Both illicit and legal substances can be harmful when abused; however, not all drugs are created equally. While some substances merely impair, other drugs can have fatal consequences after only one use.

Not only are all drugs different, but when it comes to illicit substances, the potency of one batch of drugs can vary from the potency of another, which can set an individual up for a potentially fatal, accidental overdose. It is important to note that some drugs can also be laced with other drugs, which also increases risk of serious consequences such as overdose. To inform you of the dangers associated with common drugs, we have compiled a list of the top ten most dangerous, ranked below. 

Top 10 Most Dangerous Drugs

10. Marijuana 

Although marijuana does not contribute to overdose fatalities, the sedative properties of the drug impair users which can lead to reckless behavior. Recently, there has been a growing concern among the medical community regarding the increasing potency of marijuana. In a study conducted by the University of Mississippi and the National Institute on Drug Abuse, The percentage of THC in marijuana has been steadily increasing within the last few decades, resulting in a greater risk for developing an addiction.

9. MDMA 

MDMA, also known as ecstasy, is a psychoactive drug that enhances sensory perception and mood. Because of these effects, MDMA is a common party drug. This drug lowers inhibitions and contributes to risky behavior. MDMA can cause a number of adverse health consequences, including fatalities due to overdose.

In addition to high blood pressure (hypertension), faintness, panic attacks, and seizures, severe instances can occur if an individual loses consciousness and seizures. A 2011 survey by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration estimated 22,498 emergency room visits involved MDMA use, with the majority occurring among individuals aged 18 to 29.

8. Benzodiazepines 

 Benzodiazepines are a class of prescription drugs used to treat various anxiety and sleep disorders. According to data collected by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the number of adults filling a benzodiazepine prescription increased 67%, from 8.1 million to 13.5 million between 1996 and 2013. Due to the sedative quality of benzos, they are at high risk for abuse and addiction. Although overdose fatalities from benzodiazepines are not common, the prescription drug is very dangerous when combined with other addictive substances such as alcohol or opioids. 

7. Alcohol

Due to its accessibility and legality, alcohol is the most abused substance in the world. Although death by alcohol consumption is not as likely in comparison to other substances on this list, alcohol contributes to a massive amount of alcohol-related deaths. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that 29 people in the United States die each day in motor vehicle crashes that involve an alcohol-impaired driver, totaling one death every 50 minutes. 

When ingested in excess, alcohol negatively impacts multiple organs such as the brain, heart, liver, and pancreas. Long-term alcohol abuse is also the number one cause for liver failure and is strongly linked to the development of several cancers.

6. Crack Cocaine

Crack cocaine is a form of powdered cocaine that has been chemically manipulated and hardened into a crystalline rock. Being a cheaper alternative to cocaine, crack is widely abused and extremely addictive. In 2016, there were an estimated 432,000 current crack users in the United States alone. The substance acts as a stimulant and causes irreversible bodily damage when abused.  

Regardless of how much of the drug is used or how frequently, crack cocaine raises the danger of a heart attack, stroke, seizure, or respiratory failure, all of which can result in sudden death. In addition to the standard risks associated with cocaine use, crack users may experience serious respiratory troubles, including coughing, shortness of breath, lung damage, and bleeding. The heart, liver, and kidneys of long-term users of crack cocaine are severely harmed and users are more likely to be afflicted with infectious illnesses.

5. Methamphetamine 

Typically referred to as “meth”, this stimulant ranks within the top five most addictive, illicit drugs in the world. When used, meth produces a rush of euphoria, increased alertness, increased energy, and feelings of invincibility. Long-term meth use can lead to high blood pressure, heart attack, and stroke, in addition to harming your liver and kidneys. Meth can also cause your brain to permanently lose dopamine, which impairs memory, speech, and other mental functions.

Psychotic problems such as mood swings, paranoia, delusions, hallucinations, and violent and aggressive behavior are also likely to arise with prolonged meth use. Even after you have stopped using meth, you may continue to experience memory loss, confusion, and insomnia for months or years. According to the United States Drug Enforcement Administration, methamphetamine was the second-largest contributor to overdose deaths in the United States between May 2019 and May 2020.

4. Cocaine

Cocaine is a highly addictive stimulant that comes in powder form. When abused, the drug negatively impacts central nervous system functions and can cause stroke, cardiac arrhythmia, cardiac arrest, convulsions, and death. In 2017, drug overdose deaths involving cocaine increased by more than 34%, with almost 14,000 Americans dying from an overdose involving cocaine.

3. Oxycodone 

Oxycodone is an extremely potent opioid prescription drug. It is often available in combination with other analgesics such as aspirin or acetaminophen. Due to it being twice as potent as morphine, oxycodone is highly addictive and life-threatening when abused. As stated in the CDC’s National Vital Statistics Report, oxycodone use ranked first in overdose deaths in 2011 with 5,587 overdose fatalities that year. 

2. Heroin

Heroin is a central nervous system depressant and semi-synthetic opiate made from the drug morphine. When used, heroin suppresses breathing and reduces heart rate to dangerously low levels. As a depressant, this opioid is the source of many fatal overdoses and has largely contributed to the ongoing opioid epidemic.

As one of the most dangerous drugs on the planet, heroin may cause breathing cessation, heart infection, liver disease, collapsed veins, and death.The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports drug overdose deaths involving heroin rose from 1,960 in 1999 to 15,469 in 2016.

1. Fentanyl  

Fentanyl earns the top spot on this list due to it being the most addictive, most powerful, and most deadly. This fully synthetic opioid is approximately 100 times more potent than morphine and is currently the number one cause of overdose fatality in the United States. Because of its strength, even a minuscule amount of fentanyl can cause a fatal overdose in an individual who has built up opioid tolerance. One kilogram of fentanyl has the potential to kill 500,000 people. The presence of fentanyl is often found in heroin, cocaine, and even pills without the user being aware.

The graph below, produced from data collected by the National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics, shows the dramatic upswing in fentanyl-related overdoses within the past decade.

This significant increase in overdose fatalities involving fentanyl show no signs of slowing. According to the CDC, fentanyl was responsible for 71,238 deaths in 2021 alone.

Asheville Recovery Center Can Help  

Hopefully, this top ten list of the most powerful and most dangerous drugs helps to shed light on the very real drug epidemic the United States is currently facing. It is important to seek help immediately if you or a loved one is struggling with addiction of any kind. At Asheville Recovery Center, treatment specialists have developed a unique, hybrid model of treatment which combines a traditional 12-step program with holistic rehabilitation. A multitude of services, programs, and therapies are offered, including the Partial Hospitalization Program, Residential-style treatment, outpatient rehabilitation, and more. 

The founders of Asheville Recovery Center, as well as many of our addiction therapists, have struggled with addiction and now enjoy life in recovery. They understand the struggles of addiction and how difficult it is to overcome alone. If you feel that you or a loved one is struggling with substance abuse, our specialists are on standby and ready to help. Call (828)518-6996 and speak with an addiction expert today so you can take the first step towards a rewarding life of sobriety.

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