I've heard a professor say it was the other way around. Can I believe it?

I've also heard that when asked, DEA didn't deny that ecstasy is safer than alcohol.

NB: I know the question is vague. However, the justification that government use to ban ecstasy is that it's dangerous. And yes it's hard to quantify.

Perhaps a good way to quantify is to use number of life years lost under "typical" usage.

  • I think this will largely depend on metrics and the interpretation.
    – Unreason
    Commented Oct 28, 2011 at 11:50
  • 2
    When was the last time you heard of someone dieing from smoking a single cigarette?
    – Chad
    Commented Oct 28, 2011 at 12:55
  • When was the last time you heard of someone dying from a single dose of (pure, uncut by anything else) ecstasy?
    – mmr
    Commented Oct 28, 2011 at 17:26
  • 2
    @Chad: Try eating the cigarette! :) This question is a Godzilla-vs.-Frankenstein or Shark-vs.-Bear, who is more powerful question, and therefore eligible for closing. It can't be answered. How many ecstasy-pills do you compare to how many cigarettes? Do you compare average user profiles of regular users? Do you count the plain number of people, dying each year? The question is open to debate in too many directions. Commented Oct 28, 2011 at 22:39
  • Flagged as not constructive.
    – bwDraco
    Commented Oct 29, 2011 at 1:09

1 Answer 1


It is very hard to be objective on such claims due to:

  • it is hard to quantify 'danger to health'
  • objectivity of research (or lack of, due to funding that favors certain results by certain groups)

If you examine wikipedia's article on MDMA (ecstasy) you will find this image that comes from The Lancet, a weekly peer-reviewed medical journal:

Physical harm vs Dependence graph

The original paper from which the image is taken is: Development of a rational scale to assess the harm of drugs of potential misuse.

It supports the claim that MDMA is less dangerous (with much lower dependence and slightly lower physical harm).

However, do not generalize, you should examine the test in details, for example:
- does test take into account problems with purity (uncontrolled substances can be mixed with scary things)
- does it measure problems with dosage (very high, difference can be two orders of magnitude, which easily leads to accidental overdose)
- how were long term effects taken into account
- comparability of data quality

Finally, the danger is also subjective, here is a quote

It found that the likelihood of a newspaper reporting a death from paracetamol (unclassified) was one in 250 deaths. For diazepam (Class C), it was one in 50. For amphetamine (Class B), it was one in three.

For ecstasy (Class A), every associated death was reported. And I very rarely read reports in the national press about those deaths from horse-riding accidents.

I recommend reading the whole article.

  • Several of the problems you listed are used by the pro-legalisation lobbies. If legalised, purity, source and dose can be controlled. It would be good to add in some clarity of long term dangers versus short term. Commented Oct 28, 2011 at 14:16
  • Also -- Wikipedia is not a reliable source here. Please use reliable sources.
    – Sklivvz
    Commented Oct 28, 2011 at 14:51
  • @Sklivvz, with all due respect, I would agree with you if I claimed that it is one way or another. I have emphasized that subjectivity plays a role and that presented material is inconclusive and needs further examination. I am pretty new here so pardon me if I am still making false assumptions, but reading meta.skeptics.stackexchange.com/questions/289/… suggest that your rule is overly generalized. Anyway, I named the magazine from which the image came, is that good enough?
    – Unreason
    Commented Oct 28, 2011 at 15:30
  • @Unreason with all due respect -- no it's not enough. I cannot verify that it's true, nor that the data represented it's valid (I can't access the lancet). However, the graph makes a number of surprising statements, like that cannabis and LSD induce dependence or that GHB is less harmful than cannabis, whereas it's well known that cannabis is non-lethal (no LD50) but GHB is (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gamma-Hydroxybutyric_acid)
    – Sklivvz
    Commented Oct 28, 2011 at 16:28
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    @Unreason, I've read the paper and I would take the findings with a lot of salt -- while they say in the discussion "We believe that a system of classification like ours, based on the scoring of harms by experts, on the basis of scientific evidence, has much to commend it.", I do disagree. In fact, they only asked experts their opinion. Not a good way to avoid bias. Furthermore, they include in "harm" things like social harm and how pleasurable the drug is in "dependence". Frankly it's a crap study.
    – Sklivvz
    Commented Oct 28, 2011 at 18:34

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