The 3 Deadliest Drugs in America

Even before Colorado Amendment 64 was passed, there had been a long-standing public debate concerning the illegality of marijuana. The public support for marijuana decriminalization has been noticeably strong, especially since Colorado legalized the drug recreationally for those 21 and older. Popular media outlets tend to touch on the topic frequently, often highlighting how the country’s public opinion is currently in favor of decriminalization.

One of the primary arguments of those in favor of marijuana decriminalization is that there are several other drugs, some of them legal, that are significantly more harmful than marijuana. Recently, an analysis by American Scientist compared the toxicity of several drugs by comparing their effective dose (how much it requires to get the desired effect) to the deadly dose. The results were interesting:

Heroin, Alcohol and Cocaine: The Big Three

The study showed that the most dangerous drugs were heroin, alcohol and cocaine – with heroin being the most lethal at being deadly at five times its intended dose. Comparatively, alcohol is deadly at 10 times its intended dose and cocaine is deadly at 15 times its intended dose. Marijuana is significantly safer; it’s only deadly at more than 1000 times its intended dosage – essentially meaning that it’s virtually impossible to overdose on marijuana.

Alcohol’s Prominent Role in Automobile Accidents

Accident is a common cause of on-road deaths. In 2010, alcohol was a direct contributor to 10,000 traffic fatalities. In data one year earlier, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found alcohol involved in 32% of fatal traffic accidents. Other drugs were only involved in about 18% of those deadly accidents, though it’s worth keeping in mind that 37% of drivers killed in an accident were not tested for drugs.

Accessibility vs. Illegality

The accessibility and social rampancy of alcohol makes it the most common drug involved in car accidents. Columbia University research found that alcohol increases the risk of an accident by 13 times, while other drugs increase the chances two to three times. Critics of the drug war often opine that allowing access to arguably the most mind-altering substance in alcohol, while refusing to decriminalize and tax less harmful substances like marijuana, is nonsensical.

The Potential Role of Full Legalization

Drugs and Drug Policy


Many are curious to how legalizing marijuana will impact factors like crime and drug-related fatalities. Accessibility plays a role in estimating the potential impact. According to a 2012 survey by Columbia, teens can easily obtain alcohol and cigarettes comparatively to marijuana. Prescription drugs in drug-free schools were actually more accessible than marijuana, despite being more potentially harmful.

These statistics suggest to some that legalizing marijuana will make it more accessible to teens, since both alcohol and cigarettes are legal and more accessible. However, one can also recognize the irrationality of having objectively more harmful drugs like alcohol and cigarettes available, while government spends significant sums to continue the prohibition of marijuana, a drug with no cases of death. Meanwhile, alcohol and tobacco are linked to tens of thousands of deaths each year.

Marijuana: Safer, But Not Completely Safe

The fact that marijuana is safer than alcohol, tobacco use and prescription pills has been proven by many scientific studies and data, but that doesn’t mean that using marijuana is safe. Marijuana use in teens may negatively impact brain growth, while the carcinogens present in lighting marijuana can cause a number of diseases including cancer, just as tobacco can. As a result, many marijuana smokers use vaporizers to inhale marijuana, so negative health effects are reduced.

As with any drug, marijuana can also be – in some cases – addicting. For those addicted to marijuana, substance abuse rehab can be a solution, as it can be for addiction to alcohol, tobacco, heroin, cocaine or any substance. While marijuana is certainly not one of the most dangerous drugs, it has its share of potential dangers.


  1. I saw the title for this post and was not expecting to see alcohol make the list. Not that I think alcohol isn’t dangerous, but it’s not what most people think of right away.

    That said, I’ve always been confused with the fact that marijuana is illegal (at least federally) and alcohol is legal. As a nation, we are encouraged to go out, have drinks, and drive home.

    Doesn’t make much sense to me…


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