Schedule I lists the substances classified as hard drugs, for example heroin, cocaine, amphetamine, ecstasy and GHB. However, almost no one dies due to XTC.

Why is it classified as a hard drug?

  • 1
    As far as I could track down, it was added in 1988 to the "lijst I" of substances prohibited. This must have been published in some official publication ("staatscourant"), but publication going back that far don't seem to be available online.
    – Sjoerd
    Commented Mar 13, 2018 at 20:54

4 Answers 4


In 2011, the 'expert committee on list systems' came up with a report, 'Drugs in lists' (unfortunately I cannot find the full report). That report was offered to the minister for health and a news item by the government contained the following part on keeping XTC on List I (i.e. classifying it as a hard drug):

"As regards MDMA, better known as XTC, the committee concludes that investigations show that damage to the health of the individual in the long term is less serious than was initially assumed. But the extent of the illegal production and involvement of organised crime leads to damage to society, including damage to the image of the Netherlands abroad. This argues in favour of maintaining MDMA on List I."

Source: government.nl

It specifically names the illegal production causing damage to society and the country's status internationally as an argument for keeping it as a hard drug. I am not a lawyer, but I imagine this gives the police broader power in combating the production and distribution of the drugs.

  • 3
    I upvoted for the quote, but I can't help but sicker at their reasoning since it's mostly circular: it's illegal because it involves organized criminals in its production. With that reasoning the US would have never abandoned their prohibition of alcohol. But it's true from stats that NL is a big producer and exporter of MDMA. They might have also come under pressure from other countries, but they don't openly admit that. Commented Aug 11, 2018 at 14:45
  • @Fizz I think it would be hard to legalise and heavily control only in the Netherlands. Surely, a lot of product from the Netherlands is exported abroad (illegally). That's not the case with alcohol as it's available almost everywhere. Therefore, legalising it (in the Netherlands only) might not solve the organised crime issue (they cannot legalise the export so criminals will still want to produce and smuggle abroad).
    – JJJ
    Commented Aug 11, 2018 at 14:51
  • NL did that with Cannabis... and resulted in a weird form of tourism even though selling to foreigners seems officially forbidden (according to the EU paper). "However in the Netherlands a special policy exists for the sale of cannabis, called the “gedoogbeleid”, under which coffee shops can sell cannabis without being prosecuted. This policy is described in the previously mentioned “Aanwijzing Opiumwet”, which states that the coffee shops needs to adhere to certain strict requirements, also called the AHOJGI criteria [...]" Commented Aug 11, 2018 at 16:03
  • "entry into coffee shops and sales are limited to residents (Ingezetenen) of the Netherlands." And since that EU report, cultivation was also considered for approval: telegraph.co.uk/travel/destinations/europe/netherlands/… Commented Aug 11, 2018 at 16:05
  • 1
    @Fizz might also consider this NYT article, it illustrates the problem of being allowed to sell but not to grow.
    – JJJ
    Commented Aug 11, 2018 at 16:16

I'm using UK data, as it is easier for me to obtain. I'm also assuming that "XTC" is your slang for "ecstacy" or MDMA, a proscribed drug from the amphetamine family.

In the UK in the years 2007-2016 there was an average of 38 deaths per year (see table 6b)in which MDMA/ecstacy was named on the death certificate as a cause of death. There may have been other deaths in which MDMA was taken but was not mentioned on the certificate for other reasons. The Netherlands has a demographically similar population to the UK, so it is reasonable to suppose that the danger from MDMA is similar in the Netherlands. Thus your assertion "Almost nobody dies from XTC" is false.

It is classified as a hard drug due to the potential for harm, as assessed by the Netherlands government, advised by a committee of experts.

Similar classifications exist in other European countries, for example in the UK, MDMA is a category A controlled substance.

  • 2
    Most researchers agree that MDMA (Or XTC as it is usually called in NL) is less harmful as both alcohol and cannabis. I think that answering with "classified as a hard drug due to the potential for harm" is somewhat misinformed (citation needed?), especially given NL's comparatively permissive attitude towards drugs. There has also been a lot of debate in NL about the status of XTC in the last few years.
    – user11249
    Commented Mar 12, 2018 at 13:04
  • 1
    If you have evidence that the NL government is classifying it as a hard drug for reasons other than its potential for harm, please write your own answer.
    – James K
    Commented Mar 12, 2018 at 14:39
  • 4
    The question of whether MDMA should be illegal is not part of the question, that is a matter for debate, and this is not a forum for debate. The comparison with Alcohol or nicotine is similarly not part of the question. I'm not going to include it in my answer. My answer to the question "Why is XTC classified as a hard drug" is above.I'm not going to debate general drug policy here.
    – James K
    Commented Mar 12, 2018 at 18:13
  • 2
    @J.Chang It is clear that you are only interested in answers that reflect back your own opinions.
    – James K
    Commented Mar 13, 2018 at 13:15
  • 1
    Sources showing that this is the reasoning of the Dutch government would be good. As-is, this just seems to be your reasoning for why MDMA is harmful. Your reasoning also seems somewhat incorrect considering that eg Alcohol or Tobacco seem to cause more social and physical harm, as well as a higher dependency; this wouldn't be relevant if your argument actually is that of the Dutch government - because the question is "what is the argument", not "is the argument correct" - but that isn't really shown in this answer either.
    – tim
    Commented Aug 11, 2018 at 13:12

I'd like to offer an alternative reason: The Netherlands signed the UN Convention on Psychotropic Substances, in which the UN committee added MDMA to the Schedule I category.

There are claims that the committee made that decision under pressure from the US, for example in the German Wikipedia: "Die Vereinten Nationen wurden von der Regierung der USA unter Druck gesetzt, die Droge wegen massenhafter Beschlagnahmungen unter Kontrolle zu stellen" ("The United Nations were pressured by the US-government to regulate the drug"), but I couldn't find sources to support them.

National law appears to closely follow that categorization in member states.

  • 2
    Sounds plausible given independent.co.uk/news/world/politics/… but on the other hand theguardian.com/society/2015/mar/03/… Commented Aug 12, 2018 at 12:37
  • 1
    @Fizz Yeah, it's not clear. The Guardian's article deals with US states though. The federal government appears to not be a fan of legalization as well, and from what I read, the DEA (federal) was primarily responsible for tightening the control of MDMA and outlawing the medical use as well (which was loosened in 2001).
    – janh
    Commented Aug 12, 2018 at 14:51

Why it was added I can't say, but why they keep it on that list... the number of incidents at events involving ecstasy might be a reason (ecstacy accounts for nearly half of those), or even overall usage (NL leads EU on that):

The Netherlands has the highest last year prevalence rate of ecstasy of all EU countries.

Although the EU review says that, it only gives some numbers to compare for lifetime prevalence, in which indeed the NL with 8.4% is well above EU average of 2.9%; the paper also gives the last-year prevalence, but only for NL (that was 3.4%). All these [three] figures are for 2015.

Anyway, they also say this about the high occurrence of ecstasy-related incidents at events:

In 2014, the Monitor Drugsincidenten (drug-related emergencies) (MDI) of the Trimbos Institute reported 3797 drugs incidents. In 47% of these cases ecstasy was used, in 19% of the cases cannabis was used and in 11% cocaine-HCL was used. The number of ecstasy related incidents has not increased since 2012, however the severity of ecstasy incidents reported by First Aid Posts at major events continues to increase in 2014.

However, there were few admissions to hospitals for ecstasy (actually psychostimulants in general, they don't break these down beyond that):

The National Medical Registration (LMR) registered almost 2 million admissions in 2012, of which in 538 cases drug abuse and drug addiction was the primary diagnosis. Of these admissions, 14% these were related to cannabis and 16% to cocaine. The National Medical Registration (LMR) registered 2938 cases in which drug abuse and drug addiction the secondary diagnosis, of which 26% was related to cocaine and 25% is related to cannabis. The most common primary diagnoses in these secondary diagnoses were: accidents; intoxication; heart-disease; abuse or dependence on alcohol; diseases of the respiratory tract; abuse or dependence on drugs; psychosis.

The LMR registered few annual admissions to general hospitals with psychostimulants as the diagnosis: 67 in 2012 as primary diagnosis and 196 admissions in 2012 as secondary diagnosis.

My quotes are from "A review and assessment of EU drug policy" (2016).

I looked at a Dutch MDI study, but it doesn't seem to get into details as to what those first-aid incidents involved specifically/typically in terms of health/symptoms. But it does have this combined graph of problems by drug, and this reinforces the impression that the main negative impact of ecstasy on users seem to be of the first-aid-required kind.

enter image description here

The "ziekenhuizen" bars are hospital admissions (primary/secondary reasons, I think); EHBO is first aid. The other bars should be self-evident (police arrests and ambulance need). They later have a breakdown of comorbidities for the ecstacy first-aid incidents. My google translated version of that says that in 45% of cases alcohol was also involved, and that 32% of cases also involved another illegal drug (i.e. a "cocktail"); this comorbidity data is only for 2016, which is probably why the "cocktail" figure is different from the 8-year cumulative data in the graph above.

  • I cannot find the actual MDI data, but the following data is collected (after anonymisation): gender and age distribution for acute drug-related incidents; used substances; combination of drugs and alcohol; degree to which patient is under the influence; the acute health problems. The data is supplied by different health organisations: ambulance and hospital personnel, first aid organisations and medical examiners.
    – JJJ
    Commented Aug 11, 2018 at 14:57
  • The link doesn't say that specifically. I guess (but am not 100% sure) that it works like kind of a sentinel system in which a select number of health professionals provide the data and that small subset of the total incidents gives an indication of the total picture. I think (again it doesn't specify on the page I linked) that those who do report will report any instance in which drugs are involved (obviously something is going on when people go to these health professionals).
    – JJJ
    Commented Aug 11, 2018 at 15:22

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