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Some cheerful holiday facts about recreational drugs

Even as supplied by an unscrupulous underground market and taken blind by consumers in a variety of unsuitable ways, they really aren’t very dangerous:

According to the ONS data, in 2010 there were more helium deaths [32] than cannabis, ecstasy, mephedrone and GHB related deaths put together.

‘Helium?’ you may ask… It’s classed as a drug but no, it doesn’t do anything. But it is so hard to buy anything reliably lethal in the UK that helium is a sophisticated means of self-asphyxiation for suicide. So even those 32 cases should not be classed under malign side effect of drug-use. Death in those cases was a positive result.

28 comments to Some cheerful holiday facts about recreational drugs

  • Andrew Duffin

    Helium! Who’d of thought of that.

    Wouldn’t Nitrogen be cheaper, much more widespread, and just as effective?

  • Well,, yes Andrew but you wouldn’t go out with a funny voice!

  • George

    Just watched a very persuasive documentary on youtube called “HIV=AIDS: Fact or Fraud? A Stephen Allen film.”

    I’m not really enough of a scientist to make a judgement about what the heretic scientists are arguing but It struck me that if what they are saying is true social attitudes to recreational drug use would now be very very different.

  • I think it is fairly obvious that the number of people killed by impurities, inexact doses etc is much greater than the number of people killed by the actual drugs themselves. That’s certainly true for opiate use, anyway. (Yes, I know that you more or less say this Guy. Just repeating the obvious). The truth is that a lot of these things were legal and used for centuries, certainly with some negative consequences but much less than the direct or indirect consequences due to prohibition.

    The problem is more one of why it is verboten to state the bleedingly obvious on this subject if you are a politician, a mainstream member of the media or almost any other kind of public figure who wants to continue having a career.

  • the other rob

    Just a first pass through the table, separating legal prescription & over-the-counter drugs from illegal ones shows that more (874) were killed by the former than the latter (709).

    Forget Helium. Deaths from Paracetamol (Tylenol or Acetaminophen in the US) were 49 times those from cannabis. Yet the former is on the shelves of every WalMart, while the latter accounts for some huge percentage of incarcerations in US prisons and the militarisation of the police.

    I know, there’s nothing new here that we were not already aware of. But when I ask myself “Cui bono?” the top four answers are drug cartels, state-employed “drug warriors”, booze manufacturers and the military-industrial complex. The People don’t even make the list.

  • First: I think all drugs should be legal.

    Second: Let’s be clear. “Recreational” includes legal drugs, like the prescriptions Michael mentions, that people take for fun (at first, until it stops being fun and their bodies are addicted and minds obsessed).

    Prescription drugs in the US kill twice as many people as cocaine and heroin combined. Which is not to say that the problem of addiction is insignificant, or that the consequences are not that bad. Both of those statements would be gravely inaccurate.

    I am very sensitive to this as I work closely and intensely with addicts (outside of my job). One aspect of this work is done in the detox center of one of the country’s largest hospitals. I can tell you that if you saw what I see there, week in and week out, you would need ice water in your veins to downplay the results of drug abuse. (I also say this as the child of drug addicts whose drug of choice is culturally viewed as “not that bad” because it’s not heroin or cocaine.)

    Death and institutions are the end result of drug abuse – if the addict is lucky. There are fates worse than death, and the depths that drug addiction takes people to are agonizing to observe. I hope no one you care about is ever afflicted, but the odds of that lessen by the day. (In America, ‘soccer moms’ are the big new breed of drug addicts – yes, mostly those legal prescriptions.)

    Again, I think all drugs should be legal. But let’s not ever kid ourselves that they’re not dangerous. I’m living proof that they devastate lives – of the addicts and those around them, especially children.

  • the other rob

    There are fates worse than death, and the depths that drug addiction takes people to are agonizing to observe.

    This view explains something that has puzzled me for some time. On the one hand, doctors and dentists round here hand out Vicodin-type pills like sweeties. On the other, the actual pills (or their generic equivalents) come loaded with so much Acetaminophen (way more than would be required to potentiate the opioid, or whatever the “evil” ingredient is) that merely reading the label puts one in fear of liver failure.

    Clearly a view has been taken that folks are better off dead than hooked and the pills are compounded to favour that outcome.

  • Prescription drugs in the US kill twice as many people as cocaine and heroin combined.

    and

    Deaths from Paracetamol (Tylenol or Acetaminophen in the US) were 49 times those from cannabis.

    Are you guys talking percentages of users or absolute numbers?

  • the other rob

    Alisa – I’m referring to the numbers in the article that Guy linked to. According to it, in 2010 there were two deaths in the UK from cannabis and 98 from Paracetamol.

  • RAB

    The only death from cannabis I ever heard of was a guy walking down a new York street in the 70s, who got hit in the head by a crate of it thrown out of a 20 storey window.

    Whenever someone like Elvis or Michael Jackson (you know the ones who are anti illegal drugs) pops their clogs, you can bet your boots that there’s a “Dr Robert” in the background somewhere. prescribing shedloads of lethal stuff, which these fools somehow think are alright because a Doctor sez so.

    Stick to the illegal ones you dummies I always scream, look at Keith Richards, he may very well live forever! Just Keef and the cockroaches left after a Nuclear war.

  • David Roberts

    Thanks George, just watched your link. So now the AIDS/HIV hypothesis has been added to my list of things, I don’t accept. More argument where I’m on my own.

  • David Roberts

    arguments

  • adpi71

    A pretty good explanation of the stupidity of prohibition, well worth a view if you’ve not seen it already:

    http://mises.org/media/6628/Prohibition-Through-the-Eyes-of-Homer-Simpson

  • PeterT

    Whilst in favour of legalisation (of course) I thought I should point out that it is not valid to compare number of deaths from legal and non-legal drugs, since the former are freely available whereas the latter are not. If heroin etc were legal, it could be that the absolute number of deaths would go up rather than down; even as the percentage of heroin users to die or suffer bad health or social consequences might fall due to better and cleaner drugs, easier non-stigmatised access to health services and help with their addiction etc etc.

  • Roue le Jour

    I’m horrified. You realise helium is the most irreplaceable substance on the planet? For the future’s sake give those people some opiates.

  • Thanks, the other rob – that’s what I thought (I should have read Guy’s link). Now I was going to follow up on my point, but in the meantime PeterT had already made it for me. The comparison should not be based on death statistics, but on the actual lethality of the drugs in question (i.e. their chemical properties etc.).

  • George

    I’ve seen many lives ruined by cannabis use.

    Being Libertarian and thinking that people should be free to choose the risks they take and the damage they do to themselves I can respect.

    What I feel is intellectually dishonest is arguing that recreational drug use is safe so therefore people should be free to use them.

  • guy herbert

    I’m not arguing that. As my allusion to being free to kill yourself if you want to in the coda is intended to emphasise.

    I’m pointing out that the common claims that they are deadly dangerous – often offered as a pretext for prohibition – just aren’t true.

  • the other rob

    Alisa – you and PeterT are correct, of course. However, one on the main points of the article is that the figures themselves are intellectually dishonest. A drunk killing himself in a car crash, or stepping in front of a truck is not counted as an “alcohol death” while, as RAB points out, that’s almost certainly how the “cannabis deaths” came about. Similarly, deaths resulting from a cocktail (pun intended) of alcohol and an illegal substance are attributed solely to the illegal substance.

  • Sunfish

    George-

    I’ve seen many lives ruined by cannabis use.

    Really? How? Defined “ruined.”

    Jackie:

    Prescription drugs in the US kill twice as many people as cocaine and heroin combined.

    This cries out for clarification. Are you including poisoning by contaminants? Hepatitis from shared needles? Random stuff from immune systems being suppressed by the fact that crackheads don’t eat or sleep worth a damn? Hypothermia from junkies not having the sense to come in from the cold? Early heart failure from cocaine-influenced heart damage? Car wrecks where the driver is a soccer mom whacked on oxycodone?

    Or just overdoses and direct effects?

    I am very sensitive to this as I work closely and intensely with addicts (outside of my job). One aspect of this work is done in the detox center of one of the country’s largest hospitals. I can tell you that if you saw what I see there, week in and week out, you would need ice water in your veins to downplay the results of drug abuse. (I also say this as the child of drug addicts whose drug of choice is culturally viewed as “not that bad” because it’s not heroin or cocaine.)

    My experiences have been similar. And a severe attack of empathy is a terrible basis for public policy. Front-lawn executions of tweakers so that their children have a chance starts looking like a reasonable idea sooner or later.

    I hope no one you care about is ever afflicted, but the odds of that lessen by the day. (In America, ‘soccer moms’ are the big new breed of drug addicts – yes, mostly those legal prescriptions.)

    Instead of banning drugs, if we’re serious about public safety we’d ban soccer moms from driving. Even without drugs the only worse drivers in my area are Texans and Californians.

    An aside: I had a guy, stoned out of his gourd (on marijuana) kick off on me once. When we got some control over him, it was obvious that he had been smoking MJ. Along with the giggling and the bloodshot eyes, he had huge pupils and a pulse of roughly 200 and rigid muscles.

    That’s why I favor legalization.

    There was something else in the weed, probably a stimulant.

    If he was buying his dank off of the shelf at Daddy Fat Sack’s[1], I don’t think a legit above-board business selling a legal product with legal competition would let that stuff out the door.

    Another aside: A few months ago, I was at a concert featuring the remnants of the Grateful Dead. I saw a perfectly-normal suburban middle class family there. Mom, Dad, teenage boy, teenage girl- siblings, from the physical resemblance and the lack of PDA. They looked exactly like the kind of family where he spends all weekend golfing and she has affairs with the scoutmaster in the back of a late-model Escalade while the kids ignore each other.

    About halfway through, Mom lights a joint and passes it to the kids.

    The war on drugs is over. We lost.

    [1] A real store in the Denver suburbs, which once advertised the “kindest, dankest, most crystalline medicine” in the newspaper. Yeah, tell me that a “medical marijuana center” with an ad like that is trying to be the next Rite-Aid.

  • George

    Sunfish-

    Really? How? Defined “ruined.”

    long term unemployment, life on incapacity benefit, estrangement from children, depression, isolation, mental health problems

    the psycho wards are full of cannabis users

  • Harry Powell

    As an anti-prohibitionist I would only be comfortable with legalization if all of the external and socialised costs of drugs fell wholly on the user. Wanna take drugs? Great! Only please expect to pay for the ambulance that`ll scrape you off the pavement, or have your health insurance quintuple when the insurance company`s random testing catches you, or be thrown out of your housing co-op`s lease, or be uninsurable for third party personal injury insurance. And maybe when the first stories start circulating of 17 year olds who have lost their entire lifetimes earnings because they`ve crippled someone while drugged driving the “glamour” and moral hazard of expecting other people to pick up after up might just evapourate.

  • Harry- yes.
    And then the rest of us who can and have used drugs responsibly, like the majority of drinkers, can recreate without fear of imprisonment.

  • Sunfish

    long term unemployment, life on incapacity benefit, estrangement from children, depression, isolation, mental health problems

    the psycho wards are full of cannabis users

    How many of those are symptoms of marijuana use? How many of them are causes of marijuana use? How many of them are coincidental to marijuana use?

    And which psych wards are these?

    I don’t suppose you’ve a source you’d care to offer?

  • George

    Sunfish: I don’t suppose you’ve a source you’d care to offer?

    “Cannabis can evoke acute psychotic reactions in healthy individuals”

    http://www.slam.nhs.uk/research/biomedical-research-centre/news-and-events/possible-link-found-between-psychosis-and-cannabis-use-.aspx

  • Is the science settled?

  • George

    Alisa: “Is the science settled?”

    I think the science is only just begining.

    There has been a massive pro drug and especially pro cannabis propaganda campaign since the 60’s and as a result I think science has not really played much part in the debate and is only beginingt to.

    Science costs money and as such the science that gets done is often a political decision.

    Science is easily defeated by fashion, ridicule and money, at least in the short term.

    I have no problem with people arguing prohibition is against their personal principles. If people argue that prohibition causes more suffering than it prevents I think they may even be right.

    What I take issue with is people arguing that recreational drug use is not harmful to a great many people and society in general.

    In my view Cannabis destroys minds and reaps souls (in a metaphorical sense).

  • Science costs money and as such the science that gets done is often a political decision.

    Science is easily defeated by fashion, ridicule and money, at least in the short term.

    You said it all, George:-)