Coming up with a stable list of the top ten most dangerous drugs is no easy task. Government agencies, health experts, sociologists and law enforcement work together to compile such lists, and some of the drugs that appear on them change often. This is because so many factors contribute to the risks associated with any given drug: how likely it is to become addictive, its long-term health effects, and the difficulty of quitting or severity of withdrawal. Certain substances have greater potential for accidental overdose, leading to death. Those in widespread use adversely impact all of society.
Taking all things into consideration, nicotine and alcohol — which are legal — should certainly appear on any list of the top ten most dangerous drugs. Tobacco use accounts for 40 percent of all illnesses that require hospitalization. Fifty percent of all visits to U.S. emergency rooms are alcohol-related. If used heavily over long periods of time, nicotine and alcohol carry health risks similar to heroin abuse, widely considered the “hardest” of drugs. Perhaps because they’re legal and acceptable in most social settings, cigarettes and alcohol aren’t often included on lists of the top ten most dangerous drugs.
Like tobacco and alcohol, some drugs that frequent the list aren’t taken very seriously by young people, who consider them harmless and the best “party drugs.” Most teenagers are looking for substances to take the edge off, lower their inhibitions, help them cope with stress or simply relieve boredom. A few are thrill-seekers who like taking risks. However, all think the best party drugs will give them positive emotions and feelings, and this is what initially happens. Most of the popular choices alter one’s state of consciousness by interfering with the central nervous system. The euphoria is almost always short-lived, and the trip back down is unpleasant, dangerous or even deadly.
Best Party Drugs
Ecstasy, including MDMA, GHB and “Molly”
Ecstasy is a synthetic hallucinogen that at first lowers inhibitions, reduces anxiety, provides emotional warmth and boosts energy. However, the “high” is brief, and users risk addiction or overdose trying to duplicate the good feelings they experienced previously. Ecstasy abuse is associated with memory loss, impaired coordination, depression and sleeplessness. Overdoses, especially combined with alcohol, can cause unconsciousness, seizures, coma or sudden death. Molly, which is Ecstasy in the form of pure, crystalline powder, is especially potent.
Ecstasy is typically sold in capsules, which have been found to contain heroin, LSD, methamphetamine and other harmful stimulants. Even rat poison is found in Ecstasy. However, in spite of the risks, an estimated nine million people around the world regularly use Ecstasy. Emergency room visits linked to it have increased 1,200 percent over recent years.
Ketamine is used as a sedative or anesthesia, mostly for animals. It produces a trance-like state of detachment from one’s body and surroundings, along with confusion and memory loss. These effects make it the ideal date-rape drug and a perfect invitation to violence, sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancy.
Overdose of ketamine can drastically elevate blood pressure and cause intense muscle spasms. Several recent, newsworthy deaths were attributed to ketamine.
Marijuana, including synthetic varieties
Few marijuana users, especially teens, realize that it contains more cancer-causing agents than tobacco smoke — 50 to 70 percent more. Some of its unpleasant side effects are panic, disorientation, clumsiness and paranoia. Long-term use can result in diminished brain function, chronic bronchitis and defective sperm.
It’s especially harmful to pregnant women and their children; often, babies are born underweight or prematurely, and have higher risk of leukemia. Many have brain disorders or learning disabilities.
The ever-changing variety of ingredients in synthetic marijuana makes it impossible for the buyer to know what he’s getting. Some of these are many times more potent and toxic than organic ingredients. Considered for years as one of the best party drugs, synthetic marijuana now causes a number of medical emergencies.
Another great danger, for any of these drugs, is the legal risk for possessing, buying or selling them. High fines and jail sentences are extremely common.
More Americans are abusing prescription drugs than ever before. Painkiller overdose now kills more people in the United States — almost 17,000 annually — than all other drugs combined. The wide availability of pain relievers, tranquilizers and stimulants fuels the national epidemic of nonmedical use and addiction.
Most patients become addicted quite innocently. They fail to get rid of unneeded pills, to tell their doctors about other drugs they’re using, or to give detailed information about past substance abuse or a risky family history. Use of alcohol can speed up physical dependency as well.
Many users must resort to deceptive means to fuel their habits. Refills are easily obtained by fraudulent prescriptions from multiple doctors. Pills are shared in families, sold to friends, stolen, bought from drug dealers or purchased on the Internet black market. Most people have no idea that such practices are criminal acts and sometimes felonies. Much like addicts of harder drugs, formerly law-abiding people may even begin to steal money. Some drugs cost hundreds of dollars per dose.
Typically included in the top ten most dangerous drugs are the following, which are all legal with a prescription:
Opioid and morphine-based painkillers like codeine, methadone, oxycodone and hydrocodone
Some of the most commonly abused painkillers are Vicodin, OxyContin, Demerol and Percocet. It’s important to remember that these are in the same family as heroin and, taken at high doses, carry the same high risk of addiction. Tolerance usually builds quickly, so higher or more frequent doses are required when the effects subside.
Opioids slow breathing, especially when taken with alcohol or other drugs. An overdose may induce coma or stop respiration altogether. Since depressed breathing prevents oxygen from reaching the brain, vital functions like cognitive thinking may be impaired. Permanent brain damage is possible.
Stimulants such as Adderall, Concerta and Ritalin
Medically, these show good results in the treatment of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and narcolepsy. However, misuse is rampant, especially on college campuses. It’s estimated that over 35 percent of all full-time students are abusing stimulants like these to stay awake and alert longer. Adderall has gained enormous popularity for studying, partying or increasing sexual stamina. As the body burns more energy while the drug is in the system, it’s also used as a diet pill. Abused stimulants accelerate heart and blood pressure, sometimes fatally. Overuse can cause aggressive or violent behavior.
These substances are used medically as central nervous system depressants for treating insomnia and chronic anxiety. In safe doses, they bring on drowsiness and a warm, pleasant feeling of well-being. However, as the body increases tolerance, abuse brings on impaired reflexes and motor skills, slurred speech and confusion. Breathing and blood pressure are dramatically slowed to life-threatening levels.
More than the best party drugs abused by teens, or the widespread addiction to prescription drugs in the mainstream, illegal drug abuse severely impacts whole societies on a multitude of levels. The economy suffers. The legal justice system is overtaxed. The family structure is impaired. Education gives way to social services.
Almost any list of the top ten most dangerous drugs would include the following for their rates of addiction and their physical, neurological and societal harm:
Not only does heroin imitate “feel-good” neurotransmitters in the brain, it interferes with opioid receptors to reroute the pleasure and reward system. Simply put, heroin teaches the brain to crave it.
Heroin is extremely addictive and is responsible for over 35,000 new cases of hepatitis C in the United States each year. Contaminated doses bought on the street make it even more dangerous, especially for users who inject it. Collapsed veins and heart valves are likely over long-term use, and sharing needles increases the possibility of transmitted diseases like HIV.
Other health risks of addiction are respiratory illness, paralysis, sexual impotence, decreased mental abilities and coma. Even users who want to quit find the withdrawal symptoms intolerable. Most overdoses are fatal.
Heroin is much less expensive than most prescription painkillers, so use is on the rise. Over 280,000 Americans are in treatment for addiction to this drug.
Crack is a purer, free base version of cocaine, which is also very dangerous. It’s cocaine’s most potent form, and is more addictive and life-threatening. Crack is mixed with dangerous chemicals, cooked down to the hardness of a rock and smoked.
Perhaps because it’s significantly lower in cost than cocaine, some 500,000 Americans are still addicted, long after the height of the crack epidemic of the 1980s. Risk of sudden seizure, heart attack or stroke is high.
There was good reason for the anti-drug slogan, “Meth: not even once.”
Meth, a central nervous system stimulator, is very addictive due to its ability to mimic the brain’s natural feel-good chemicals. It increases the production of dopamine and, like heroin, reprograms the brain to keep wanting more. The initial, euphoric rush is intense — just like the letdown when the effects wear off.
Users do all they can to duplicate the way they felt before, and become addicted as a result. Meth abusers may use for days on end while dehydration, constipation, neglected nutrition and personal hygiene wreak havoc. Neurological damage is often irreversible.
To varying degrees, all drugs adversely affect the brain and other vital organs. However, meth is especially harsh and takes a devastating toll on physical appearance. Long-term, chronic meth addiction results in severe tooth decay, premature aging and mutilated skin, due to the delusion of insects crawling beneath it.
Phencyclidine, or PCP, commonly known as Angel Dust
This powerful hallucinogen has a pronounced link to violent crime, since the user feels all-powerful and paranoid at the same. It may be ingested, inhaled or injected, but PCP is typically smoked. Sometimes it’s sprayed onto leafy plants, such as cannabis, mint, tobacco or oregano. Other users dip a marijuana joint or cigarette into its liquid form and smoke it.
Because liquid PCP acquired the nickname “embalming fluid,” many dealers mistakenly believe it’s actually embalming fluid or contains that ingredient. Thus, many addicts purchase and use embalming fluid believing it’s PCP.
Originally produced as an anesthetic, PCP is a dissociative drug that induces intense hallucinations and distorts perceptions of reality. Users have an overstated understanding of their own strength, which actually is weakened by the drug. PCP “trips” are marked by staggering, trembling, bloodshot eyes and slurred speech. The user becomes irrational and unpredictable, and descends into schizophrenic-like behavior. He may rage and lash out at others.
Yet more often, the addict has life-threatening delusions about himself; for example, he may believe he can fly. Therefore, many PCP trips result in accidental suicide. PCP is considered so dangerous, that even hardcore drug addicts usually opt for milder hallucinogens.
Common Street Names for Drugs
1) MDMA, Ecstasy
Molly, clarity, Adam, Eve, uppers
K, special-K, cat valium, kit-kat
Grass, pot, weed, astro turf, homegrown, skunk, boom, gangster
Loads, monkey, Apache, Miss Emma, oxycat, China girl, murder 8, goodfella, demmies, schoolboy
Speed, smart pills, bennies, LA turnaround, vitamin R, kibbles and bits, hearts, skippy, black beauties
Barbs, downers, yellow jackets, red birds, phennies, tranks
Horse, smack, skag, big H, hell dust, brown sugar
8) Crack Cocaine
Ball, cloud, 24-7, rock, rock star, snow coke, crumbs, beat, troop, ice cube
Beanies, crystal, ice, wash, tweak, getgo, chalk, tick tick
Angel dust, rocket fuel, boat, water, toe tag, amp, wet stick
All drugs are dangerous, and many more than these discussed come and go periodically on lists of the top ten most dangerous drugs. Some of the best party drugs, considered harmless by teens and young adults, often lead to harder drug use.