Drug users’ view of controlled substances closer to expert opinion than legal classification

Woman smoking marijuanaThe perceived harms associated with drug use are not reflected in the United States illicit substance classification system, according to research published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology. The findings suggest the Control Substance Act is at odds with the opinions of both drug users and drug experts.

“The lack of correlation between the users’ ranked harms and drug classifications in the UK and USA suggest that current drug policy is not serving to inform those who take drugs of the harms of these substances,” Celia J.A. Morgan of the University College London and her colleagues wrote in their study. “Furthermore, the prevalence of use of each substance within this sample suggests that current policy does not influence whether people choose to use the drug.”

For the study, 5691 regular drug users from around the world were asked to rate the perceived harms and benefits of 18 drugs. Harms included things such as risk of physical injury, risk of addiction, and damage to society. Benefits included things such as sociability, pain relief, openness to new experiences, and enjoyment.

Those who participated in the study considered prescription painkillers like oxycodone to be the most harmful substances, followed by cocaine, alcohol, and amphetamines. Cannabis, on the other hand, was considered the least harmful drug. Hallucinogenic drugs like LSD were seen as only slightly more harmful than cannabis.

“High harm ratings appeared to be driven by perceived long-term physical risks, risk of bingeing and craving,” the researchers explained in their study.

Cannabis and prescription painkillers were rated the most beneficial drugs, while hallucinogens and erectile dysfunction drugs like Viagra were rated as the least beneficial.

The researchers noted there was no correlation between drug users’ opinions and the drug policies of the United States and United Kingdom. Both countries classify marijuana and most hallucinogenic drugs as more harmful substances than prescription painkillers and alcohol.

However, it appeared that experts and illicit drug users had similar views on the harms and benefits associated with the drugs. An expert panel in 2010 ranked crack cocaine, heroin, tobacco, alcohol, and methamphetamine as the top five most harmful substances. Cannabis was ranked as moderately harmful and hallucinogenics drugs were rated as the least harmful.

The study received funding from the Beckley Foundation, which advocates harm-reductive drug policy reform.