Hundreds of millions of people indulge in one of the most dangerous drugs which is sold right over the counter. When it comes to harm done to other people and the users themselves, not heroin, crack cocaine, methamphetamines, marijuana or even tobacco come close to the health and safety hazards caused by this one depressant.
Drug harms fall into two broad categories: those that affect you, and those that affect others. The personal ones include death, health problems (including mental health), accidents, addiction, relationship breakdown and legal trouble. Harms to other people include violence, financial problems, crime and environmental damage — both at home and where the drugs are produced.
Perhaps the best guide to the harm comes from the UK’s Independent Scientific Committee on Drugs (ISCD), which analysed 20 drugs on 16 criteria. It found the most harmful illicit drug to be heroin, with an overall rating of 55 out of 100, with crack cocaine on 54 (see diagram). LSD and magic mushrooms are among the least harmful, and also carry the lowest risk of dependence.