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Cannabis and heroin tell a painful story about our broken drugs system

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So often when people think about drugs and those who use them, they conjure up images of “junkies” injecting heroin in the street or young professionals “throwing away” their promising careers because they are “hooked” on cocaine. At the same time, alcohol is seen more as a social lubricant than a substance capable of inflicting significant harm, and tobacco users are not seen in pejorative terms despite the deadly drug they are consuming.

Science is clear, however, that alcohol and tobacco are psychoactive substances with addictive and harmful elements. What separates them in our minds is their legal status, which itself is defined by a flawed assessment process that purports to classify substances according to their potential for harm. In truth this system is broken almost beyond repair.

Take two well-known illegal psychoactive substances – cannabis and heroin.

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There are no known lethal overdoses of cannabis. The risk of dependence on it is also relatively low, with an estimated nine per cent of those who consume it exhibiting problematic use. Heroin, on the other hand, is deadly when consumed in high doses – which can happen quite easily when street heroin of unknown quality is “cut” with powerful synthetic adulterants or fentanyl, and its use leads to dependence for about 23 per cent of those who try it.

So, science shows that cannabis and heroin pose very different levels of risk – yet they........

© Independent