Scientists want new drug rankings / MDMA Ranks 18th


UK government assessment of overall harm

The chief executive of the UK Medical Research Council stated that MDMA is “on the bottom of the scale of harm,” and was rated to be of lesser concern than alcohol, tobacco, and cannabis, as well as several classes of prescription medications, when examining the harmfulness of twenty popular recreational drugs. The UK study placed great weight on the risk for acute physical harm, the propensity for physical and psychological dependency on the drug, and the negative familial and societal impacts of the drug. Based on these factors, the study placed MDMA at number 18 in the list.


Ranking From Worst                 Class


1. Heroin                                  A

2. Cocain                                  A

3. Barbiturates                          B

4. Street Methadone                  A

5. Achol                                   Unclassified

6. Ketamine                              C

7. Benzodiazepines                    C

8. Amphetamine                        B

9. Tobbaco                              Unclassified

10. Buprenorphine                     C

11. Cannabis                           C

12. Sovlents                              Unclassified

13. 4-MTA                               A

14. LSD                                    A

15. Methylphenidate                  B

16. Anabolic Steroids                 C

17. GHB                                   C

18. MDMA (Ecstasy)             A

19. Alkyl Nitrites                       Unclassified

20. Khat                                   Unclassified


Benzodiazepines: Wide-ranging class of prescription tranquilisers

Buprenorphine: Opioid drug used in treatment of opiate addiction

4-MTA: Amphetamine derivative sold as ‘flatliners’ and ecstasy

Methylphenidate: Amphetamine-like drug used to treat ADHD

Alkyl nitrites: Stimulant often called amyl nitrites or ‘poppers’

Scientists want new drug rankings

The drug classification system in the UK is not “fit for purpose” and should be scrapped, scientists have said.

They have drawn up an alternative system which they argue more accurately reflects the harm that drugs do.

The new ranking system places alchol and tobacco in the upper half of the league table, ahead of cannabis and several Class A drugs such as ecstasy.

The study, published in The Lancet, has been welcomed by a team reviewing drug research for the government.

The Academy of Medical Sciences group plans to put its recommendations to ministers in the autumn.

Suggested rating of drugs according to harm done

A new commission is also due to undertake a three-year review of general government drug policy.

The new system has been developed by a team led by Professor David Nutt, from the University of Bristol, and Professor Colin Blakemore, chief executive of the Medical Research Council.


It assesses drugs on the harm they do to the individual, to society and whether or not they induce dependence.

A panel of experts were asked to rate 20 different drugs on nine individual categories, which were combined to produce an overall estimate of harm.

In order to provide familiar benchmarks, five legal drugs, including tobacco and alcohol were included in the assessment. Alcohol was rated the fifth most dangerous substance, and tobacco ninth.

Heroin was rated as the most dangerous drug, followed by cocaine and barbiturates. Ecstasy, however, rated only 18th, while cannabis was 11th.

Arbitrary ranking

The researchers said the current ABC system was too arbitrary, and failed to give specific information about the relative risks of each drug.

It also gave too much importance to unusual reactions, which would only affect a tiny number of users.

Professor Nutt said people were not deterred by scare messages, which simply served to undermine trust in warnings about the danger of drugs.

He said: “The current system is not fit for purpose. Let’s treat people as adults. We should have a much more considered debate how we deal with dangerous drugs.”

He highlighted the fact that one person a week in the UK dies from alcohol poisoning, while less than 10 deaths a year are linked to ecstasy use.

Professor Blakemore said it was clear that current drugs’ policies were not working.

“We face a huge problem. Illegal substances have never been more easily available, or more widely abused.”

He said the beauty of the new system, unlike the current version, was that it could easily be updated to reflect new research.

Professor Leslie Iversen, a member of the Academy of Medical Sciences group considering drug policy, said the new system was a “landmark paper”.

He said: “It is a real step towards evidence-based classification of drugs.”

Professor Iversen said the fact that 500,000 young people routinely took ecstasy every weekend proved that current drug policy was in need of reform.

David Nutt, chairman of the UK Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, stated in the Journal of Psychopharmacology in January 2009 that ecstasy use compared favorably with horse riding in terms of risk, leading to around 50 deaths a year compared to about 100 from horse riding.  With 500,000 young people per weekend taking ecstasy.

Home Office Minister Vernon Coaker said: “We have no intention of reviewing the drug classification system.

“Our priority is harm reduction and to achieve this we focus on enforcement, education and treatment.”

He said there had been “unparalleled investment” of £7.5 billion since 1998, which had contributed to a 21% reduction in overall drug misuse in the last nine years and a fall of 20% in drug related crime since 2004.

But he added: “The government is not complacent and will continue to work with all of our partners to build on this progress.”



Why MDMA Should Not Have Been Made Illegal

About this entry