From Alcohol To Mushrooms, A Look At Drugs’ Tangible And Intangible Dangers


Former UK drug czar David Nutt has spent his entire career studying the impact of drugs on people's lives and society at large. Again and again he comes to the same conclusion: when familial dissolution, personal mismanagement and other intangible factors are taken into account, alcohol takes the largest toll of all drugs.

Here's a taste of his findings, paraphrased by Thomas Kleppestø:

In the diagram above both individual and societal factors are considered. It may come to a surprise to many readers that LSD and ecstasy are one of the least dangerous drugs. Notice also that Alcohol is the highest rated dangerous drug and that tobacco is on seventh place just below Cocaine (Both alcohol and tobacco are not even considered a drug by many people, including, sadly, politicians). However, heroin, crack and metamfetamine tops the list for the most dangerous drugs when only individual factors are considered, alcohol then dropping down to a fourth place amongst the most dangerous drugs. So, even when the obvious societal effects due to the widespread use of alcohol are not considered (alcohol rates very high, unsurprisingly, on “family adversities” and “environmental damage”) it still is the fourth most dangerous drug. Yes, that’s right. Alcohol nearly receives the bronze-medal for danger to individuals.

You can click on the image above to pop it out and take a better look at the breakdown.

(via Business Insider)


  1. Chris says

    While I don’t dispute the figures in this study, it does not take into account the wide availability of alcohol and tobacco in relation to the others. If I gave away a million pairs of safety scissors and five knives, it’s quite likely that the safety scissors would cause more absolute harm. Relatively, however, you would draw the rational conclusion that safety scissors can’t do a thing.

    If they did factor in availability (which it is not indicated if you check their studies and sources), then that would be a different story.

  2. Pucifer says

    The alcohol industry and its partners in the dining and entertainment industries are powerful and vastly influential when it comes to keeping all non-alcoholic recreational drugs illegal. And too many people in law enforcement and the for-profit prison industry owe their livelihoods to keeping cannabis and other mild intoxicants illegal. I read recently that in NYC alone last year there were 50,000 arrests for small quantities of cannabis, mostly of black and Latino youth illegally stopped and frisked by NYC police. We are turning our nation’s youth and especially its minority youth into a criminal underclass all for the “crime” of preferring cannabis, a far less harmful drug, to alcohol, a cheap, plentiful and powerful drug that has been proven to destroy lives and families, cause severe health problems, and lead to millions of fatal accidents.

  3. Jack M says

    Anybody who comes from a family with at least one alcoholic can testify to the damage this drug causes. And pot is illegal?

  4. PaulR says

    This chart has exactly no basis in data-driven science — it’s based on the opinions of a group of people and there’s no adjustment to account for the availability of different drugs. In that context, you can come up with whatever pre-determined outcome you want.

    Nutt is the worst kind of scientist: he understands the data that he’s looking at, but he’s completely oblivious to the limits of that data.

  5. Brad says

    I have no doubt alcohol has negative effects. But this study is bogus. Alcohol is far more readily available and far more widely consumed than say, crack. So naturally there will be more fatalities and problems associated with alcohol use.

  6. Dave says

    You are all ignoring the most important issue which is that mushrooms are great.

  7. Paul R says

    Butane? What the hell do you do with that?

    Also @PaulR, could one of us change our names? No offense, but I’ve been posting here a long time and I don’t want to confuse the easily confused.

  8. ratbastard says

    Bizarre. I don’t doubt alcohol is the number one ‘drug’ that causes problems when abused in people’s lives, but that’s because it’s use is almost universal.

    IMO Heroin is probably the most powerful and detrimental ‘hard’ drug, cocaine in all it’s forms and meth are also bad in too many ways to count, and are additionally responsible for a lot of violence. At least heroin addicts just nod most of the time, there’s nothing worse than dealing with a violent person coked out of their mind or up for 2-3 days on meth.

  9. Scotto X says

    I agree that the negative impact of both alcohol and tobacco are grossly under-estimated and under-reported. I also have major problems with the manner in which marijuana laws have led too many to come into contact with the criminal justice system and suffer the secondary effects that accompany a conviction. However, too many folks on this site and in the younger gay community also under-estimate the negative impact of marijuana on many individuals and families. I work in a social services setting that intervenes with families in which the primary caretaker–most commonly a mother–neglects the well-being of her family because of her psychological dependence on pot. It’s often a form of self-medication–as alcohol and other drugs can be–but in these families daily pot use becomes the major focus–economically, personally, socially. In some households, teenage children are dealing and smoking up to 7 blunts a day and dropping out of school. Again, it’s part of larger familial and personal problems, but it is used aggressively and dependently with very negative effects.

  10. Charcus says

    The only negatieve affects weed has are financial, it cost a lot of money to support that habit, it however has no or very litlle negatieve affect on body and mind.

  11. anon says

    A classic example of how perceptions rather than facts influence the law. This study matches several others, though normally heroin is listed as the worst drug. LSD and shrooms almost always come out on the bottom of the list.

    Keep in mind that they are including overdoses and accidents, so alcohol is very dangerous that way.

    The main problem is that the list does not include prescription drugs, some of which are also extremely dangerous, particularly anti-depressants, anti-inflammatories and blood thinners. Also, a lot of legal drugs are simply fraternal twins of the illegals (novacaine is almost the same as cocaine, various opiates are extremely similar to heroin, barbiturates and diet drugs, etc.)

  12. DB says

    Ridiculous. The cost of tobacco is far higher than any other drug. Alcohol is a distant second and all of the others are far behind. Also, it should be pointed out that marijuana, like penicillin and aspirin, is a net positive. Its benefits greatly outweigh its costs; hence, it should not be included in this chart.

  13. DB says

    Tobacco is the single biggest killer of any kind (although obesity is close). It is far more costly than any other drug. Marijuana has never killed a single person in recorded history (tylenol and aspirin are far more dangerous). Marijuana saves many lives; I have three friends who have parents or grandparents who absolutely would not be alive had they not been prescribed marijuana.

  14. says

    We just had pride in Toronto. The air was thick with the sweet scent of cannabis smoke. Everywhere. And there was no violence.

    We need to embrace cannabis culture. For those that enjoy it.

  15. ratbastard says

    Marijuana is smoked and inhaled. It is just as ‘bad’ as inhaling tobacco. And BTW nicotine as many positive medicinal uses also. And smoking absolutely depresses apatites, keeps people’s weight down, and has been scientifically proven to have a calming effect. You must also make a distinction between cigarettes, cigars, pipes, smokeless tobacco. Smoking and INHALING anything IS NOT good for you or your lungs. But, like nicotine, marijuana / cannabis has a multitude of positive medicinal uses. It’s a grey area, not bland and white. Marijuana should of course be fully legalized, not just decriminalized for personal use.

    IMO our greatest health problem is obesity, not tobacco or even alcohol abuse. And many are obese at least partially because of prescription drugs. Many people take prescription drugs that have bad, negative side-effects.

    But fighting alcohol abuse and tobacco use is a big business. Many people make good money off of it, and the ‘war’ against substance abuse and tobacco use is heavily subsidized by the government. It’s a gravy-train.

  16. mason says

    For those who stated that they don’t feel that alcohol is worse than crack may not have realized that what the report took into account was both the societal and individual ramifications. The reason that alcohol ranks higher when taking both of those together is the effects that happen to individuals who are not using alcohol. The person who is injured or killed by a drunk driver is included in the societal component of the effects. If taken just on an individual level of effect alcohol drops below heroin, meth, cocaine, etc.

    According the CDC 32% of all traffic fatalities were directly related to the impairment of one of the drivers due to alcohol.

    ratbastard. Obesity, IMO as well, our biggest public health epidemic. Concomitant obesity related morbidities are going to become more commonplace. And it isn’t just the obese who will have issues, but the over weight (which I myself am fighting) as well. Yet prevention policies aimed at trying to curb these issues fall on deaf ears, or are thought of as being an over extension of the government.

  17. says

    Cannabis is *not* just smoke and inhaled. use a vaporizer or bake/cook with it and you remove any harmful “smoke” aspects.

    there. you just learned something.