Katelyn G. sent in a link to a story at The Economist about a new study that attempted to measure the harmful effects, to both the user and to the U.K. more broadly, of a number of legal and illegal drugs. The methodology:

Members of the Independent Scientific Committee on Drugs, including two invited specialists, met in a 1-day interactive workshop to score 20 drugs on 16 criteria: nine related to the harms that a drug produces in the individual and seven to the harms to others. Drugs were scored out of 100 points, and the criteria were weighted to indicate their relative importance.

Harm to others included factors such as health care costs, family disruptions, social services, and the cost of criminal justice programs to regulate drugs.

The results? Alcohol outranked all illegal substances they considered by a significant margin, particularly in terms of the harm caused to others:

Will this lead to major changes in drug policy in the U.K.? Unlikely. Here’s a tidbit from an NPR story:

…last year in Britain, the government increased its penalties for the possession of marijuana. One of its senior advisers, David Nutt — the lead author on the Lancet study — was fired after he criticized the British decision.

“What governments decide is illegal is not always based on science,” said van den Brink. He said considerations about revenue and taxation, like those garnered from the alcohol and tobacco industries, may influence decisions about which substances to regulate or outlaw.