Danger List demonstrates Drug Hypocrisy

Hypocritical drug laws, as demonstrated by a UK parliamentary committee. This drug danger league table courtesy of New Scientist magazine shows the relative danger of various drugs, legal and illegal, based on scientific evidence covering dependency and physical and social harm based on a survey of people’s opinions of their relative harm.

Chart of relative drug danger

UK law categorizes drugs to reflect the penalties for possession and dealing. The highest category, class A, includes heroin, cocaine, ecstasy and magic mushrooms. But this research puts alcohol in the top five most harmful drugs, along with heroin, cocaine, barbiturates and street methadone.

Ecstasy, currently a class A drug, comes well below both tobacco and alcohol. And as New Scientist has editorialised before, it’s so “safe” that if put through the approval process as a medicine, ecstasy could be sold in corner shops!

Presumably as a result of this research, one of two things will happen:

  • Marijuana, ecstasy, magic mushrooms and LSD, all safer than tobacco, will be sold in corner shops to anyone over 18. Police resources will be re-allocated to catching murders, rapists and graffiti artists.
  • Alcohol, more dangerous than amphetamines, will be banned. Brewers will be arrested, and a heavy dusting of Agent Orange will defoliate the Barossa Valley.

Neither of those scenarios is likely to happen any time soon. But if drugs are banned to “protect” society, then the scale of penalties must reflect the scale of the danger. Currently they’re well out of alignment.

Oh well, Friday night, time for a beer. Oh, sorry, that’s too dangerous. I’d better go glue-sniffing instead.

[Update 21 February 2012: Since this post was first published, I have discovered that this chart wasn’t based on any scientific evidence at all, but on a survey of people’s opinions of the substances’ relative harm to society. I thought I’d better clarify that, as some people have been linking here and been misled by my original wording.]

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16 comments

  1. Mark Wellington’s avatar

    Nice article. I can see two problems with the figure though: (i) cocaine and crack seem to have been lumped together (crack, I would place just after heroin, cocaine probably just before alcohol); (ii) ketamin is not on the list – I would estimate that this would appear between alcohol and anphetamines.

  2. Stilgherrian’s avatar

    Nice points, Mark.

    The original New Scientist article says they looked at 20 drugs, but there’s only 14 on the chart. I’m guessing that’s NS “simplifying the story”.

  3. Xevious49’s avatar

    I’m a recovering addict, so I guess you could say that I’ve done my share of street drugs. I got clean in 1984 and even to this day, I feel people have the right to take whatever they want into their own bodies as long as it doesn’t endanger anyone else’s life or space. But when I see people advocating the use of substances like ectasy and solvents, that’s where I have to draw the line. I knew nothing about ectasy until I watched a very unopinionated TV special about it that explained how daily use over a year or so could accelarate the deterioration of a “normal” brain for a certain aged youth to one that was almost on the verge of behavior of an old person in the middle stages of Alzheimer’s Disease – That scared the shit out of me. Every article I’ve read discussing the street drugs kids are into now compared to what was on the street when I was using is scary to me. I did my share of LSD and reefer, but I wouldn’t touch PCP or solvents because I saw for myself what it was doing to my friends who didn’t give a shit what they took. I had a friend who was a newly graduated chiropractor go out to the west coast from NY and was dead a week later because he thought he knew what he was doing and scored some China White and ODd and died. I always worked jobs in labs where I had access to clean needles, sterile filters and water and I never stuck a needle in my arm because I was afraid of dying. I didn’t write this in order to judge anyone; I just feel people have to use their brains if they decide to party. I lost too many friends who didn’t think before they leaped and I hope some younger drug users read this and just THINK. Peace!

  4. Andrew Kensington’s avatar

    I think chronic solvent abuse would be easily the deadliest form of drug use.The article confirms the suspicion that drug laws have nothing to do with public health or saftey issues and everything to do with control and promoting the delusion that something, a “Drug War”, is being done.

  5. Stilgherrian’s avatar

    Xevious49 and Andrew, thanks for your comments. I’ll respond in a little more detail when I get the time — it’s been a hectic week!

  6. Marlin Stoebner’s avatar

    Solvents are less harmful than Cannabis? yeah right! I think the New Scientist magazine needs to do some more research.

  7. Stilgherrian’s avatar

    Marlin, you’re shooting the messenger there. New Scientist was merely reporting the research, it’s a news magazine. The research was published by the UK parliament’s Science and Technology Committee.

    You can browse the full report, Drug classification: making a hash of it?, and there’s a PDF version.

    It’s worth remembering that the aim was to evaluate the overall “cost to society”, not just the physical affects on the individual. And as the report itself says, “determining harm scores… is almost as much an art as a science”.

  8. Stilgherrian’s avatar

    If you need a quick “So how did they do this?”, grab the PDF version of the report and zap down to pages 176-177.

  9. Roland’s avatar

    Tha classification for magic mushrooms is completly wrong. Magic Mushrooms is free in holland because of his beneficts and because it doesn’t do any damages to the body or to the mind. It’s way way different from cocain or heroin or ecstasy (that three yes, we can say that are really bad drugs).

  10. Stilgherrian’s avatar

    Roland, nice bit of promo-linking back to your shop. 😉

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