Harms and benefits associated with psychoactive drugs: findings of an international survey of active drug users

Authors: Morgan CJ, Noronha LA, Muetzelfeldt M, Feilding A, Curran HV.


There have been several recent efforts in the UK and the Netherlands to describe the harms of psychoactive substances based on ratings of either experts or drug users. This study aimed to assess the perceived benefits as well as harms of widely used recreational drugs, both licit and illicit, in an international sample of drug users. The survey was hosted at https://www.internationaldrugsurvey.org/ and was available in three languages. Residents reported their experience of 15 commonly used drugs or drug classes; regular users then rated their harms and benefits. In all, 5791 individuals from over 40 countries completed the survey, although the majority were from English speaking countries. Rankings of drugsdiffered across 10 categories of perceived benefits. Skunk and herbal cannabis were ranked consistently beneficial, whilst alcohol and tobacco fell below many classified drugs. There was no correlation at all between users‘ harm ranking of drugs and their classification in schedules of the USA or ABC system in the UK. Prescription analgesics, alcohol and tobacco were ranked within the top 10 most harmful drugs. These findingssuggest that neither the UK nor US classification systems act to inform users of the harms of psychoactive substances. It is hoped the results might inform health professionals and educators of what are considered to be both the harms and benefits of psychoactive substances to young people.