Monday, May 19, 2014

The three deadliest drugs in America are all totally legal

A man drinks liquor besides a bonfire. 

As the US debates drug policy and marijuana legalization, there's one aspect of the war on drugs that remains perplexingly contradictory: some of the most dangerous drugs in the US are perfectly legal.

Don't believe it? Just look at this chart, compiled with available data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):

This chart does come with a big qualification: it's not a perfect comparison across the board. One driver of absolute tobacco and alcohol deaths is that both substances are legal and easily available. Other substances would most likely be far deadlier if they were as available as tobacco and alcohol.

it takes less relative doses to die from alcohol than it does to die from marijuana and even cocaine

But it's already established that it takes less relative doses to die from alcohol than it does to die from marijuana and even cocaine. An American Scientist analysis gauged the toxicity of drugs by comparing a drug's effective dose — the amount it takes to get a desired effect — to its deadly dose. The analysis found alcohol is deadly at 10 times its effective dose, while heroin is deadly at five times, cocaine is deadly at 15 times, and ingested marijuana is deadly at more than 1,000 times. (In practical terms, it's nearly impossible to overdose to death on marijuana because a user would most likely pass out before reaching a fatal dose.)

The direct death and overdose rates, however, leave out other factors that could lead to health and socioeconomic issues. Alcohol in particular is widely associated with various issues — more crime and traffic accidents, for example — that harm both users and society as a whole.

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