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7 dangerous drugs less restricted than cannabis.

Reform advocates have strongly objected to the continued inclusion of cannabis in the prohibitive Schedule I of the federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA), and the stark disparity between the drug's pharmacological reality and its federal legal status has provoked a sharp debate. But far less known is the fact that many drugs commonly considered much more dangerous than pot are actually easier to get under federal law than the relatively benign herb. Here's a list of seven drugs, all of which are subject to fewer restrictions under US law than marijuana:

Cocaine. The famous white powdery extract of the coca bush (Schedule II) may be legally prescribed by a doctor in the United States, and in fact is commonly used as a local anesthetic for eye surgery. According to the Wall Street Journal, the Stepan Company of Maywood, New Jersey, legally imports 175,000 kilograms of coca leaf per year, extracting pure cocaine for legal sale to hospitals and ophthalmologists across America before selling the leftover 'decocainized' leaves to the Coca-Cola company for use in their signature soft drink, which still includes the two primary flavor ingredients which provide its name: coca leaves and kola nuts from east Africa.

Warning: May be habit forming.

Barbiturates. This class of drugs, containing specific chemicals variously scattered across Schedules II, III and IV, may be legally prescribed by US doctors for the purpose of calming anxiety and as a general anesthetic. The potential for abuse is high, however, and barbiturate overdose has claimed the lives of Marilyn Monroe, Judy Garland and Jimi Hendrix, among other celebrities. In fact, some barbiturates are so efficient at killing their users that they have been employed in physician-assisted suicide.

Desoxyn (TM), also known as 'methamphetamine.'

Methamphetamine. One of the US's fastest-growing drugs of abuse, known on the street as “crystal meth,” is known in the pharmacy as Desoxyn(TM). This is because methamphetamine, classified by the CSA as Schedule II, may be legally prescribed in the US for the treatment of ADHD and certain kinds of obesity. Doctors are even free to prescribe Desoxyn for off-label purposes, such as the treatment of narcolepsy. Not surprisingly, bottles of Desoxyn come with strong written warnings about the drug's abuse potential; the only surprising thing is that the same doctors who legally prescribe methamphetamine to children are not allowed to recommend cannabis to adults.

Keep out of the reach of children.

Heroin. Because the infamous morphine derivative sits beside cannabis in Schedule I, many may find it surprising that it is actually easier to get legal heroin in the US than it is to obtain legal cannabis. In fact, the CSA does allow the distribution of Schedule I substances for very limited purposes, including to administer to human subjects as part of a clinical trial. While such research is relatively rare, some scientists – notably, Dr. Carl Hart of Columbia University – have obtained permission from the US Drug Enforcement Agency to administer Schedule I substances to clinical subjects for the purpose of studying their effects.

Cannabis, too, may be distributed in a clinic for scientific purposes, but any researcher proposing to study marijuana in such a way must jump through an extra and daunting hoop not required of any other drug. This is because of all the approximately 150 substances listed in Schedule I, cannabis is the only drug subject to an additional review by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) before it may be legally studied in the laboratory. So while a researcher who obtains permission from the FDA and DEA may legally distribute heroin to human test subjects, the same researcher will be out of luck on cannabis unless she also receives permission from NIDA – which, incidentally, only approves marijuana research designed to show the plant's supposed harms and never its benefits.

A survey by the Lancet found alcohol to be the most harmful of 20 popular street drugs. Alcohol. Reform advocates involved with marijuana legalization campaigns have done a good job of explaining the many reasons why herbal cannabis is far safer than its more popular alternative, alcohol – a job made much easier by the mountain of evidence proving that alcoholic beverages contain probably the most harmful recreational drug in wide use. Ending the legal double standard between booze and bud, however, has proven far more difficult. Despite insightful commentary from respected researchers like Robin Room, who recently opined that curious teenagers should be encouraged to try cannabis instead of the far more harmful drug alcohol, the legal status of ethanol alcohol remains enshrined in the 21st amendment to the US constitution, and only another constitutional amendment can re-criminalize the popular drug, despite its many documented harms. Given how miserably alcohol prohibition failed in the US, it is highly unlikely that such an amendment will ever pass again – begging the question why federal marijuana prohibition has endured for over 75 years.

Blow some my way.

Tobacco. From lung cancer to emphysema to crippling addiction, the myriad harms of tobacco use have been documented – pardon the pun – to death. But despite a sustained program of public education of the horrors of tobacco addiction, the only significant restrictions passed in the US amount to public smoking bans in some of the country's more progressive cities. In every other regard, purveyors of the killer tobacco are free to sell to anyone 18 or over, while retail shops offering an herbal substitute which carries none of the pulmonary risks of tobacco face a constant risk of a federal raid. Perhaps it's time to ask the feds to butt out.

Pure, white and deadly.

Sugar. While federal law classifies fructose and glucose as foods, the long-term health effects of sugar abuse compares unfavorably with many substances thought of as dangerous drugs. Those who binge on sugar risk an elevated chance of developing obesity, diabetes and cancer; children who binge on the substance have been found to be more likely to turn to delinquency as adolescents. Users of sugar quickly develop a tolerance to its stimulant effects, and experiments with mice have suggested that sugar tolerance can lead to increased tolerance to other addictive drugs like alcohol and cocaine. Dr. Robert Lustig of UCSF Medical Center has gone so far as to characterize sugar as a poison, calling its pharmacological effects “alcohol without the buzz.” Despite all of these documented dangers, sugar remains classified by federal law as GRAS – Generally Recognized As Safe. Food producers are free to market sugary products to kids all they want, subject only to the restriction that their labels disclose the amount of sugar contained therein.