Street Drugs And Their Rankings Based On Harm

This is the study I cited in my previous post about hallucinogenic mushrooms. (If you only have a minute, that post is worth a look just for the pictures.)

Development Of A Rational Scale To Assess The Harm Of Drugs Of Potential Misuse, The Lancet, March 2007

Researchers classified 20 substances based on their physical harm, potential for abuse, and social impact. Here are the mean scores. Those in blue were legal, over-the-counter drugs at the time. (I think khat is a Schedule I drug here.)


The classification (colored bars) is UK-based, under their Misuse of Drugs Act.

Here are the same drugs listed, top to bottom, by their overall score. The rows list their mean scores for each harm category. Click to enlarge:


I’m not condoning any recreational drug use by posting this. But I’m surprised that legal, easy-to-get drugs like tobacco and alcohol scored as more harmful than some illegal substances. It seems so arbitrary. No?

Our results also emphasise that the exclusion of alcohol and tobacco from the Misuse of Drugs Act is, from a scientific perspective, arbitrary.

Neither the rank ordering of drugs nor their segregation into groups in the Misuse of Drugs Act classification is supported by the more complete assessment of harm described here.

Interestingly, alcohol and tobacco are both in the top ten, higher-harm group. … [As such, in a three-category classification system] would have harm ratings comparable with class A and B illegal drugs, respectively.

The study did not weight parameters. Should a drug that could cause severe physical harm after just one dose be weighted as more harmful than a drug that was more benign in a single dose but even more harmful when used often? Maybe, maybe not. The example they gave was tobacco:

Take tobacco, for instance. Smoking tobacco beyond the age of 30 years reduces life expectancy by an average of up to 10 years, and it is the commonest cause of drug-related deaths, placing a huge burden on health services. However, tobacco’s short-term consequences and social effects are unexceptional.

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