Most Dangerous Recreational Drugs Ranks

Written by Chloe Nicosia

Exploring a List of the Most Dangerous Recreational Drugs

There is often confusion in the general public as to the exact dangers of each substance when it comes to substance abuse. It is especially a problem among adolescents who sometimes falsely believe that certain substances aren’t as dangerous as they really are. A 2010 study by The Lancet – which is one of the oldest and most trusted peer-reviewed medical journals in the world – closely examined the total effects that each drug and alcohol has on individuals and communities to determine which recreational drugs are the most harmful, and then ranked them accordingly. 

Learn more about recreational drugs here.

In this article, we will explore the study including its aspects such as how they reached their conclusions on each of the commonly abused substances, what was a main driving factor, and a full list of each of the substances in the study, ranked accordingly.

The Lancet Study

The article was first published on November 1, 2010. It was carried out in the UK by a panel of members from the Independent Scientific Committee on Drugs. The panel also invited two specialists in the field to join them on their day-long workshop. They looked at 20 of the most commonly abused recreation drugs, and then categorizing them based on 16 criteria; seven were related to the effects that the recreational drugs had on others and nine were focused on the side effects of recreational drugs on the individual.

Harmfulness Criteria

The side effects of recreational drugs were broken down into two main categories: harm to others and to the person abusing the drug.

The first set of criteria we will look at are the harm the recreational drugs had on the users of the drug. They are as follows:

  • Relationship problems – The loss that was suffered in the social circle and in the family unit
  • Loss of social tangibles – These include losing jobs, housing, and income
  • Dependence – How much the drug drives a person to continue to abuse it, regardless of negative effects
  • The drug-specific problems that affected mental function – Conditions such as ketamine intoxication and drug-induced psychosis
  • The drug-related problems that affected mental function – This criterion looked at things such as mood disorders and the lifestyles caused by the abuse
  • Drug-specific deaths – Overdose rates
  • Drug-related deaths – Long-term health effects, including accidents and disease
  • Drug-related damage – These include things that the drug abuse caused, such as sexually transmitted disease
  • Drug-specific damage – The damage that the drug caused, such as seizures, stomach ulcers, and more

The next seven criteria that the findings of the study were based on examined the harm it had on others, such as the user’s family, community, friends, and colleagues. They are as follows:

  • Effects on the community – How substance abuse can cause a community’s reputation to fall and the decline it causes in cohesion
  • Crime – The crimes that were committed as a result of the behavioral changes caused by substance abuse
  • Problems within the family – Family problems including child neglect, emotional and economic wellbeing, and family breakdowns
  • Damage on an international scale – The problems that it causes to areas such as international crime, destabilization, deforestation, and more
  • The economic cost – The costs directly related to substance abuse, such as social services, loss of work productivity, police, and more
  • Environmental damage – The damage caused by the use and production of drugs, such as toxic waste and discarded needles
  • Physical and psychological injury to others – Stemming from situations such as violence, accidents, transmission of viruses, and more

Together, these criteria gave a picture of the overall harm that was caused by each substance.

Most Dangerous Substances Ranked

Each of the criteria were carefully discussed to determine how much weight each should have. Each member and invitee of the panel agreed upon each of the ratings. The following is a breakdown of each of the substances in the study, with a score out of a 100; a higher score meaning that it is more harmful.

The following is the exact rankings that was given at the end of the study, which is the combined rating based on the harm others and the user, starting with the most dangerous:

  1. Alcohol: 72
  2. Heroin: 55
  3. Crack cocaine: 54
  4. Methamphetamine: 33
  5. Cocaine: 27
  6. Tobacco: 26
  7. Amphetamine: 23
  8. Cannabis: 20
  9. GHB: 19
  10. Benzodiazepines: 15
  11. Ketamine: 15
  12. Methadone: 14
  13. Mephedrone: 13
  14. Butane: 11
  15. Anabolic steroids: 10
  16. Khat: 9
  17. Ecstasy: 9
  18. LSD: 7
  19. Buprenorphine: 7
  20. Mushrooms: 6

Alcohol was the most harmful drug overall, but also to others – by a substantial margin scoring 46 in harm to others. This was followed by heroin at 21 and crack cocaine at 17.

As far as harm to the user goes, the most harmful substance was crack cocaine at a score of 37, followed by heroin, which scored 34, and methamphetamine at 32.

Out of all the substance listed, only eight scored over 20 in the overall harm that it causes. However, just because a substance was listed on the low end of the rankings, it does not mean that they are safe to take; each of the drugs listed can cause severe problems in the person’s life and in the lives of those around them.

Prescription Opioids

It’s important to note that the study took place in 2010 in the UK, as previously mentioned. At the time, opioid prescription drugs had not yet reached the level of an epidemic in the United States. However, prescription opioids are essentially the same as heroin, which is also an opioid. One of the facts that came to light in the study, highlighted by one of the researchers, was that legal drugs tend to score higher on the rankings due to their widespread availability. One could estimate that prescription opioids can therefore easily rank as one of the most dangerous drugs, if not the most dangerous. Of course, this is just an interpretation of the data.

Drug Addiction Treatment Centers

After having examined the findings of the study, we will briefly discuss drug addiction treatment centers.

If you or a loved one finds themselves struggling with the abuse of drugs or alcohol – especially when it seems that you or they cannot stop by themselves – then professional care can be the path to your recovery. At drug addiction treatment centers, such as the ones listed on Better Addiction Care, substance abusers and addicts discover new ways to operate and live their life through the learning of new skills, addressing long-standing mental and behavioral problems, and overseeing and medically assisting them with their detoxification.

Get the help you need today by calling Better Addiction Care at 1-800-429-7690.