Physical harm due to chronic substance use

Jan van Amsterdam, Ed Pennings, Tibor Brunt, Wim van den Brink

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Chronic use at high dose of illicit drugs, alcohol and tobacco is associated with physical disease. The relative physical harm of these substances has not been described before, but will benefit the guiding of policy measures about licit and illicit substances. The physical harm of 19 addictive substances (including alcohol and tobacco), consisting of toxicity and the risk and severity of somatic disease (not psychiatric disease) was assessed based on literature data and the professional opinion of experts using scores ranging from 0 (no physical harm) to 3 (very serious physical harm). For alcohol, tobacco and some illicit drugs strong associations between long-term use or use in high dose versus the risk of somatic disease have been described, whereas for other substances such data are not available. Magic mushrooms, LSD and methylphenidate obtained relatively low scores (0.45-0.65) for physical harm, whereas relatively high scores were given for heroin (2.09), crack (2.32), alcohol (2.13) and tobacco (2.10). For cannabis, tobacco, and alcohol the estimated societal disease burden was higher than at individual level. The present ranking solely based on their physical harm was very similar to a previous ranking based on a combination of dependence liability, physical harm and social impairments
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)83-87
JournalRegulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2013

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