Guest Post: Stats, Drugs, and Rock and Roll

A guest post by KevinNZ:

Note: Apart from alcohol and peanuts, the substances mentioned are illegal and carry with them maximum sentences of imprisonment. Nothing said in this post should be taken as promoting drug use in any way or in any form. Just because you think that a drug shoud be legalized doesn’t mean you can/should use it. Needless to say are dangerous and can cause harm and even death.

Imagine you’re at a party and for whatever reason it’s your job to hand out, “stuff”. Someone rocks up and asks for whatever you got. You can give him anything you want but your choices are heroin, cocaine, meth, marijuana, alcohol, MDMA (Ecstasy) and peanuts. Yes, peanuts. And you have to give him whatever has the least chance of sending him to hospital.

What do you give him? 

The answer of course is alcohol or MDMA. And if there’s no booze or E left, then the peanuts, then marijuana, followed by meth, coke and finally heroin.

Some stats.

In 2011, in the United States, there were 162 visits per 100,000 to an emergency department involving cocaine. For marijuana the figure was 146 per 100,000, for heroin 83 visits per 100,000, and for MDMA 7 visits per 100,000. And for alcohol 134 visits per 100,000. With regards to meth, in 2011 103,000 meth users went to the emergency department due to methamphetamine.

In 2012 about 1% of the US population used MDMA, or around 311,745,000 users. And in 2011 there was around 21,612,000 cannabis users. The number of alcohol users was around 56,738,000 and the number of meth users in 2012 was 1,200,000. There were 620,000 heroin users and 1,500,000 cocaine users.

And 1% of Americans were allergic to peanuts. 

Putting everything together you get what I call the “Peanut” scale.

  • Alcohol: 0.73%
  • MDMA (Ectasy): 0.73%
  • Peanuts: 1%
  • Cannabis: 2.08%
  • Meth: 8.58%
  • Cocaine: 30.06%
  • Heroin: 41.29%

The Peanut scale basically represents the chances of someone going to the emergency department as a result of taking a particular drug. 

Or eating a peanut. 

Each figure is calculated simply by taking the number of people admitted to emergency due to a particular drug and dividing it by the number of users of that drug.

Let’s take a closer look at those numbers, starting with MDMA.

Alcohol is a legal drug. It’s regulated. We have social structures in place which help curb abuse. MDMA has none of those things.

  In New Zealand MDMA is classified as Class B drug. MDMA is regarded as a dangerous drug, and it is. No doubt about it. Then again so is alcohol. Dangers of taking MDMA include serotonin overload and serotonin depletion syndrome. If a side effect of alcohol is agressiveness then side effects of MDMA include paranoia and anxiety. If you do MDMA regularly your chances of committing suicide are 7 times higher than normal. They don’t call it Sucicide Tuesday for nothing.

But what makes MDMA really dangerous is that as a result of it being illegal most Ectasy contains little or no MDMA but instead more dangerous chemicals such as Bath Salts. And of those that do have MDMA the amount of MDMA is increasing as dealers try and outdo each other, with some pills having as mcuh as 300mg of MDMA, or three times the recommended dose. Why there is a recommended dose for a drug that has been outlawed I have no idea, but there you go.

So given that the chances of going to hospital after taking MDMA is the same as having too much to drink, why is MDMA a Class B drug? Not only is it statistically as safe as alcohol, by having regulations users could be assured they were taking MDMA and the amount of MDMA in a pill could be set to a maximum level eg between 60 and 100mg. 

Put simply, if MDMA was legal and regulated, it’s Peanut rating would be even lower – much lower than booze.

Ok, so good news for MDMA users but bad news for potheads with marijuana having over twice the chances of sending someone to hospital than alcohol or eating a peanut. 

But wait. Again, alcohol is legal and regulated with social structures in place to curb abuse. When you have a drink you know how much alcohol you’re having. When you smoke a joint you never know how much THC you’re putting in your body. 

And how high (snigger), really, is 2% anyway? Let’s put things in perspective here.

Everytime you drive you have a 1 in 200, or 0.5% chance of having an accident. Most of us drive a lot more than we smoke a joint, yet driving a car is around 1/4 as dangerous pot. 

If you’re a woman, the chances of being raped is 2.6% or, if you include words, the chances of being sexually assaulted can be as much as 20%. And of those assaults most will involve alcohol. This means that if you’re a woman you’re much safer going to a place that serves cannabis and having a joint than going to a bar.

So why is marijuana illegal and not regulated? Regulation would keep out the gangs and the dodgy mom and pop operators, and users would be able to tell the amount of THC and CBD as it would be marked on the packet. There would be regulations prescribing the amount of CBD vs THC required for something to be considered medical marijuana vs recreational. 

Medicial marijuana debate, over.

Why don’t we at least allow places to sell marijuana under strict conditions, and with the requirement that the cannabis must be consumed on premises?

Admittedly the Peanut scale does not take into account long term harm from using a particular drug. So let’s take a look at drug treatment admissions. In 2008 in the US 23.8% of admissions for drug treatment were for alcohol, 17% was for marijuana, 14.1% was for heroin, and 0.4% was for other drugs. Assuming those figures were roughly the same in 2011 then chances of requiring treatment for a particular drug were as follows: for alcohol 4.33%, cannabis 1.18%, and for MDMA a very low 0.0039%. Or to put in another way if someone’s drug of choice was alcohol, and another’s drug of choice was marijuana, the former would have four times the chance of ending up in treatment than the dope smoker. And if the second person’s drugs of choice was MDMA, then the alkie would have over one thousand times the chance of requiring treatment compared to the MDMA user. 

Finally, sure, figures are rough and from 2011 and from the US. But I believe they are indicative of the relative dangers of the substances mentioned. And if going to a bar is more dangerous than having a joint at a place designed for having a joint, with the first being legal and the second illegal, then there is something seriously wrong with NZ’s drug laws. 

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