Drug harmfulness is the degree to which a psychoactive drug is harmful to a user and is measured in various ways, such as by addictiveness and the potential for physical harm. More harmful drugs are called "hard drugs", and less harmful drugs are called "soft drugs". The term "soft drug" is considered controversial by its critics as it may imply that soft drugs cause no or insignificant harm.
The distinction between soft drugs and hard drugs is important in the drug policy of the Netherlands, where cannabis production, retail and use come under official tolerance, subject to certain conditions. The Dutch Opium Law contains two lists of drugs, List I and List II, that are colloquially considered to be lists of hard and soft drugs, respectively. Other countries typically have more than two categories. For example, the United States has five schedules in the Controlled Substances Act, ranging from one through five. The United Kingdom has three classes in the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971: A, B and C.
According to the legal system of the Netherlands; selected soft drugs are tolerated legally while other hard drugs are illegal. Soft drugs can be tolerated in various ways whether it be total lack of regulation or some regulation, but still legal availability to the public.
A chart showing relative drug harm.
A rational harm assessment of drugs
An analysis of the dangers of drugs