What's The Most Dangerous Drug In The World?

Perception has a lot to do with it. Dennis Hill/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

A Matter of Perspective

Asking the question “what is the world’s most dangerous drug” is fraught with complex political and social history – and many people believe all illegal drugs to be far more dangerous than legal ones. The legal status of various drugs is somewhat arbitrary, defined long ago in many Western nations by quirks of history.

Heroin, for example, was regularly used in the U.K., prescribed by the National Health Service (NHS) to treat heroin addicts – small doses were used to wean people off it. “There were 1,000 addicts in 1971,” Nutt pointed out. “Then the government decided to get “hard on drugs”; by 1990, there were 200,000 addicts.

“Drugs policy is deliberately used as a political tool. The illegalizing of cannabis, for example, was driven by pressure from Egypt which insisted the UN add cannabis to the anti-drug conventions in order for its members to get access to military bases there.”

Cannabis is criminalized in most states in the U.S., but despite the scientific evidence suggesting it’s nowhere near as dangerous as alcohol, it’s costing up to $20 billion (£13 billion) per year to enforce its illegality. Legalizing it in the U.S., however, would earn the government billions in tax dollars, while taking the drug out of the hands of the criminal organizations that profit from it. By helping to fund the black market and associated crime, cannabis is far more dangerous as an illegal substance than it would be as a legal one.

Not All Drugs Were Created Equal

Governments often take a hard line on drugs in order to seem tough and, ultimately, more electable. It’s this attitude, exacerbated by the media, that encourages people to take an absolutist view: All drugs are extremely dangerous, and they must be stamped out at whatever cost. The scientific research, however, shows that not all drugs are created equal, and it’s the most widely available, easy to access drug of all that’s by far the most dangerous, by any measure.

If the danger of drugs is seen as a personal danger most of all – as the European study decided – then drug addiction problems should be treated more as a health issue, not as a policing issue. Alcoholism is treated as a health issue, and heroin addiction often isn’t – illegal substance abuse tends to be a criminal issue first and foremost. 

All drugs are dangerous to some degree. Clearly, the idea that a drug is more dangerous just because it’s illegal is completely unfounded.

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