Saturday, March 24, 2007

Most Dangerous Drugs

In research published Friday in The Lancet magazine, Professor David Nutt of Britain's Bristol University and colleagues proposed a new framework for the classification of harmful substances, based on the actual risks posed to society. Nutt and colleagues used three factors to determine the harm associated with any drug: the physical harm to the user, the drug's potential for addiction and the impact on society of drug use.

Heroin and cocaine were ranked most dangerous, followed by barbiturates and street methadone. Alcohol was the fifth-most harmful drug and tobacco the ninth most harmful. Cannabis came in 11th, and near the bottom of the list was Ecstasy.

Tobacco causes 40 percent of all hospital illnesses, while alcohol is blamed for more than half of all visits to hospital emergency rooms.
It makes no sense to me why alcohol and tobacco are legal and marijuana is illegal for the reasons stated in this report. I think basing drug policy on this framework makes a lot of sense.

via MSNBC and The Scientific Activist

And can I mention how stupid the Washington Post's headline on this was: Study: Alcohol, Tobacco Worse Than Drugs? As if alcohol and tobacco aren't drugs. Maybe I will cut them some slack and assume that the title was originally 'than illegal drugs' and the illegal was cut out because it was too long.


al fin said...

As someone with both professional and personal knowledge of neuro/psychopharmacology, my opinion is that alcohol is the most dangerous drug, with tobacco (which is an herb--a cluster of pharmacologically active agents) next in line. Tobacco may kill more, but alcohol ruins more lives.

At the same time, I believe in legal drugs--at least the weaker, more dilute versions. Chewing coca leaves is not particularly dangerous. Smoking a milder form of pot is not a serious threat. Drinking a beer or two is not going to kill most people.

I enjoy a good peaty Scotch, but if I drink more than one shot (a rare occasion), I will not drive for at least two hours after the last.

My drug experience encompasses most of those on the graph, but that was long ago and generally of experimental value only. Experience of dangerous things is useful for people with strong egos.

Since my most egregiously libertarian days, I've mellowed a bit. Experience has taught me that many people are too weak-willed for experiences that stronger-willed people can laugh at.

Still, I think that it is possible to formulate most of these drugs, or analogs of them, in a weak enough form so that they could be enjoyed by most people without disrupting lives.

Fat Knowledge said...


I think your idea of making a weak form of the drugs legal is a good one. I hadn't thought of it that way before, but it makes sense.

Crush was writing about how the amount of THC in marijuana has grown much stronger in the last 20 years. If it were legal and regulated that amount could be greatly reduced (of course that might cause people to smoke more which would then be worse, like what happened with light cigarettes, but lets ignore that for the moment).

I also agree with your point that tobacco may kill more, but alcohol ruins more lives.

In general I think the right course of action is to have the drugs legalized, regulated, severely taxed, and use the money to support advertisement and education to get people to stop using them.

crush41 said...


Interesting. I'm curious as to how thoroughly the long-term effects of LSD or ecstasy use are understood.

I'm not as magnanimous a libertarian as Al. I'd like to see alcohol (as a disclaimer, I came within inches of death as a consequence of alcohol) and most forms of tobacco severely restricted in addition to others on the list. I've less problem with moist smokeless, as there is no immediate impairment and no one else is at risk.

Gene manipulation should eventually allow for 'turning off' the desire for mind-altering drugs and other malignant addictive substances.

Fat Knowledge said...


I am interested in the long term effects of LSD and ecstasy as well. I thought ecstasy had some pretty bad long term effects on serotonin levels, but according to this it is very safe.

Sorry to hear of your bad experience with alcohol. I could see how that would shape your opinion. I have only had experiences with alcohol where I wish I was dead. :)

Unlike Al, I don't usually see myself as a libertarian. If I thought making drugs illegal was the best thing for society, I would have no problems with the government intervening. I just see the whole 'war on drugs' as a total failure, where drugs are now more easily available, of higher concentrations and at lower prices then they were before while making many otherwise honest people criminals and putting lots of people in prison that is not to the benefit of society.

I just think the way the US is handling tobacco is a more effective way then the way we are handling marijuana.

As for gene manipulation, I am hopeful, but I am not going to be holding my breath. I think it might take 20 years plus before that sort of thing is possible.

Fat Knowledge said...


One more thing.

I still don't know how dangerous LSD is, but as someone who likes genetics, you might find it interesting that Francis Crick was under the influence of LSD when he first deduced the double-helix structure of DNA.

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