The reported prevalence of use of each substance also suggests that the classification of drugs has little bearing on the choice of whether to use substances or not. For example ecstasy, a Class A substance, was the fourth most regularly used psychoactive drug, according to our survey.
We also asked drug users about their perceived benefits of taking psychoactive substances, as this is clearly important in a persons decision of whether to take a drug or not. Psychoactive substances LSD, cannabis and ecstasy were consistently rated as having the highest short and long-term benefits. These findings add to the debate on the validity of the current classification of drugs in the UK.
Worldwide, there are an estimated two billion alcohol users, 1.3 billion smokers and 185 million users of other drugs. Despite public health campaigns, levels of substance misuse continue to rise. One of the reasons for this may be the publics confusion about the actual risks of different drugs as they often receive conflicting messages from the legal system, the media and health campaigns. We recommend that future health campaigns consider whether to include the benefits of some drugs. By only citing harms, such campaigns likely represent from a users perspective an unbalanced view and may mean that the overall message is more likely to be ignored.
The authors are following up the study with the launch of a new larger survey, in collaboration with the Beckley Foundation, hosted at www.internationaldrugsurvey.org.
The 20 substances surveyed in the 2009 study were alcohol, alkyl nitrates, amphetamines, anabolic steroids, barbiturates, benzodiazepines, buprenorphine, cannabis, cocaine, crack, ecstasy, GHB, heroin, LSD, ketamine, khat, 4-MTA, methylphenidate, solvents, street methadone and tobacco.
Participants were asked to rate them according to physical (acute or chronic) harm, psychological or physical dependence, intensity of pleasure, intoxication and social effects, including costs to the health service.
A similar survey of experts including psychiatrists and pharmacologists led by Professor Nutt in 2007 found that, of the same 20 psychoactive substances rated on a rational scale, experts rated alcohol as the fifth most dangerous drug, whereas MDMA/ecstasy was rated 18th out of twenty, despite its Class A status. Overall, there was no relationship between a drugs legal status and its rated harmfulness. The 2007 study was published in the Lancet.
- DrugScope Responds To New Report On Legal Highs, UK (addictionts.com)