In 2003, a Berkeley study was conducted to compare the lethal toxicity of 20 of the most common psychoactive substances in the world. This study took a comprehensive look at over 3000 medical records containing information on lethal dosage amounts for both human and non-human subjects.
The range of toxicity varied according to the body mass of the subject as well as age, but researchers were able to approximate a lethal dosage amount for each substance studied. We put together this list of substances to create an easy to understand visual representation of the data.
These dosage amounts are meant to help our audience visualize the size disparity and danger of these substances but should not be taken as a universal lethal dosage amount.
Lethal doses are based on full grown adult bodies.
For children, persons with no prior history of drug use, and those with medical conditions that could be exacerbated by the effects of psychoactive substances, these amounts could be significantly lower.
It may be nearly impossible to overdose from marijuana alone, but that doesn’t mean there is no danger associated with this illicit substance. As a Schedule I substance, the U.S. government has still not recognized its medical potential and users can develop tolerance and reliance for it. Marijuana produces psychoactive effects on the brain, making normal function more difficult and increasing the chances of being harmed or engaging in risky behavior.
Alcohol, the world’s oldest recreational drug, doesn’t take all that much to kill you. Alcohol poisoning can occur from as little as half these amounts for children and people with a body chemistry susceptible to alcohol’s effects. In addition, ingesting alcohol significantly increases your chances of engaging in risky or dangerous behavior. Overdosing on alcohol can involve respiratory suppression, or asphyxiation from choking on your own vomit.
Caffeine is possibly the world’s most used drug, widely because its side effects are less harmful than the other drugs on this list. There are not many listed overdoses from caffeine, but it can still happen, especially if someone is using highly concentrated forms of the substance, such as through energy drinks or caffeine pills. Caffeine overdose is typically caused by ventricular fibrillation, which is an elevated or irregular heart rate that disrupts blood flow and leads to unconsciousness and death. Seizures and heart attacks can also occur.
Cocaine is a more powerful stimulant than caffeine, so an overdose involves similar mechanisms, albeit at much lower doses than caffeine. In some people with a family history of heart problems or epileptic seizures, cocaine can be extremely dangerous at lower doses than this, causing a fatal heart attack, stroke, or seizure. Cocaine is also dangerous to consume because it may be laced with a more potent substance like heroin, fentanyl, or carfentanil.
Codeine was intended to suppress coughs, but as a side effect it can also suppress your breathing. Like other opioids, it acts on life supporting organs, shutting them down. Ingested in the form of cough syrup and often mixed with soda, codeine has an infamous reputation in the hip hop world for being a dangerous party drug. Hip hop legends DJ Screw, Pimp C, and ASAP Yams all passed away from codeine overdoses, and rapper Lil Wayne has been hospitalized multiple times for codeine related reasons.
Like other stimulants, ecstasy can be fatal when taken in large quantities, inducing heart attacks, seizures, and loss of consciousness. The minimum lethal dosage for ecstasy would vary from person to person due to body chemistry and family history. Ecstasy overdoses most commonly occur due to its status as party drug, meaning it is commonly mixed with other substances such as alcohol, heroin, or cocaine.
LSD or Acid is a difficult drug to overdose on because the method of consumption generally comes in extremely diluted form. It can be ingested as either tablets or dissolved in water. Cases of LSD overdose are extremely rare, but they have been linked to suicide, accidents, and dangerous behavior that could result in death. There are however, long term mental side effects that can arise as a result. Some users have reported experiencing chronic hallucinations even after multiple years of sobriety.
Morphine is a similar drug to codeine. Both are from the opiate family and when taken in large doses can cause death. Anesthesiologists must be careful when administering this drug, as they must be sure not to allow the patient’s breathing to reach below a certain rate. Morphine doses are rare because it is typically bypassed by heroin and prescription opioids on the streets.
Overdose from heroin occurs by the same process as codeine and morphine, but at much lower quantities. A first time user of heroin can overdose with as little as 1/5th a packet of sugar. The body processes shut down and the user stops breathing within minutes. Heroin kills more people in the U.S. every year than any other drug, with roughly 1 in 10 heroin overdoses resulting in death. The effects of a heroin overdose can be reversed using an agent such as Naloxone.
Methamphetamine is an extremely powerful stimulant and can result in heart attack, stroke, and seizure. If a person survives an overdose methamphetamine, they may still suffer from hallucinations and paranoia for years afterwards.
Hydrocodone is fatal when consumed in excess, and if the user survives they may experience permanent liver damage. Like the rest of the most dangerous drugs on this list, Vicodin is an opioid that shuts down the breathing apparatus of the body.
Oxycodone is another member of the opioid family. Consuming as little as a few pills prescribed by a doctor can lead to a potential overdose.
Fentanyl is an opioid originally developed to be a sedative for surgery. At even minuscule doses, this drug can induce respiratory arrest and fatality, with the odds increasing when combined with alcohol or any other form of opioid.
Carfentanil was developed as an elephant tranquilizer and is nearly 100 times more potent than heroin, making it 10,000 times as potent as morphine. Even just inhaling particles or brushing against this drug can be fatal, making it the lethal drug on this list.
Substance abuse is scarier than it seems. By taking a look at these visuals, it helps us to understand how dangerous these substances truly are. If you or a loved one are struggling with an addiction to drugs or alcohol, call Landmark Recovery. At Landmark Recovery, we believe in creating a supportive network of love and access to resources that can help you break free from the chains of addiction. Our facility offers inpatient, outpatient, detox, as well as vivitrol, IOP and more. Visit our website to learn more about our drug and alcohol rehab program.