get a grip on this before it takes hold of our young. DMT is a nasty piece of work.

“Its consumption under the gaze of seasoned tribal leaders in the Amazon is nothing like what a UK novice would experience.”

DMT, first seen here in the 1970s, costs up to £100 a gram – twice the value of cocaine because it is so rare. It has been linked to deaths across the world.

In May, Danielle Jacobsen, 17, was found in a pond in Connecticut, US. A coroner cited DMT as a contributory factor to her death.  A Border Agency spokesman said: “We are determined to protect society from an activity which can have such a destructive impact.”

For those out there aware of DMT, the current research into DMT and the effects of DMT, your bullshit radar is probably flashing pretty bright right now.  So was mine.  So I decided to write a complaint.

I figured that simply writing to The Sun would doubtfully get much attention at all, especially since my email signature includes the phrase “Psychedelic Activist”, which generally means people won’t take you seriously.

Complaints can be made against media agencies in the UK, through something called the Press Complaints Commission:

http://www.pcc.org.uk/index.html

So, I proceeded to write a complaint.

“Hey there,
I’d like to make a complaint about an article entitled “Mind-Busting Jungle Drug Hits the UK” (http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/news/3168623/Mind-busting-jungle-drug-hits-UK.html)

There are a few statements in your article which I believe contravene the PCC’s editor’s codes of practice.

  • “The Class-A drug has also been linked to schizophrenia.”
  • “It has been linked to deaths across the world.”
  • “In May, Danielle Jacobsen, 17, was found in a pond in Connecticut, US. A coroner cited DMT as a contributory factor to her death.”

I believe these statements, and the general tone of the article, to be seriously lacking in accuracy.
There are facts mixed with misleading statements here.
What piece of research are you referring to that links DMT substantially to schizophrenia?  I have never read any such research.
What deaths across the world are you referring to, that DMT has been linked to?  And, I did a quick search of the final statement, which cites a case where a young girl reportedly had DMT in her system and this was a contributing factor to her death.
http://justice4caylee.forumotion.net/unresolved-cases-f32/danielle-jacobsen-17-yo-newtown-e-of-danbury-ct-t6822.htm

From the articles posted on the above linked website, it appears that Danielle may have indeed insufflated DMT on the night she drowned.
It also mentions that (as with most substances labelled “psychedelic”), it is not really possible to overdose on such substances.
I believe this to be unnecessarily creating panic in the public, and going against the “protecting public health and safety” approach.

By reporting misleading and unsubstantiated claims on this substance, not only are you lacking in accuracy and therefore journalistic integrity, but you are also helping to perpetuate an environment whereby young people believe these claims, but, as young people do, they may still try these substances and still participate in risky behaviour, such as swimming or “forgetting about gravity”.
By not mentioning the fact that DMT did not have any physiological effect in Danielle’s death, you are misleading the public on this point.
By not referencing your schizophrenia claim, nor your deaths across the world claim, you are reporting inaccurate information.

I believe this article, by presenting misleading information and inaccurate information incorrectly portrays the substance DMT.

I hope you correct these errors.”

Journalism is meant to be a pursuit of objective truth.  It’s meant to be a profession in which people are sceptical and critical thinkers, armed with the tools to look into a topic, ask the right questions, find out answers behind spin.

All too often from journalism and news today, we just see messages repeated.  I’ve worked alongside commercial journalists for major media organisations in regional areas and seen both the attitude, and why this attitude is there.

A poorly referenced article with little truth can be proliferated and given credibility simply by laziness from journalists in re-publishing or re-wording articles without actually investigating the topic at hand.

I just want to make a quick note that many journalists I know are overworked, under resourced and under paid.  Integrity in news is being lost because it is easier for a business to make profit with fewer journalists that are less resourced.  People will still purchase the product (newspaper, magazine, listen to radio, watch TV) because they are used to it.  It’s imprinted in their lives and people don’t generally critically analyse or think about the information they’re being fed from a commercial media outlet.  This is a dangerous cycle, where profit weighs in far higher than truth and integrity in reporting that truth.

I received a reply from the PCC.

“Dear Mr Wallis
Further to your complaint against the Sun, I have now received a response from managing editor, Graham Dudman, a copy of which is attached.
As you will note, Mr Dudman considers that the report was accurate and fully researched. Dealing in turn with the points of your complaint, he says the following:

  • The National Drug Prevention Alliance told the newspaper that DMT was responsible for a number of deaths around the world.
  • The drug website Erowid states on its website that ‘Individuals with a family history of schizophrenia or early onset mental illness should be extremely careful because psychedelics have been known to trigger latent psychological mental problems’.
  • The published report into the death of Danielle Jacobsen made clear that DMT was a contributing factor in her death.

I would now be grateful for your comments on the newspaper’s response. In particular, as one of the Commission’s primary aims is the amicable resolution of all substantive complaints, it would be useful if you could provide an indication of what you are seeking as a satisfactory resolution to this matter.”

Just a quick break from all the reading.  In the article, there was also a rather incorrectly reported note from a show called TRIBE, in which adventurer and ex-Royal Marine, Bruce Parry snuffs a DMT concoction.

The article has a picture of Bruce, with a quote below saying, “Sick… Bruce in Amazon”.

Everyone who knows anything about Ayahuasca, knows that purging is a common part of the experience, and that is not considered a bad thing.  (Read about Aya ceremonies, purging and the potential for it ridding the tribes-people of parasites and the such, for some context)

The entire article reeks of random facts and myth cobbled together with inappropriately emotive and persuasive language meant to incite fear.

Here is my response to the PCC:

“Thanks for your reply,
I have read the response from Mr. Dudman.  I am unsure why Mr. Dudman felt it necessary to note that I have ‘Psychedelic activist’ written on my email, as I don’t believe this changes anything, other than the fact that I have a high interest in the topic and therefore am keen to see issues relating to the topic reported accurately and fairly.

Mr. Dudman said he referenced the National Drug Prevention Alliance on the death figures, but also noted that they were “unable to give a specific figure”.
To me, this rings editorial alarm bells.

Erowid has warnings for all drugs (including such commonly used drugs as caffeine) on potential side effects and potential problems.  This is the common harm reduction approach to anything, just as a driver of a vehicle is warned of potential issues.  The point is that people should know that if they have a history of mental illness, then they should be cautious.
There is no conclusive evidence that DMT and Schizophrenia are linked, only a worry.  Therefore the line, “The Class-A drug has also been linked to schizophrenia.” is incorrect and inaccurate.  It is unnecessary scaremongering to note such a thing in an article of that context.
On a wider note toward mind-altering substances, it may have been good to note that, “Those with a family history of mental illness may be more susceptible if they use mind-altering substances”.

And the Danielle Jacobsen story, although highly unfortunate, only notes DMT as a contributing factor (just as the pool was a contributing factor etc..), but I feel that within the context of the article, it is framed as the thing that killed Danielle Jacobsen, with no mention of her death being caused by drowning.

These three things all create a fairly flimsy and poorly researched backing of the article.

The only thing that is consistent is its legal status.  But as we are quite aware, and as I would expect journalists to be MOST aware, the law should always be in question, to make sure that it is upholding the utmost truth and integrity for the people it governs, not proliferated purely on the basis that it is law.

The NDPA is unable to give a specific figure of deaths caused by DMT, because there are no confirmed deaths from DMT.
There has as yet been no conclusive research showing that DMT causes schizophrenia, nor any other mental illness.  Although it is vitally important to note that this is a powerful hallucinogenic substance, and should not be taken lightly.

Perhaps the Sun could try SPEAKING to Fire, Earth or any of the Erowid crew about what that warning means, considering it seems they were more than happy to speak to the NDPA to contextualise their figures.
And, surely a journalists job, to ensure accurate reporting, should include some more rigorous questioning, especially when an organisation pushes so hard against a substance, with no backing for its claims what so ever (other than the fact it is illegal, of course).

I don’t intend to waste anyone’s time, but I feel very strongly about accurate reporting from our media, worldwide.  Especially with the nature of the internet and articles being available across the world.
So, therefore, I doubt that The Sun would wish to spend any time on it, but I don’t think that Mr. Dudman’s final claim, that the article was “thoroughly researched” is true, and that perhaps the article should be re-looked at with amendments to remove unnecessary information which I believe is meant to encourage fear in the subject, and correcting / clarifying information like that Ms. Jacobsen’s death was caused by drowning, with DMT being a contributing factor.

It might also be of interest to people to note that DMT is created endogenously in the human body:  http://www.erowid.org/chemicals/dmt/dmt.shtml

Thanks again for your reply, I look forward to hearing from you again soon.”

Let me quickly note something, because this is one of the biggest obstacles that we, as a society need to overcome to properly address this debate.

I don’t want to seem heartless to the case of Ms. Jacobsen.
It is extremely unfortunate and I wish all the best for her family and friends in the future.
But, I can’t help but feel this is a case that should advocate education toward these substances, rather than abstention.

The more we push things like DMT underground, the less respect we as a collective will have toward this powerful substance.  The more it can be in control of irresponsible and potentially dangerous people in the criminal underworld.  The more we will see completely avoidable issues, like this one, raise their ugly head.

Respect is needed toward powerful substances.  People will always seek out mind altering experiences of all types, no matter how much some will push the idea that one day everyone will agree with their rigid point of view that it is unnecessary for anyone to have any of these experiences in life, and therefore we should all agree with them.

These cases are used by the anti-drug mob to try and sweep up emotion for a topic, rather than have it in the rational debate arena.

The thing is, exactly the same arguments could be used for nearly everything.  From pets, to random inanimate objects to cars to foods etc..

The argument goes… “X thing has caused Y problem, so therefore ban X thing”.

The problem with the argument is that this creates a simple, black and white way of viewing the whole issue.  It also ignores all benefits that X thing may have, and ignores that Y problem may have other things (A,B,C) that also contributed to it occurring.

Try:  Car = X
Car accident resulting in death = Y

Ban the car?  Regardless of its usefulness in quick transport of not just ourselves, but many other things from A to B?
I’m sure you can figure out the rest for yourself, so I won’t ramble.

—-

Quite some time later:

The issue with The Sun has now been resolved.  The Sun took down the article from the web, but I keep it here for archive reasons and hopefully to highlight the obvious errors in such an article.

The PCC eventually found that The Sun hadn’t broken their rules, although I think the following does show the lack of good journalism coming from The Sun.

“Commission’s decision in the case of Wallis v The Sun”

The article under complaint reported that UK border staff had intercepted a 126 kg haul of the hallucinogenic drug, DMT. The complainant was concerned that a number of claims in the article were inaccurate and misleading, and said that they were consistent with an attempt by the newspaper to unnecessarily create panic about the drug.

The Commission initially addressed the complainant’s concern about the claim that DMT ‘had been linked to schizophrenia’. He said that this was misleading as there was no conclusive proof that the two were connected, merely a worry. In its defense, the newspaper explained that the claim had been taken from the influential drug website, Erowid, which – in respect of DMT – warned that ‘those with a family history of schizophrenia should be extremely careful because psychedelics have been known to trigger latent psychological problems’. The Commission emphasised that its assessment under Clause 1 (Accuracy) would take into account the context of the article as a whole. In this instance, the article was brief, and did not purport to serve as a detailed and comprehensive account of the dangers posed by DMT. The complainant appeared to accept that concern had been expressed about a risk posed by psychedelics, including DMT. With this in mind, and in the context of the article as a whole, the Commission did not consider that readers would have been ‘significantly misled’ by the claim that DMT ‘had been linked to schizophrenia’.

The complainant expressed similar concern about the claim that DMT ‘had been linked to a number of deaths across the world’. He argued that, as there was no confirmed instance of DMT ever having caused death, the claim was misleading. In support of the assertion, the newspaper said that it had consulted Peter Stocker, Director of the National Drug Prevention Alliance (NDPA), who had told it that ‘there was at least one confirmed death of a user in the United States, as well as anecdotal reports that [DMT] had caused other fatalities’. While the complainant maintained that the failure to give a specific figure suggested that there were no confirmed instances, Peter Stocker’s contention that there were reports, although anecdotal, of DMT having caused death did not appear to be in dispute. In light of the above, and in the context of the article as a whole, the Commission did not consider that the claim was misleading in a manner that required correction under the terms of Clause 1 (ii).

The Commission then turned to the complainant’s concern about the way in which the newspaper had reported the death of Danielle Jacobsen. He said that the article presented the fact that she had taken the drug, rather than drowned, as the principal cause of her death. On this point, the Commission made clear that, without the direct involvement of Ms Jacobsen’s family, or an individual acting on her behalf, it would generally not be in a position to come to a view on these points. However, in this instance, it appeared that – while relying on separate reports of the incident – both parties were in agreement that Ms Jacobsen had drowned and that DMT had been cited as a contributory factor. The Commission noted that the article made clear that she had been ‘found in a pond’ and that DMT had been a ‘contributing factor’. The Commission did not consider that the inclusion of a statement to the effect that one could not overdose on DMT was necessary to prevent readers from being ‘significantly misled’ on this point.

Finally, the Commission noted that the complainant expressed doubt as to the claim that ‘126 kilos of DMT’ had been found, stating that this was a ludicrously large quantity. While the complainant may have doubted the exact quantity, he did not appear to dispute that a large haul of DMT had been intercepted. In these circumstances, the Commission did not consider that the complainant had established a breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy).”

So, in the end, The Sun didn’t publish anything saying their claims were wrong, because technically, they are going by the (very little) amount of information they received / researched.

The PCC mentioned that due to the relative size of the article, it wasn’t important enough to warrant more attention.  Personally, I strongly disagree.  I don’t think the physical size of an article should define the importance of the content within, and I believe that lots of little things like this are exactly what skew public opinion, through manipulatively worded, poorly researched articles such as this.

I highly doubt you would see an equally sized, positive article in this particular paper on DMT, or any other drug for that matter.

—–

I believe that bringing things like this to the attention of editors and other organisations that can actually force the media outlet to look into it is important.  It’s also important not to waste your hip pocket vote with these morons.

Unfortunately, free press is guided by the free economy.  Money reigns king and queen over these kingdoms.

People will write what sells, and with so many with their noses in everybody else’s personal affairs, they’ll keep buying things that make them feel morally outraged for no good reason at all.

There is a bigger issue I want to go into, and it’s due to a book I’ve just started reading, ‘Ain’t Nobody’s Business If You Do.  The absurdity of consensual crimes in our free country’.

I’d love to hear your comments or issues on this particular post though.  Love to hear your support, or defence of The Sun’s reporting, or perhaps another point of view entirely!

In Lak’ech Ala K’in


Reader's opinions
  1. Psychedelic Frontier   On   September 17, 2013 at 07:24

    Nick, thank you for your efforts in this, even if they were not rewarded this time around in a satisfactory way. I would love to see The Sun, and any other news outlet accustomed to uncritically bashing all drugs as poisons and parroting the government’s anti-drug propaganda, publicly apologize for their false and deceptive reporting. But I’m not holding my breath.

    Honorable of you to invite opposing views, but no one with a brain is going to come rushing to The Sun’s defense after reading that article. 2 minutes and an Internet connection are all that’s required to disprove such willfully misleading claims.

    People will “keep buying things that make them feel morally outraged for no good reason at all.” So true. There is a high demand for sensational, outrageous reporting — much higher than the demand for truth. But one by one, we can change that.

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