The Government's former drugs tsar has warned that banning the dance drug mephedrone could do more harm than good.
Professor David Nutt said a ''new approach'' to dealing with synthetic drugs was needed.
He suggested the regulated use of drugs like mephedrone and ecstasy in controlled environments, such as clubs, may be the way forward.
Home office minister David Hanson earlier announced mephedrone could be made a class B drug by April 16.
Home Secretary Alan Johnson has laid a draft order before Parliament to approve a ban on the substance, which is also known as M-Cat or miaow miaow, and similar cathinone derivatives.
The drug has been linked to up to 25 deaths in England and Scotland.
Mr Hanson said chairman of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD), Les Iversen, had made clear ''the harms that these drugs undertake justify control'' under the Misuse of Drugs Act.
But Professor Nutt, who was sacked as ACMD chairman after saying ecstasy was less harmful than alcohol, criticised the Government's ''knee-jerk'' approach to mephedrone.
He said the Government should have waited for the results of a study from The European Monitoring Centre on Drugs and Drug Addiction, which is due to report in July.
Speaking ahead of a lecture at Greenwich University, he said: ''We need a new approach with dealing with these synthetic drugs.
''I wonder if there may be alternative approaches.
''I find it very difficult to support criminalisation of people who are using drugs which are less dangerous than alcohol.''
He criticised the Government's ''knee-jerk'' reaction over the ''supposed problem'' which has been ''whipped up'' into a hysteria.
He said: ''These knee-jerk reactions aren't dealing with the core of the problem.
''They need to have a proper, mature debate about how best to deal with drugs.
''Why don't we at least think about alternatives and allow people like me to mention them without being vilified.
''We regulate other drugs, alcohol and tobacco. Why are we so hostile to (regulating) new drugs?
''One way of reducing drug harm may be to regulate their use in controlled environments.
''Maybe we would allow clubs to sell small amounts of drugs, like mephedrone and ecstasy, in a safe environment, just like we sell alcohol.
''There is no scientific reason why mephedrone and alcohol should be seen as different.''
He continued: ''I hope that we start doing some very careful assessments of the consequences of making it illegal.
''We have to make sure there is not a rise in criminality, with gangs getting involved.
''We've heard already the Chinese are gearing up to make another drug.
''We will be in the same boat in a few more months, possibly with a more dangerous drug.''
On Sunday Dr Polly Taylor quit as the veterinary member on the ACMD, accusing ministers of not dealing fairly with independent scientific advice.
Mr Johnson denied the resignation would affect the legality of the ban and said the committee was "legally constituted" when its advice was put forward.
But Professor Nutt said: "I think it's not properly constituted and I think a legal challenge (to the ban) is a tenable approach but it doesn't make any difference in the long term.
"I think we need to think more broadly about the question of scientific advice and whether the Government is going to do things based on rational science."
Shadow Home Office minister James Brokenshire welcomed the move to ban the drug, saying: "The tragic cases of those who are thought to have died as a consequence of taking mephedrone have highlighted the dangers of this drug."
Liberal Democrat spokesman Chris Huhne also welcomed the proposed ban but expressed concern at the length of time it had taken to achieve.
The ACMD said mephedrone has similar effects to amphetamines and can cause temperature changes, heart palpitations and paranoia.
Prof Iversen said his message to users was: "This is not a simple, harmless party drug. Just because it is legal doesn't mean it is safe."
Prof Nutt was speaking ahead of a lecture entitled Unwanted messages? Shoot the messengers!
March 31, 2010
A related thread to this story can be found at Give meow meow to clubbers says former drug czar
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Mephedrone ban 'could do more harm than good'