Sangamon’s Principle

“The simpler the molecule, the better the drug. So the best drug is oxygen. Only two atoms. The second-best, nitrous oxide – a mere three atoms. The third-best, ethanol – nine. Past that, you’re talking lots of atoms.”

- Zodiac by Neal Stephenson

Sangamon’s Principle is named after a character in Neal Stephenson’s second book, Zodiac. In the book, the character is a fan of using nitrous oxide, or laughing gas, as a recreational drug. He claims this is the best recreational drug due to the simplicity of the molecule; the idea is that more complex molecules are more unpredictable (and hence possibly more likely to have a variable effect on different people).

I avoid recreational drugs, but I am a fan of Stephenson’s work and thought this concept was really cool. Someone on Wikipedia apparently agreed with me and had made a list of recreational drugs ordered by the number of molecules, but the Wikipedians deleted it! Such an outrage! So, I’m going to put it here, and I’m going to add a few more things to the list, mostly some prescription “brain medicines.”

# Atoms Drug Formula
1 Xenon Xe
2 Oxygen O2
3 Nitrous oxide N2O
9 Ethanol (alcohol) C2H6O
14 Muscimol (Amanita muscaria) C4H6N2O2
15 Gamma hydroxybutyrate (GHB) C4H8O3
23 Amphetamine C9H13N
24 Caffeine C8H10N4O2
26 Nicotine C10H14N2
29 Methylenedioxymethamphetamine (ecstasy) C11H15NO2
36 Methylphenidate (Ritalin) C12H17N2O4P
36 Psilocybin (mushrooms) C12H17N2O4P
43 Cocaine C17H21NO4
45 Escitalopram (Lexapro) C20H21FN2O
45 Dextromethorphan C18H25NO
49 Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) C20H25N3O
50 Diacetylmorphine (heroin) C21H23NO5
53 Tetrahydrocannabinol (cannabis) C21H30O2
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