10 Least Addictive Drugs List
The least addictive drugs are ones that provide the user with minimal or no pleasure, and have low ratings of psychological and physical dependence. If we wanted to get technical, we could say that something simple like Tylenol is the least addictive drug and list various antibiotics. I’m sure there are plenty of prescription drugs that aren’t addictive at all. However, those aren’t the drugs people want to hear about – people already know they aren’t habit forming.
The drugs that people want to read about are illicit drugs like heroin and controlled substances like benzodiazepines. The ratings of the “least” addictive drugs below do not take into account all drugs, they are simply the least “addictive” based on ratings of 20 illicit drugs. This isn’t to say that these drugs aren’t “addictive,” but they are on the bottom half of the rankings.
10 Least Addictive Drugs (List)
In comparison to the “most addictive drugs” many of these are considered to produce little pleasure for the user as well as significantly less physical and psychological dependence. Keep in mind though that just because a drug is considered “less” addictive” than another, doesn’t mean it’s safe. It should be noted that this list starts with the least addictive drug and escalates to slightly more addictive drugs. The addiction ratings are measured on a scale of 0 to 3 with 3 being the most addictive and 0 being not addictive. As an example, the drug heroin is rated 3 on the scale of 0 to 3 and is considered the single most addictive drug in the world.
1. “Poppers” (Alkyl Nitrates)
Addiction rating: 0.87
- Pleasure: 1.6 – This rating suggests that poppers can be relatively pleasurable compared to other drugs. Hence their reason for being commonly abused for enhancing sexual pleasure.
- Psychological dependence: 0.7 – This suggests a relatively lower potential for psychological dependence, especially when compared to other drugs. Of the 20 drugs studied, this had the lowest psychological dependence rating.
- Physical dependence: 0.3 – Based on physical dependency measures, these drugs aren’t very addictive. Take heroin for example as a comparison. Using the same scale from the study, this is considered only 10% as physically powerful as heroin.
Poppers is essentially a slang name for the drug “alkyl nitrites” which were originally used by medical professionals to treat chest pain as a result of poor blood flow from the heart. These days it is no longer used to treat chest pain and has been replaced with nitroglycerin as a more accepted treatment. Poppers also become used on a recreational basis due to various aphrodisiac effects resulting from inhalation.
Throughout the 1970s, a variety of individuals inhaling “poppers” for a better sexual experience. They became highly popular throughout the 1970s and 1980s on the disco scene, and were widely used throughout the 1990s at clubs and rave events. These are chemical compounds based on the R-ONO molecular structure and are derived from nitrous acid. There are various formats of “poppers” that are sold including: amyl nitrite, cyclohexyl nitrite, and isopropyl nitrite. In rarer circumstances, they may even be manufactured as butyl nitrite.
The effects from “poppers” are typically instant and relatively short-lived, lasting between 2 and 5 minutes. When inhaled, an individual experiences an increase of blood flow in the chest region and throughout the brain. When used for its intended purpose, it can take away chest pain associated with blood vessel blockages.
People generally become lightheaded and giddy, but may also notice heightened senses and feel a “head rush.” In other cases people may notice distortion of time perception, such as the slowing of time. Following the usage of poppers, people typically notice a headache. Due to bans by major manufacturers, the widespread use of poppers has lessened significantly.
In addition to having a relatively low addiction potential, compared to other drugs studied, this was considered among the least harmful. Consistently using this drug has sometimes resulted in causing eye damage (particularly to the retina), headaches, and erectile dysfunction. Using this drug other than via inhalation can result in fatality.
2. Anabolic Steroids
Addiction rating: 0.88
Anabolic steroids (AAS) are drugs that produce similar effects to testosterone in the body. They essentially increase protein within cells and muscles and are often administered via injections, orally, or topically (skin). In regards to “pleasure” derived from taking steroids, they produce very little. They are only slightly more addictive than “poppers” when pleasure, physical dependence, and psychological dependence are taken into account.
The pleasure rating is only 1.1 out of 3 and both the psychological and physical dependence scores are 0.8 – which isn’t very high. The guy taking steroids to beef up at the gym is less likely to become addicted to the drug than someone using solvents, according to the study conducted in 2007 by David Nutt. Sure people can become addicted to the image associated with looking huge and develop problems with their self-image, but anabolic steroids are relatively non-addictive compared to most other drugs.
3. Inhalants (Solvents)
Addiction rating: 1.01
Inhalants in the form of solvents (e.g. sniffing glue) are considered more addictive than anabolic steroids, to somewhat a significant extent. Although the likelihood someone becomes physically dependent on solvents is relatively minimal (0.1), they can result in a moderate degree of pleasure (1.7) and slight degree of psychological dependence (1.2). Solvents produce an effect when a person inhales potent gases or vapors emitting from a particular substance.
Solvents are essentially household and industrial chemicals that are inhaled on a recreational basis as a cheap way to get high. The inhalation process is often referred to as “sniffing,” “huffing” and in some cases, “bagging.” These are most commonly used by teenagers without any guidance who lack another means of getting high. The effects can vary based on the substance that is inhaled and the degree of inhalation.
In many cases they produce an intoxication, dizziness, and elevated mood. In other cases they can lead to hallucinations and significant health problems. Inhalation of solvents can result in death from lack of oxygen and in some cases cardiac arrest. Although inhalants aren’t considered highly addictive, some people turn to them as an extremely cheap way to get high and escape the stressors of life.
Unfortunately this can ultimately kill brain cells and lead to permanent brain and organ damage over the long-term. Psychological dependence and tolerance becomes common with those who use solvents as a drug of choice. While it is a dangerous drug, it is still less addictive than ecstasy and notably, marijuana.
Addiction rating: 1.04
Khat is considered a stimulant that leads an individual to experience excitement, decreased appetite, and improved mood. People typically “chew” khat in social situations and in many countries it is considered mostly a male habit. Its effects are considered comparable to a strong dose of caffeine and individuals have been known to become very talkative.
The pleasure from using this drug is considered significant and using it can create psychological dependence. The risk of physical dependence is very low though. It is considered a drug of abuse by the World Health Organization as a result of mild to moderate dependency ratings. Ironically though, it is significantly less dependent than both nicotine and alcohol.
In various countries outside of the United States, it is considered legal to sell and consume. Its effects occur more quickly than amphetamines (within 15 minutes) and can induce mania. It does tend to increase heart rate and blood pressure. Withdrawing from khat can result in a low-grade depression and irritability. Similar to withdrawing from stimulants, it can take awhile for mood to stabilize after withdrawal.
5. MDMA (Ecstasy / Molly)
Addiction rating: 1.13
MDMA is a drug that is commonly referred to as “Ecstasy” and “Molly.” Usage of this drug tends to increase a person’s ability to experience intimacy and results in significant reductions in anxiety. In addition to diminishing a person’s anxiety, it tends to produce a significant degree of psychological euphoria. It is considered illegal in the United States, but is commonly used in pill form on the rave scene and at concerts.
MDMA functions primarily by flooding the brain with serotonin, and also having a lesser effect on norepinephrine and dopamine. It inhibits monoamine transporters and affects uptake, which increases concentrations of serotonin. The “high” from this drug is a result of the serotonin increase, which tends to result in increased socialization. Blood levels of oxytocin (a bonding hormone) also increase when using this drug.
Serotonin levels in the brain peak 2 to 3 hours after ingestion – followed by a comedown in which a person experiences a serotonin deficiency. The pleasure derived from MDMA is considered moderate (1.5) as is the psychological dependence rating (1.2). The physical dependence isn’t considered significant by comparison (0.7). Some have argued that although it may not be extremely addictive, Ecstasy can cause brain damage as well as hallucinations.
Addiction rating: 1.19
GHB is a substance that can be naturally found in the central nervous system of humans. It is considered a regulated drug and in some forms, it is used to help treat excessive daytime sleepiness and cataplexy. It is also used in some medical scenarios such as for an anesthesia and/or to help with insomnia.
It is considered addictive as a result of creating an imbalance in brain circuitry in the reward center of the brain. It also can influence memory and overall cognitive function – leading people to crave the drug. The drug is multidimensional in that at low doses it produces slight stimulating effects which leads to euphoria, and at high doses it is intoxicating and acts as a depressant on the central nervous system.
GHB tends to depress the central nervous system and its effects can last several hours. Since it increases slow delta brain waves, it is also commonly used as a date rape drug. The potential for addiction with this substance is considered slightly greater than that of MDMA. In terms of danger, high doses can cause unconsciousness and in some cases, death. If combined with another depressant, it can be fatal.
It is relatively pleasurable and can result in equally modest ratings of psychological and physical dependence. Withdrawing from GHB can last up to several weeks and include symptoms such as anxiety, insomnia, and tremors. It is considered “modest” in terms of its addiction potential.
Addiction potential: 1.23
LSD (Lysergic acid diethylamide) is a psychedelic drug that is noted for changing one’s perception, thinking, and producing visuals. It also is said to have an effect on time perception and creating spiritual experiences. It became popularized during the 1960s in which it was used as a psychedelic recreational drug.
Many people believe that LSD is completely void of addictive properties and that it should be considered relatively safe. Although it isn’t as addictive as marijuana, it still is regarded as being more addictive than GHB, producing a significant amount of pleasure. It has an extremely low physical dependence rating, but it is capable of producing a modest level of psychological dependence.
A majority of individuals that use it aren’t likely to become addicted. However, it is possible that LSD becomes a preferred “drug-of-choice” among certain individuals. The drug tends to affect a significant portion of “G” protein receptors such as dopamine receptors. It is considered somewhat of a unique psychedelic because it affects dopamine as an agonist of D2 receptors – which influences the effects of the drug.
It also has an effect on serotonin receptors and is believed to have an impact on the release of glutamate in the cerebral cortex. This drug is not traditionally regarded as being addictive, but like any substance, people can become addicted to the experience that the drug provides.
8. Methylphenidate (Ritalin)
Addiction potential: 1.25
Perhaps you’ve heard of the ADHD drug Ritalin and Concerta. They both consist of the active chemical Methylphenidate, which effectively addresses symptoms. This is a stimulant drug that’s considered less addictive than traditional amphetamines. In addition to treating ADHD, this can be used for narcolepsy and POTS (postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome).
It has been approved for the treatment of ADHD since the mid 1950s and became highly popularized throughout the 1990s. This drug functions primarily by acting as dopamine reuptake inhibitor, with some effect on norepinephrine reuptake inhibition as well. The reuptake inhibition results in increased levels of dopamine and norepinephrine, which results in increased focus, cognition, energy, and stimulation.
This drug is capable of producing modest levels of pleasure as well as psychological dependence. It even can result in a slight degree of physical dependence. Most people aren’t going to become addicted to Ritalin; the addiction potential is significantly lower than other stimulants. It doesn’t produce euphoria like other psychostimulants, therefore people are less likely to become addicted.
Addiction potential: 1.3
4-MTA (4-Methylthioamphetamine) is a designer drug that was created in the 1990s and is classified as a SSRA (selective serotonin releasing agent). It is not considered neurotoxic and users tend to like the drug for its stimulating properties. It tends to result in a lengthened period of stimulation, with less euphoria than amphetamines and even less than Ritalin.
Among all the substances on this list, it is considered the least pleasurable – even lesser than anabolic steroids. Despite the low level of pleasure, it is capable of producing a substantial degree of psychological dependence – which is what contributes to its addiction potential. Taking it can result in a very minor degree of physical dependence as well.
This drug also has effects as an inhibitor of MAO-A, meaning it affects all major neurotransmitters. Since it is an inhibitor of monoamine oxidase, it is regarded as non-safe to use with stimulants. Interestingly enough, this drug isn’t regulated throughout the United States except in the state of Wisconsin in which it is considered a “controlled substance.” Generally this is not a popularly used drug since it isn’t very pleasurable, severe side effects often occur, and is relatively dangerous (can result in death).
10. Cannabis (Marijuana)
Addiction potential: 1.51
Marijuana tends to produce a state of relaxation and elevated mood as a result of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol). It can also increase heart rate and appetite among many individuals. It is also used for various medical conditions such as: nausea, vomiting, chronic pain, neurological problems and anorexia. Many have argued that the drug should be legalized in the United States because it is subjectively regarded as “safer” than other drugs.
The common argument to legalize marijuana is somewhat valid when compared to the more addictive substances of alcohol and nicotine. Despite being regarded as less addictive than a couple legalized substances, it is still a moderately addictive drug. Many people actually prefer it to alcohol as there is no significant hangover associated with cannabis.
Of the individuals that prefer marijuana over alcohol, many have a very difficult time quitting the drug. In many scenarios it can become habit forming as a result of the pleasure and psychological dependence that one experiences. It produces more pleasure than street methadone and benzodiazepines – two drugs considered to have high addiction potential.
The physical dependence is considered modest by the same scale. Of the “least addictive” 10 drugs, it is considered one of the most addictive. Even though it isn’t regarded as being highly addictive, many long-term users of the drug experience difficult marijuana withdrawal symptoms – including potent cravings to resume usage of the drug. Therefore, it should be considered low/moderately addictive depending on the individual.
Addiction potential: 1.54
As a bonus on this list, Ketamine should be included. It is considered slightly more addictive than marijuana. It is considered equally as pleasurable as marijuana and yields the same level of psychological dependence based on the rating scale. It is slightly more addictive in terms of physical dependence rating. Some individuals may find it non-addictive, but the fact is that the potential for addiction with ketamine is considered slightly greater than that of marijuana.
Ketamine is commonly used in medical settings for anesthesia purposes. It can also have analgesic effects and be used to help reduce pain and for other conditions such as complex regional pain syndrome. It has been investigated as an off-label treatment for depression with some degree of success (Read: Ketamine for depression). The drug has an effect primarily by acting as an NMDA receptor antagonist with more subtle effects on opioid receptors (kappa & mu) and neurotransmitters (dopamine, serotonin, norepinephrine).
It is regarded as a dissociative agent and is considered an essential medicine by the World Health Organization. When used recreationally, some people become addicted to the relaxation and trancelike state that they experience. It can produce physical effects as well as prominent psychological changes within 10 minutes of ingestion. The total time of effect for ketamine typically lasts several hours. Users can experience euphoria and/or a significant boost in mood. On a recreational basis, some individuals resort to frequent ketamine use as their drug of choice.
Are these really the least addictive drugs?
Based on an objective study by David Nutt in 2007, these are in fact the least addictive 10 drugs out of the 20 included in the study. However, it is important to keep in mind that not all drugs were included in this study. As was already mentioned, prescription drugs and over-the-counter drugs like Tylenol are less addictive than most substances mentioned here. However, people want to hear about illicit and/or the drugs that are capable of causing addiction.
Keep in mind that it is possible to become addicted to any of the drugs on the list above. Although the ratings would suggest that drugs like “poppers” or anabolic steroids are relatively non-addictive, it doesn’t negate the fact that people still become addicted to these drugs. Therefore, unless approved by a medical professional, none of these drugs can be recommended or endorsed for recreational use.
The purpose for creating this list was to give people an idea of how drugs ranked compared to others in terms of addiction. The measures of addiction are not perfect, but they are still considered relatively accurate. The rankings were developed by experts in addiction, chemistry, pharmacology, forensic science, psychiatry, epidemiology, as well as police services.
Problems with this list…
There are several problems with this list of the “least addictive drugs.” Firstly, it is not as comprehensive as it could be – many drugs simply weren’t taken into account. There are many other classifications of drugs that could have been included for a more complete study.
- Addiction measurement: Some people may disagree on the measurements of “addiction” used in this study. It specifically takes a composite average of: pleasure, psychological dependence, and physical dependence. Someone else may believe that the measurement needs to be more comprehensive and take into account other factors such as bioavailability.
- Not comprehensive: The research isn’t as comprehensive as it could be. It would be nice to gauge the rankings of 50 or 100 drugs instead of just 20.
- Omissions: Not only should more drugs have been included, but there were notable omissions. It would have been nice to see where substances like caffeine ranked as a reference. Additionally more psychedelics could have been included such as Psilocybin, Peyote, DMT, etc.
- Selective: The drugs that were selected to be on this list were based off of a single study in 2007 by David Nutt. The study is the most comprehensive in terms of measuring which drugs are most addictive based on specific, scientific criteria. The problem though is that the study and this list only contain 20 drugs that were selected by the researchers.
Are all the drugs listed above non-addictive?
No. Anyone can become addicted to any drug or any substance for that matter. Perhaps you’ve seen the show “My Strange Addiction” in which people become addicted to drinking gasoline. On an individual basis, any of these drugs can be highly addictive. However, based on the scientific measurements for addiction such as: pleasure, physical dependence, and psychological dependence – these drugs score lower than most.
Also it is important to understand that just because a drug is included in this list does NOT mean that it isn’t dangerous. There are plenty of dangers and long-term side effects associated with using certain drugs on this list. In no way should someone assume that just because a drug isn’t considered addictive that it should be considered safe.