October 30, 2009
Cigarettes, Alcohol More Dangerous Than Illegal Drugs
The UK government's top drug advisors said on Thursday that alcohol and cigarettes pose a greater risk to one's health than hard drugs like cannabis, LSD and ecstasy.
Professor David Nutt of Imperial College London is requesting a new system for classifying drugs so that the public can have a greater understanding of the relative harm of legal and illegal substances, reported AFP.
In a briefing paper for the Center for Crime and Justice Studies at King's College at London, he reported that alcohol ranks as the fifth most harmful drug after heroin, cocaine, barbiturates and methadone.
Tobacco came in ninth on the list and cannabis, LSD and ecstasy "while harmful, are ranked lower at 11, 14 and 18 respectively".
The ranking is based on physical harm, dependence and social harm.
"No one is suggesting that drugs are not harmful. The critical question is one of scale and degree," said Nutt, the chairman of the government's Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs.
"We have to accept young people like to experiment, with drugs and other potentially harmful activities, and what we should be doing in all of this is to protect them from harm at this stage of their lives," he added.
"We therefore have to provide more accurate and credible information. If you think that scaring kids will stop them using, you are probably wrong."
Nutt disagreed with the ministers' decision to bump the classification of cannabis in January from class C, which includes tranquillizers and some painkillers, to the higher class B alongside amphetamines.
This went against scientific advice and came only five years after cannabis was dropped from class B to C. Under this decision, penalties would be increased to a maximum 14 years in jail for dealing and five years for possession.
According to Nutt, such policies "distort" and "devalue" research evidence and give contradicting messages to the public.
He admitted that cannabis was "harmful", and that its use does not lead to major health issues. Cannabis users had a "relatively small risk" of psychotic illness when compared to the risks of smokers contracting lung cancer.
Nutt had already stirred up talk earlier this year when he claimed that taking ecstasy was no more dangerous than horseriding, which he reiterated in his paper.
On the Net:
- Imperial College London
- Center for Crime and Justice Studies
- Estimating drug harms: a risky business?