UK Science Panel Lists Marijuana, Ecstasy, LSD Behind Tobacco, Alcohol

UK Science and Technology Select Committee - drug danger table

The chart above speaks volumes (via Robot Wisdom), I wish the New Scientist didn’t have a pay-wall around this article though (I presume someone can help us out by finding the paper being cited):

When it comes to danger, cigarettes and alcohol beat ecstasy, LSD and cannabis, according to a league table of the harm they cause.

The UK Science and Technology Select Committee, which advises the government, commissioned an assessment of 20 legal and illegal stimulants to examine the actual social and physical harm they cause based on scientific evidence.

Controlled drugs are currently categorised to reflect the penalties they incur for possession and dealing. The highest category, class A, carries the largest legal penalties and includes heroin, cocaine, ecstasy and magic mushrooms. Class B includes speed and barbiturates, while cannabis and some tranquillisers are in class C.

However, the new league table puts alcohol in the top five most harmful drugs, alongside heroin, cocaine, barbiturates and street methadone. Ecstasy and LSD, currently categorised as class A drugs, come well below both tobacco and alcohol.

Another study, another hole in the drug prohibitionist argument. We’re gaining ground slowly and I hope the mainstream media will pick up on this new development.

Update: Here’s the July 31st report being cited in HTML and PDF formats. I haven’t read through it yet, but from the conclusion they present it seems the whole thing will be soon buzzing around the Internet. It seems the U.K. is racing far ahead of the U.S. in their ending of many drug prohibition laws and this report is giving more ammo to those who use scientific fact to combat government hype and the tactics of fear propaganda.

Another update: Reader Rubin points to a lengthier BBC article as well as his own analysis on the report.

Stephen VanDyke

I've published HoT along with about 300+ friends since 2002. We're all Americans who are snarky and love our country. I'm a libertarian that registered Republican because I like to win elections. That's pretty much it.

  1. This pay article is actually rather short (although I really do recommend their combination print/web subscription).
    It continues for a couple more sentences noting that the classification system nees overhauling to reflect this actual harm and stating that police and the government are confused about the relationship between classification and penalties for prosecution. Followed by a probably-overoptimistic hope about the government acting on this data.

    I’m not too certain where the confusion lies. Seems pretty clear what drug classification is all about. Not harm, but jail time.

  2. Is there any evidence that the UK is actually going to use this study to form policy?

    Also, I’m not sure how a ranking that includes “social harm” can be called science. Social harm is hardly quanitative and doesnt really mean anything.

  3. Is harm that is caused by each drug on a percentage basis, is it on a per person basis, or something else, because that could make a huge difference. I find it hard to believe that marijuana is more harmful than ecstacy and anabolic steroids.

  4. Perhaps pure ecstasy is better for you then marijuana. however, pure ecstasy is almost impossible to find. However, smokeless marijuana is undoubtedly much safer then ecstasy and anabolic steroids; this study must have assumed the marijuana was smoked rather than ingested or vaporized.

  5. Likely to be the case.

    Also, pure MDMA is not addictive at all, which is one reason why it’s where it is on that chart.

  6. The cited paper is published as appendix 14 in the report mentioned on the BBC web-site. Appendix 12 details the method used to arrive at the data.

    BBC story with alternative graph:

    Government Report (includes appendices 12 + 14): [1.2MB]

    Appendix 14 (has a different chart with 20 drugs):

    My critique of the new harm scale:

    UK government counter-attack against the ACMD (for stepping out-of-line and daring to hijack the agenda):

  7. While this article is not necessarily scientifically worthy (I, too, wonder what “social harm” consists of, and my work is in psychiatric/epidemiological research), the important thing is that we get the attention of the public and the lawmakers. Unless we win global relegalization tomorrow, it is imperative to address the incremental down-scheduling of drugs, especially those that actually have therapeutic uses, then allow research to establish those therapeutic uses.

    (As a side note, I must say that I find it interesting that both Ritalin, regularly prescribed without much thought to our children, and anabolic steroids, an acknowledged ‘threat’ but one St. Louis’ own Mark McGwire won’t address in Congress, are listed as more harmful than Ecstasy.)

  8. Marijuana more dangerous than solvents? Put a long term pot smoker along side a long term huffer and rethink that placement. Cannabis shouldn’t even be on that chart.

  9. Seriously, I agree we need to rethink the way drugs are categorized, but huffing paint and shooting steroids is much more hazardous to personal and societal health.

    Cannabis should be lower than anything on that list.

    As for ecstasy, if drugs were classified correctly and regulated, MDMA would be low on the list, but not that low.

  10. Appendix 12, 14 and my critique can also be found here:

    I think people are missing the point quibbling about the position of drugs (cannabis, MDMA, solvents) on the chart. The chart was produced by many scientists and they got quite good correlation. Unless you are prepared to write your alternative chart you can’t really criticise them.

    How many people here would be willing to invest the time required to research and write a truly objective comparison with quantitative values reflecting something meaningful (say, a rating based upon DALY)? No one, thought not, so stop bitching about minor details.

  11. While I am a heavy marijuana user and know LSD to be physically non-toxic (though I personally don’t use it…I haven’t even gotten to Salvia or shrooms yet), I think the placement of solvents on this list is ridiculous (I’d say more dangerous than booze, less dangerous than heroin, coke, speed, or crystal meth) should have been evaluated on the basis of street ecstacy (which can have methylamphetamine and other extremely toxic and addictive chemicals) rather than on MDMA (which defenders of E point out, rightfully, is a fairly benign drug).

  12. Legalize it, tax the crap out of it, and let the damn hippies pay for the war. Given the choice between a buzz and supporting the military industrial complex…

    what would you do?