A rational scale to assess the harm of drugs

One of the events that catalysed the creation of DrugR was the sacking of Professor Nutt, a drug advisor in the UK, who refused to cow to political pressure to stop being rational about a drug policy based on scientific evidence of relative harm instead of moral judgement. Among the papers that Prof. Nutt has published is a relative ranking for a number of legal and illicit drugs. And it’s no surprise to us that alcohol and tobacco are some of the worst whereas MDMA and LSD are among the safer choices.

I’d like to quote a bit from the introduction which struck me in particular:

“Most other countries and international agencies—eg, the UN and WHO—have drug classification systems that purport to be structured according to the relative risks and dangers of illicit drugs. However, the process by which harms are determined is often undisclosed, and when made public can be ill-defined, opaque, and seemingly arbitrary.”

This is actually one of the sources of my many frustrations. During my formative years, school taught me about drugs… except they blatantly told lies which, due to them also teaching my science, I could see through. I did my own research and began to mistrust what authorities said about drugs. Obviously not everything is scare-mongering, and drugs do have risks and harms, but rarely do these match with what drug classification schemes dictate. I would like to trust that my government ad my best interests in mind, but given the buy-in by the alcohol and tobacco lobbies it’s obvious that the government is mostly about maintaining the status quo. Which is somewhat of losing platform when the only constant is change.

The paper is also the source of this often-displayed harm graph. A relative ranking of the drugs they assessed:

drug harm ranking graph

You’ve got to wonder if the people behind the drug-classifications schemes are smoking crack.

If your interested in reading the original paper, which I highly recommend, it’s available for download here.

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