What’s the most dangerous drug in the world? Crystal meth? Heroin? One of those ones which is still only known by its chemical formula?
No – it’s alcohol, according to separate recent studies, which have ranked drugs by their harm to individuals and to society as a whole, according to IFLScience.
But if you try and rate chemicals simply by how addictive they are, alcohol is not the worst offender.
According to Professor David Nutt, whose work was published in the Lancet medical journal, the findings showed that "aggressively targeting alcohol harms is a valid and necessary public health strategy".
"It is intriguing to note that the two legal drugs assessed – alcohol and tobacco – score in the upper segment of the ranking scale, indicating that legal drugs cause at least as much harm as do illegal substances," Nutt, who was formerly head of the influential British Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD), has said previously.
In fact, the top five is (in order) heroin, nicotine, cocaine, barbiturates, then alcohol in fifth.
Eric Bowman of the University of St Andrews wrote in The Conversation: "In addition to being arguably the most addictive drug, heroin is dangerous, too, because the dose that can cause death is only five times greater than the dose required for a high."
Bowman says: "About 21% of people who try cocaine will become dependent on it at sometime in their life".
More than two-thirds of Americans who try smoking go on to become addicted. According to a report by WHO, tobacco will kill 7.5 million people worldwide by 2020, accounting for 1 in 10 of all deaths.
Commonly used as an anxiety medication and sleeping tablet in previous decades, Barbiturates are now less easily found.
The World Health Organisation estimates that in 2012, about 3.3 million deaths, or 5.9 per cent of all global deaths, were attributable to alcohol consumption – around 5.9 per cent of all deaths worldwide.
Bowman says: "Alcohol has been ranked as the most damaging drug by other experts".
"Alcohol has many effects on the brain, but in laboratory experiments on animals it increased dopamine levels in the brain’s reward system by 40-360 per cent – and the more the animals drank the more dopamine levels increased."