Two German researchers have a bone to pick with the world’s drug laws. In a study published in the research journal Scientific Reports, they outline their findings comparing the toxic levels of the most common drugs including heroin, cocaine, alcohol, nicotine, and cannabis.
What they found contradicted common scientific beliefs and drug regulations. In their study, they used what’s called the margin of exposure (MOE) approach which measures the ratio of a substance’s toxic threshold compared to how much humans usually consume at a time.
Using that method, they found that “THC or cannabis can be consistently found to have MOE values,” meaning you can expose yourself to a whole lot of it before you reach toxic levels.
Surprisingly, the drug with the lowest MOE value (the most toxic) tested was alcohol. Heroin came in second, although the study noted that heroin is still more deadly than alcohol. Cocaine, nicotine, and amphetamines all came in as “intermediary” toxins.
In their report, the researchers couldn’t help but notice that what they found was not at all in keeping with drug classification in most countries, which restricts the use of cannabis while allowing the sale of alcohol all over the place.
They write that compared to risk assessment of medicine or consumer products, the “risk assessment of drugs of abuse has been characterised as deficient, much of this is based on historical attribution and emotive reasoning.”
In other words, risk assessment of drugs is based on how bad people feel like it is for you, not on hard science. This has led to some pretty big misconceptions. For instance, “the results confirm that the risk of cannabis may have been overestimated in the past” while “the risk of alcohol may have been commonly underestimated.”
Since restrictive laws against drugs are based on the idea that they are damaging to society, the researchers suggest that governments should research how damaging those drugs actually are, especially compared to legal drugs like alcohol and nicotine.
It should also be noted that these researchers specifically warned against people like me misinterpreting their data. At the end of their paper, they write that in the past, “tabloids have reported that ‘alcohol is worse than hard drugs’ following the publication of previous drug rankings. Such statements taken out of context may be misinterpreted, especially considering the differences of risks between individual and the whole population.”
Okay, so we’ll just end by saying what all scientists who want to cover their ass say: though the results are promising, more research is needed.
Photo via Flickr user John Jones