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5 Over-the-Counter Drugs That Can Kill You

Cannabis has never killed anyone—but other commonly used drugs have.

1. Acetaminophen


The Food and Drug Administration has linked at least 980 deaths in 2013 to acetaminophen, a pain-relieving drug found in products like Tylenol. It also causes liver damage. From 2006 to 2013, acetaminophen killed more people than all other over-the-counter (OTC) drugs combined. Further, the FDA reports that acetaminophen-related deaths are rising faster than those for other OTC drugs. Since 2006, those dying accidentally from taking too much acetaminophen surpassed the number of those committing suicide via intentional overdose.

2. Ibuprofen


The fast-acting ibuprofen and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) pose such a risk of heart attack and stroke that even those without coronary issues are at peril. The FDA—which still won’t approve cannabis—had to strengthen its warnings for NSAIDs in July 2015, since even the very short-term use of ibuprofen products like Advil and Motrin can be fatal. By the way, combining ibuprofen and acetaminophen can lead to gastrointestinal bleeding.

3. Lidocaine


Lidocaine, a local numbing agent commonly used for neuropathic pain, can cause irregular heartbeat, difficulty breathing, seizure, coma and (eventually) death. While serious adverse reactions to Lidocaine are relatively rare, systemic exposure and excessive use can mess with the central-nervous and/or cardiovascular systems. Lidocaine is certainly more dangerous than any cannabis-based topical out there.

4. Naproxen


Another NSAID that can cause heart damage, naproxen is found in brands like Aleve. Naproxen works more slowly than ibuprofen but offers longer-term pain relief. But NSAIDs are dangerous for the heart due to the manner in which they interact with platelets (the cells that enable blood clots to prevent bleeding).

5. Salicyclate (Aspirin)


Surprised to see this household “wonder drug” on the list? Don’t be. And if you’ve ever heard the expression “An aspirin a day keeps the heart attack away,” don’t believe it: Take too many and aspirin can put you six feet under. As with acetaminophen, death by aspirin is not pretty: Aspirin poisoning, which is especially dangerous for kids, can lead to seizure or cerebral edema.

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