According to a study published this month in The Lancet, alcohol and tobacco rank among the ten most dangerous substances used by humans. Both alcohol and tobacco have been assessed to be more dangerous than illegal drugs like marijuana or ecstasy.
The following three factors were considered in ranking the harmfulness of each drug that was evaluated:
- Physical harm to the user
- Addictive potential of the drug
- The drug's overall impact on society
Psychiatrists who specialize in treating addictive behavior and legal or police officials with scientific or medical expertise were asked to assign a score to each of the three factors listed above for each drug that was evaluated in this study. All told, 20 different drugs were evaluated, including cocaine, heroin, ecstasy, amphetamines, and LSD.
Ranked from most to least dangerous, the ten most dangerous substances were deemed to be:
- Heroin - popular street names include smack, skag, and junk.
- Cocaine - often referred to as snow, flake, coke, and blow.
- Barbiturates - popular slang names include yellow jackets, reds, blues, Amy's, and rainbows.
- Street Methadone
- Ketamine - a powerful hallucinogen, often referred to as Special K.
- Benzodiazepines - a family of sedative drugs.
- Amphetamines - known as greenies among baseball players.
- Buprenorphine - also called bupe or subbies.
The remaining drugs that were assessed in this study ranked as follows:
- Cannabis - includes marijuana.
- Solvents - volatile substances that can be inhaled, such as glue, nail polish remover, paints, hair spray, and lighter fuel (gas).
- 4-MTA - is a derivative of amphetamine and has similar effects to ecstasy.
- Methylphenidate - central nervous system stimulant, commonly sold as ritalin.
- Anabolic steroids
- GHB - short for Gamma hydroxybutyrate, a powerful central nervous system depressant, most commonly known as the date rape drug.
- Alkyl nitrates - group of drugs commonly referred to as poppers.
- Khat - an amphetamine-like stimulant.
It is estimated that tobacco causes 40 percent of all hospital illnesses, while alcohol is involved in more than 50 percent of all visits to hospital emergency rooms. In light of these statistics, the authors of this study question why alcohol and tobacco are legal to use within current drug policies for Britain and the United States, while less harmful drugs like ecstasy and LSD are deemed illegal to use.
The bottom line: alcohol and tobacco are two of the most dangerous substances that you can expose yourself to on a regular basis. In terms of overall potential to cause harm, if used regularly, alcohol and tobacco belong in the same category as other recreational drugs like cocaine and heroin.