Study: alcohol more harmful than LSD

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

According to a recent study conducted by U.K. medical journal The Lancet, alcohol and tobacco are more harmful than illegal drugs like cannabis, LSD and ecstasy.

Of the 20 drugs studied, alcohol ranked fifth behind heroin, cocaine, barbiturates and street methadone. Tobacco ranked ninth, while cannabis ranked 11th, LSD 14th and ecstasy 18th.

Addiction experts, including psychiatrists, scientists, medical specialists, and police officers, were solicited for the study.

Professor Michael Cook, who teaches physiology and pharmacology at Western, wasn’t surprised by the rankings. He said tobacco’s negative effects aren’t seen in the short term. Likewise, alcohol does cumulative damage to users over an extended period.

Cook added more dangerous drugs are often overshadowed by mainstream drugs.

“If you look at the usage patterns, alcohol and tobacco are used to a far greater extent than any of the drugs on the list,” Cook said.

“The drugs that have a spectacular effect aren’t ranked as being so harmful... part of that is the frequency of use is so small.”

Professor Rick Csiernik, who teaches social work at Western, said tobacco leads to more premature deaths in the world than all illegal drugs combined.

He said there’s no simple answer as to which drugs are most harmful, as no sufficient classifications exist for the diverse array of drugs in existence.

“Alcohol leads to more economic loss than does cocaine,” Csiernik said. “However, where illicit drugs are more expensive is in terms of policing and criminal justice issues.”

Mainstream drugs like alcohol and tobacco cause more overall economic and societal harm due to their accessibility, Csiernik said.

Sociology professor Paul C. Whitehead agreed.

“Alcohol and tobacco are more dangerous in the sense that they are more widely used and they cause far more ill health and death than any of the other drugs.”

Whitehead attributed mainstream drugs’ danger to their availability and acceptability, adding legal status and cost make them far more accessible.

Whitehead said restrictions on drugs are imperative.

“Restrictions, through mechanism of price or tax in respect to tobacco, have shown to be an effective mechanism in stopping people from smoking,” Whitehead said. “If we wanted to have lower rates of alcoholism " and there is good reason to do it " we should reduce accessibility.”

Although The Lancet study ranked cannabis below alcohol and tobacco, Whitehead said increased acceptability of cannabis and other less harmful drugs wouldn’t be beneficial.

“Increased availability for what we call ‘normal healthy adults’ would increase acceptability and availability to children and adolescents who, as it’s widely agreed, shouldn’t use these drugs.”

"with files from Dave Ward

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