Anyone who wants to talk about how dangerous different drugs are can have a look at the LD 50. LD means Lethal Dose and the 50 indicates the dose which will kill half the test population. The lower the value, the more dangerous the substance.
Five times the dose of heroin is what it takes to kill half the population, as you can see in this chart from the American Scientist. As most people are aware heroin is a very dangerous drug that claims many lives. One thing that makes heroin particularly deceptive is that it is difficult to determine the quality before you have tried it and it is therefore easy to overdose. The physical quantities needed are also very small.
Alcohol requires ten times the dose before half the population dies. Alcohol has a natural, but for some easily overcome barrier. You simply need to drink very much to be in danger of dying. But each year many people die in drinking games and such. Hard liquor increases the risk significantly, as it requires a much smaller physical quantity.
In contrast to these dangerous drugs, there are a number of drugs that have remarkably high LD 50 values. To have a 50 percent chance of dying from cannabis one needs to take more than 1000 times the dose. Cannabis has a built-in barrier in that it is physically impossible to take such a dose.
LSD and magic mushrooms require the same insanely high doses to reach their LD 50. It is physically possible to take a 1000 doses of LSD, because LSD is so potent, but it is hard to imagine the circumstances when that would happen. You would have to be a very thirsty laboratory assistant who mistook liquid LSD for water and accidentally drink some hearty gulps. That could make a fun plot for a film, but it hardly seems reasonable that it would happen for real. The small dose required when working with LSD does however lead to many accidental overdoses. Such trips can sometimes give the user an experience of dying, but there is no physical danger to the person’s life. Mushrooms also require 1000 times the dose, but there is once again the natural barrier. It is simply unthinkable that anyone could eat that many mushrooms.
That is the scientific explanation to why we have so many deaths caused by alcohol or heroin poisoning, but none caused by cannabis, LSD or mushrooms. So when someone says that alcohol is more dangerous than cannabis, LSD or mushrooms, they are scientifically speaking correct. People die from alcohol poisoning every day. No one ever dies of cannabis, LSD or mushroom poisoning.
Robert Gable, American Scientist (2006) The toxicity of recreational drugs
Daniel Wilby, wilby.nu (2014) What is dangerous?
Photo: snippets of autumn and music by justine-reyes on Flickr