By Johnny Green
How long will politicians live in fear of marijuana and throw billions of dollars at eradicating it and jailing thousands of people for possessing it? The overwhelming majority of its users do not develop addictions. It is practically impossible to overdose on. It even has health benefits, like slowing tumor growth and easing glaucoma. And it’s safer than the 25 legal drugs, substances, and even household products we’ve laid out here. By the end, you’ll be ready to say with us: legalize it!
With a few restrictions, these products can be obtained without a prescription from everywhere from drug stores to the nearest vending machine.
The phrase “drugs and alcohol” is redundant. People who drink alcohol can impair their faculties, develop a tolerance for it, and become addicted. That’s a drug, and a very dangerous one at that. Brain damage, cancer, and death (37,000 of them in the U.S. each year) are just some of those dangers to alcohol consumers, not to mention the nearly one-third of violent crimes perpetrated in the U.S. each year that are alcohol-related.
Yes, through some fluke in the legal system, cigarettes remain legal while weed is banned. As cigarette smoking claims more than 5 million lives around the world annually, one might rightly wonder why that is the case. Even in a direct comparison, marijuana is demonstrably safer. A 20-year study found smoking as often as a joint a day for seven years does not harm the lungs.
The active ingredient in Tylenol and the most commonly used painkiller in America, acetaminophen has caused many cases of liver failure, mainly by overdose but also through users taking the recommended dosage. In fact, about 10% of deaths due to its ingestion are at levels at or below the daily maximum recommended dosage.
The American worker’s favorite substance is dangerous in high enough doses. Since 2005, reports of caffeine overdoses have risen from 1,128 to 16,055 in 2008 and 13,114 in 2009. The dangers short of death include weaker bones, higher blood pressure, and flat-out addiction. But then again, many of us already knew that, didn’t we?
These are the gas station drugs, the ones with names like “Bliss” that are still legal in many states by posing as supplements or vitamins. President Obama has gone so far as to issue a warning about these drugs. The recent case of the Miami zombie was high on bath salts, a synthetic drug.
K2 or “Spice” is also a synthetic drug, but it bears special mention on its own because it’s synthetic weed. It’s perfectly legal, and it also happens to be more dangerous than natural pot. Intense hallucinations, seizures, and rapid heartbeat are the negative effects one can expect when smoking the man-made cannabis.
Used as a diet pill, bitter orange contains a chemical called synephrine. Synephrine is very similar to ephedra, which is banned in the U.S. because it increases the risk of heart attack and stroke. Bitter orange has been linked to a number of deaths and is not recommended by the Mayo Clinic.
Health and fitness website Livestrong.com says the common side effects of this over-the-counter male enhancement supplement “border on dangerous.” They include blurred vision and dizziness (which could also come with smoking marijuana), but also arm, back, and/or jaw pain and chest tightness.
Teens have no trouble getting their hands on dextromethorphan, or DMX, the chemical found in cough medicine tablets, gels, and syrups. Though drinking too much syrup causes life-preserving vomiting, DMX is extracted out and sold, creating a healthy market for a very dangerous drug that can cause everything from seizures to brain damage and even death.
Legal in more than half the states in the U.S., salvia is an herb with leaves users smoke to reach a “high.” Um, that sounds familiar. Many health professionals have drawn comparisons between salvia’s addictive qualities with PCP and cocaine, and some users with histories of mental illness have reported relapses while smoking salvia. In other words, it’s a more addicting and more paranoia-causing form of weed.
This friendly party gas for filling up balloons is a dangerous drug when used as an inhalant, and it’s totally legal and easy to come by. There are few official statistics on helium huffing deaths, but there have been noted cases of death from air embolism upon inhaling helium.
The upsides of huffing paint are apparently euphoria and some pretty cool hallucinations. But it’s not worth the downside: vomiting, skyrocketing heart rate, pneumonia, liver damage, cardiac arrest … we could go on. A particularly conscientious store might card for its purchase, but other than that, paint is about as easy to come by as paper towels.
How many other school supplies can be compared in regards to danger with to cocaine? Glue sniffing kills people, especially young people, all over the world. Its use remains popular as a cheap high in poor areas because it’s easy to get, but it is far more dangerous than smoking marijuana.
With varying levels of difficulty, drug users can get prescriptions for these drugs that are dangerous enough when taken correctly and can be downright lethal when abused.
A 2007 study that appeared in medical journal The Lancet rated this wake-up drug more harmful than cannabis in both physical harm and level of possible dependence and as having the same risk of social harm. It’s the main chemical in medications like Adderall, the popular ADHD drug.
Also marketed under the name Dolophine, methadone is a prescription drug used for pain relief and helping heroin addicts detox. Unfortunately, methadone also caused 4,462 deaths in 2005. A year later it was dubbed the leading drug killer in several states. In 2009 it caused 15,597 deaths. The drug is known to cause often fatal cases of respiratory depression and fatal overdose in kids who take it accidentally.
The high-profile deaths of people like Heath Ledger and the painter Thomas Kinkade due to overdose involving Valium are shocking reminders of the dangers of this Class IV drug. On its own it is very prone to causing dependency and is often taken as a “secondary” drug to maximize the effect of illegal drugs.
The legal use of ketamine is as an anesthetic in medical operations. However, drug abusers use it to experience that same feeling of floating, and it is easily obtained online. Paralysis, psychological dependency, hallucinations, and overdose are all risks of ketamine.
This painkiller has been found so dangerous in recent years it has now been pulled from the market in Canada, where addiction is rampant. It had been causing 300 deaths a year in just Ontario. With a nearly identical chemical makeup as heroine, many wonder why one is illegal and the other legal.
Xanax is prescribed to combat anxiety, but one might think jaundice (liver damage) and seizures would increase worry rather than decrease it. Other dangerous side effects include hallucination and suicidal thoughts. It is highly addictive and was recently named one of the most dangerous drugs being abused in the state of Florida.
This drug that is the key ingredient in Vicodin is the second-most abused drug in America. From 2000 to 2009, while the FDA muddled over putting harsher restrictions on hydrocodone, the number of ER visits due to its use skyrocketed from 19,221 to 86,258.
Researchers from San Diego recently found that in 2010, “excess deaths” related to the use of sleeping pills like Ambien and Restoril totaled up to 500,000 in the U.S. They also found even light users who take less than two pills a month have a risk of death three times higher than non-users.
A just-released U.K. study found these anxiety and insomnia drugs killed roughly five times as many British people as marijuana in 2011. These “downers” hook people faster than tranquilizers and can damage the liver and cause blood problems with regular use.
Viagra is a hugely popular drug, but it’s also killed hundreds of people, making it far more dangerous than weed. One study in 2000 found 522 Viagra-related deaths, most of them in people under 65. Because it lowers blood pressure, it can also be very dangerous for people already on medication to lower blood pressure (e.g. old people who need Viagra).
This one could go in either category. The stuff known as “laughing gas” is only legally available to doctors, but small canisters of nitrous oxide called Whip-Its (of which Demi Moore is clearly aware) are sold to anyone off the street. When inhaled, “hippie crack” can be addictive, cause nerve damage, and even kill.
If you have to die to quit smoking, it’s not really worth it. In its five years on the market, this Pfizer product has been responsible for hundreds of suicides in both the U.S. and Britain. More than 2,400 people have sought legal representation for possible action against the drug megacorp, and many are calling for a ban.