With all the drugs in the world, certain ones are hazardous. Today, drug overdose is one of the leading causes of accidental deaths in the United States. When you consider the side effects, death rates, and potential risks, it can be evident which are the most dangerous drugs. In this list, we include:
- Well-known prescription drugs.
- Infamous street drugs.
- Even some over-the-counter medications can be quite dangerous.
Top 35+ Most Dangerous Drugs in the world
All drugs can be dangerous. Even sugar is considered a hazardous addiction. The following list includes some of the most commonly abused drugs according to the CDC and DEA.
While most people take prescription medication responsibly, in 2017, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health estimated that over 18 million people, 6 percent of people aged 12 and older, were abusing prescription drugs.
Surprising for many, but anticoagulants like Warfarin, Xarelto, and Heparin can be quite dangerous. Used to prevent blood clots, when combined with other substances like Aspirin, anticoagulants can cause fatal internal and external bleeding.
There are many antidepressants used to treat major depression, mood disorders, and sometimes behavioral problems. However, people taking antidepressants are 33% more likely to die prematurely than those not taking drugs. Additionally, they’re 14% more likely to suffer an adverse cardiovascular event.
Also known as benzos, these include medications like Xanax, Valium, and Klonopin. Benzodiazepines are commonly prescribed but come with highly common side effects. Many with a valid prescription often mix benzos with alcohol, leading to life-threatening impacts. The CDC estimates that benzos were involved in almost 31% of all overdose deaths in 2017.
Many people are surprised to find out a drug to treat hypertension (high blood pressure) can be quite dangerous. Almost 48% of hypertensive adults take not one but multiple anti-hypertensive medications at once. Unfortunately, these drugs may also lead to cardiovascular issues, prostate cancer, and the onset of diabetes. When combined with diuretics and NSAIDs, it can lead to fatal consequences.
Also known as Parlodel, this drug helps treat Parkinson’s disease. Bromocriptine can cause fatal circulatory collapse, and systematic hypotension occurs in about 33% of people taking this medication. Another side effect is episodes of sudden sleep, which has resulted in many motor vehicle accidents.
Currently, there’s an FDA-advisory on this drug due to its increased risk of fatal complications that can occur even years after taking the medication. Those who take this drug are 27% more likely to suffer cardiovascular death. The problem, though, is that it remains unknown why the medication causes these effects.
A popular antipsychotic medicaClozapinezapine is a go-to for schizophrenia treatment. While it does lower the risk of suicidal behavior, it has many adverse cardiovascular effects. When people coClozapinezapine with alcohol or other central nervous system depressants, it increases the risk of cardiomyopathy.
Most commonly known as Lanoxin, this medication helps with congestive heart failure and arterial fibrillation. However, research shows that people taking this drug for those conditions have a 20% higher risk of dying. Other side effects include perianal infections, vomiting, and nausea. Digoxin can also result in a fatal overdose when misused.
9. Semi-Synthetic Opioids
When talking about synthetic opioids, we mean prescriptions like Percocet, Vicodin, and OxyContin. All trendy names around the opioid epidemic in the country. These medications are popular painkillers prescribed for moderate to severe pain. However, opioids are highly addictive and present a high risk for misuse. People often combine opioids and alcohol, leading to a fatal overdose.
A highly addictive opioid, Fentanyl is a powerful pain reliever. While we covered opioids in general, it’s important to note that Fentanyl is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine and 50 times more potent than heroin, which is why we chose to talk about it separately. Almost 29% of deaths due to drug abuse in 2016 were the result of Fentanyl addiction.
A Schedule II narcotic, methadone, became an alternative to morphine during World War II. Today, methadone maintenance treatment help people recover from opioid addiction in a supervised setting. However, methadone is highly addictive and has the potential for misuse under the wrong circumstances. Thankfully, due to tighter regulations around methadone, it’s becoming more challenging to find on the streets, and deaths due to this drug are slowly going down.
Oxycodone is the main ingredient in OxyContin, a popular synthetic opioid. Still, oxycodone remains the number one abused prescription medication in the country. In 2011 alone, doctors wrote 32 million prescriptions for Percocet, which includes oxycodone. This drug helps reduce anxiety and causes relaxation and euphoria, so many people abuse it.
We know that Xanax is part of the benzodiazepines family, but Xanax is a hazardous drug. The primary reason is that a significant portion of the population struggles with an anxiety disorder. Thus Xanax is a reasonably common prescription. However, it is highly addictive and lends itself to misuse. It’s also common for people who misuse Xanax to combine it with alcohol, Fentanyl, and Oxycodone, placing them at an even higher risk of fatal overdose.
Before semi-synthetic opioids, morphine was the go-to drug for pain management. This Schedule II narcotic comes from the opium plant and has an incredibly high risk of abuse. People either snort, inject, or smoke morphine to get euphoric effects and reduce anxiety. Over five thousand deaths can be attributed to morphome om 2016.
Steroids and appearance and performance-enhancing drugs (APIs) can cause short-term and long-term effects on mental health and overall health. Chronic use of anabolic steroids can also cause dysfunction of these reward pathways in animals. People can struggle with substance abuse and a reduction in reward-related actions.
Unfortunately, once people become addicted to prescription drugs, they’re more likely to turn to the black market for cheaper alternatives. Illegal drugs are highly addictive as they’re formulated to trigger euphoric feelings and alter the brain to crave the drug.
Known on the streets as blow, coke, and crack, cocaine is a potent stimulant used mostly as a recreational drug. According to the CDC, cocaine-related overdoses accounted for 14,000 deaths in the year 2017 alone. Unfortunately, over three-quarters of deaths involving cocaine were among people who also took opioids at one point in their life. This is very common as opioid users turn to cocaine as a cheaper alternative.
Heroin is an illegal recreational drug made from morphine taken from the seed pod of poppy plants. People either inject or snort heroin to get that popular high or euphoric experience. Heroin use can lead to numerous health complications, including track marks or collapsed veins, damaged tissue inside the nose, and lung complications, to name a few. According to the CDC, heroin users have doubled in the past five years, with 80% of new users coming to heroin after using opioids.
Methamphetamines are essentially a stimulant. According to the CDC, there were close to seven thousand overdose deaths attributed to methamphetamines. Almost 21% of all methamphetamine users are also heroin abusers, thus placing them at higher risk of overdose and death.
MDMA is also known as ecstasy, is a popular party drug and a favorite one among college students—another type of amphetamines that causes hallucinogenic effects. Ecstasy can lead to overdose, psychosis, behavior changes, and even memory loss, making it a hazardous drug. Not to mention, because it’s a party drug, it’s common for people to mix it with other substances that intensify its effects.
20. Bath Salts
Bath salts are made from a combination of ingredients that sometimes can also be legal under specific guidelines. However, most bath salt formulations are Schedule I drug by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) standards.
Street names for Spice include Black Mamba, Bliss, Bombay Blue, Fake Weed, Genie, K2, Yucatan Fire, and Zohai. Spice is a mix of herbs and other lab-made active chemicals that produce mind-altering effects. Synthetic marijuana has an unrealistic rush of activity in the central nervous system, which leads to an increased risk of many cognitive side effects. Spice might also result in diminished cognitive function affecting things like learning, working memory, and problem-solving.
Ketamine is used for anesthesia and pain relief, but people also use it illegally for its hallucinogenic effect. Long-term use of the drug can alter people’s perception of reality, making them feel detached from their bodies. Regular uses can have mood and personality disorders such as bipolar disorder, psychosis, and concentration problems. Interestingly, Ketamine is now being used for depression treatment in some cases.
Long-term effects of hallucinogens like LSD can leave residual psychological and cognitive impact; but, these effects are still poorly understood. Overall, two long-term effects are persistent psychosis and hallucinogen persisting perception disorder (HPPD). Sometimes, both conditions even occur together, alongside substance use disorders and other mental health issues.
Kratom is a tree that has compounds that can have mind-altering effects. It has responses similar to opioids and other stimulants. Some people experience symptoms of psychosis that can become permanent after long-term use. Although rare, some users can become addicted to kratom.
Krokodil is a derivative of desomorphine which comes from codeine. Like other opioids, krokodil, also known as “Russian Magic,” causes analgesic effects that can be highly addictive. Krokodil is often used intravenously, so people struggle with skin ulcerations, infections, and even gangrene.
A lesser-known illegal drug, isotonitazine or “iso,” is still very much a mystery to researchers. It is a synthetic opioid that has effects similar to morphine. However, it’s 500 times more potent than morphine and can cause respiratory depression, low blood pressure, addiction, intoxication, and death.
Another newcomer to the street market, N-Bomb, also known as 21I or Smiles, is a hallucinogenic drug that causes extreme intoxication and death. It’s a sublingual drug that can cause side effects such as tachycardia, seizures, violent behavior, and death.
A drug that seems to come out of a movie, pink, is a popular street drug in China that’s slowly making its way to the US. This designer drug is categorized as a synthetic opioid and can cause death even in small doses. Side effects include numbness, respiratory distress, psychosis, and sedation. It’s available on the streets as a pink-tinged powder or pills.
29. Gray Death
Another designer drug that’s becoming extremely dangerous. Gray death is the combination of heroin, Fentanyl, and pink powder. There’s not much information about this drug, but we know it causes heart failure, respiratory distress, and potentially death. It’s a potent drug that can lead to fatal consequences in minimal doses.
30. Laced Heroin
Then we have China White or Laced Heroin, a designer drug similar to morphine but over 100 times more potent. It includes heroin, cocaine, and Fentanyl. Right now, this drug is mainly found in China, but it’s slowly making its way across the globe. Side effects include impaired function, brain damage, overdose, and death.
Over the Counter Drugs
Most people don’t associate OTC drugs with danger. However, many of these daily substances can lead to addiction. With the new legislation, many now have over-the-counter access to substances like cannabis and hallucinogenic mushrooms, which can have devastating side effects when misused.
People don’t think something as familiar as acetaminophen (Tylenol) can be part of the most dangerous drug’s rank. However, acetaminophen can cause severe liver damage and toxicity. According to the National Institutes for Health, acetaminophen is the leading cause of acute liver failure, with almost 450 deaths attributed to acetaminophen alone.
Although alcohol is a highly accepted drug in society, it carries many dangers, including addiction. Almost 88,000 people die from alcohol-related causes every year. In addition to death, long-time alcohol users can struggle with cancer, liver disease, heart disease, and fetal damage. Not to mention, it also increases the risk of injuries, violence, suicide, and accidents. Alcohol consumption is the third-leading cause of accidental death in the United States.
33. Cough Medicine (DXM)
Cough medicines like NyQuil and Theraflu seem harmless to most people, especially since there are even kid-friendly versions of these drugs. However, cough medicines’ main ingredient is dextromethorphan (DM), leading to intoxication, dissociation, and hallucinations when taken in large doses. When taken in large amounts or combined with other substances, overdose can occur and cause fatal respiratory depression.
Although there are some restrictions to access nicotine, basically anyone over the age of 18 can smoke tobacco. Similar to alcohol, nicotine is accepted by our society. However, over 480,000 deaths are attributed to smoking each year. We all know how it destroys the body’s organs, particularly the lungs and throat. Plus, we know its potential for misuse and abuse. Smoking tobacco is responsible for 90% of all lung cancer deaths.
Funny enough, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are hazardous drugs with quite potential for misuse. Think of ibuprofen, Aspirin, and diclofenac, all common medications that people use to treat pain. However, NSAIDs can also cause stomach bleeding, kidney problems, and when people mix NSAIDs with alcohol, it can lead to toxicity and overdose.
Although rare, long-term use of inhalants can cause delirium and confusion. Not to mention, it’s often the starting point for developing a substance use disorder in the future. Inhalants can cause severe damage to the central nervous system that can lead to many impaired functions of the brain and body. Estimates also say almost 45% of inhalant users develop a personality disorder.
According to various studies, marijuana can fall under multiple categories, including a depressant, a stimulant, and sometimes a hallucinogen. The only category marijuana could never be considered for is opiates. It has mind-altering compounds known as tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which give people the “high” most users report. While rare, marijuana use disorder, chronic users are at risk of developing an addiction. The latest data suggest that at least 30% of marijuana users have some degree of dependence.
Very similar to marijuana, you find hallucinogenic mushrooms, also known as magic shrooms. Magic mushrooms are wild or cultivated mushrooms that contain psilocybin, a naturally-occurring psychoactive and hallucinogenic compound. Hallucinogenic drugs can cause you to see, hear, and feel sensations that seem real but are not. While not addictive, they can lead people to rather dangerous situations.
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Gu, Q., Burt, V., Dillon, C. and Yoon, S., 2012. Trends in Antihypertensive Medication Use and Blood Pressure Control Among United States Adults With Hypertension. Circulation, 126(17), pp.2105-2114.