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Danger list: Drugs as ranked by the experts

The UK government commissioned psycho pharmacologist Professor David Nutt and neuroscientist Professor Colin Blakemoreto rank drugs according to their danger.
The list was published in The Guardian and gives some surprising results. Unusually, the list contains both legal and illegal drugs.
The drugs were ranked by ratings which took into account a combination of their physical damage, social harm and addictive properties.
In rank order of harmfulness:

  1. Heroin– highly addictive opium derivative. Causes liver disease and infections from injecting when used long-term. Deaths: 897

  2. Cocaine – stimulant which can increase the risks of heart attack or stroke in users. Deaths from cocaine rose sharply in 2008. Deaths: 235

  3. Barbiturates– synthetic sedatives used for anaesthetic purposes. Users develop physical and psychological dependence. Large doses can lead to coma or death. Death: 13

  4. Street methadone– a synthetic opioid commonly used as a substitute for treating heroin patients. Can lead to addiction and result in damage to lungs. Deaths: 378

  5. Alcohol– medical profession increasingly concerned about damaging effects of alcohol. Some claim true death toll is higher than recorded. Excessive use results in liver damage and cirrhosis. Deaths: 8,724

  6. Ketamine– a hallucinogenic sometimes used as a dance drug by clubbers. Causes memory problems and urinary tract diseases. Deaths: 23

  7. Benzodiazepines– hypnotic relaxant used to treat anxiety and insomnia. Prolonged use leads to addiction. Withdrawal symptoms include nausea, dizziness and pounding heart beat. Includes drugs such as Diazepam, Tamazepam and Nitrazepam.Deaths: 230
  8. Amphetamines– psychostimulant that combats fatigue and hunger. Increases blood pressure and temperature; can cause strokes in hot weather. Can lead to psychological dependence. Deaths: 99 (includes some ecstasy deaths)

  9. Tobacco – highly addictive due to its nicotine content. Tobacco-related illnesses include cancer, respiratory diseases and heart disease. Deaths: 100,000

  10. Buprenorphine – opiate used for pain control, also sometimes used as a substitute to wean addicts off heroin. Side effects include nausea, vomiting and dizziness. Danger of overdose. Deaths: 43

  11. Cannabis – psychoactive drug; stronger forms known colloquially as ‘skunk’. Intense controversy over its long-term effects and capacity for inducing schizophrenia. Has been linked to miscarriages in women. Deaths: 19

  12. Solvents – users inhale solvents to produce a sense of intoxication. Usually abused by teenagers. Can lead to choking, vomiting and suffocation. Derived from commonly available products such as glue and aerosol sprays. Deaths: 50

  13. 4-MTA – class A. Originally designed for laboratory research. Releases serotonin in the body. Deaths: 43

  14. LSD – hallucinogenic drug synthesised by German chemist in 1938. Its dangers have been disputed. Can raise heart rate and blood pressure. May also lead to loss of appetite. Very few deaths recorded.

  15. Methylphenidate (Ritalin) – a psycho stimulant sometimes used in the treatment of attention deficit disorders. Suppression of growth in some children who have been long term users. Can lead to psychological dependence.

  16. Anabolic steroids – used to develop muscles, notably in competitive sports. Increased risk of heart attacks. Also alleged to induce aggression. Withdrawal has been linked to depression. Has been blamed for causing deaths among bodybuilders.

  17. GHB – a clear liquid dance drug said to induce euphoria, also described as a date rape drug. Can trigger comas and suppress breathing. Deaths: 20

  18. Ecstasy – psychoactive dance drug which has been alleged to cause damage to the brain. Associated with dehydration and overheating of the body which can be fatal. Deaths: 44

  19. Alkyl Nitrites (poppers) – inhaled for their role as a muscle relaxant and supposed sexual stimulant. Reduces blood pressure which can cause fainting and I some cases death.

  20. Khat – psychoactive plant. Produces mild psychological dependence. Can lead to liver damage. Withdrawal said to lead to lethargy and nightmares. Its derivatives, Cathinone and Cathine, are Class C drugs in the UK.
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