The most valuable substances on earth tend to be expensive because of their rarity or because of the difficulty in producing them. However, some materials have an inflated value because of the criminal risk involved in buying and selling these items.
Over time, the worth of expensive substances regularly changes as the availability of rare materials increases, or the desire for them decreases. Elements like helium are relatively inexpensive, but as the world's supply eventually dwindles as it's predicted to, this elemental gas may experience a surge in market value.
Currently, the list of the most expensive materials on earth are dominated by rare earth elements such as platinum, precious gems like diamonds, illicit drugs and advanced materials that are dangerous and hard to produce. All of these substances share a common thread of being high in demand and low in supply - except for those outliers which have been declared illegal in most countries on the planet.
15 Gold - $56 per gram
Although the price and value of gold does fluctuate quite significantly according to markets, this element has been prized for thousands of years as a symbol of wealth and prosperity.
In addition to acting as a form of currency, gold is found in a wide variety of jewelry, art and decorations. As an inert heavy metal with excellent conductivity, gold is also used in a wide variety of electronics, even providing a coating for satellites in space. Medical uses include dental implants and wires as well as treating arthritis and even cancer.
14 Rhodium - $58 per gram
Nearly 60% of all rhodium is found in South Africa. A silver-white material that's a member of the platinum group of metals, this element is less dense and more resistant to heat than platinum while featuring excellent durability, hardness and reflectance.
As a result, this element, sometimes referred to as “white gold”, can be found in jewelry, aircraft engines, search lights and processes that manufacture acids and organics. Part of the reason rhodium has a high price is due to interruptions in Russian supplies during the late 90s.
13 Platinum - $60 per gram
Platinum is another attractive silver-white metal that has many uses due to its flexibility. Similar to rhodium and gold, platinum is used in jewelry, engines, chemical reactions, wiring, dentistry and electrodes.
Platinum resists oxidizing in air and doesn't melt in hydrochloric or nitric acid. This element was rediscovered in 1735 after being used as far back as 1200 B.C in Egyptian jewelry.
12 Methamphetamine - $100 per gram
As the illegal substance that helped drive the plot of Breaking Bad, methamphetamines are some of the most addictive substances in the world, resulting in serious health problems for hundreds of thousands of people in North America.
The drug's ability to rapidly release dopamine in the brain causes side effects such as violent behavior, psychosis, paranoia, anxiety, sleep deprivation and intense mood swings. Sadly, extreme addiction can also result in “meth face” and death.
11 Rhino Horn - $110 per gram
A cure to cancer and hangovers are just a couple of the largely unfounded claims of the benefits of this material. It's powdered rhino horn is considered a valuable resource in some countries in Asia.
Traditional Chinese medicine also makes use of the powder, although having an intact rhino horn is considered a great way to display conspicuous wealth, considering the relative cost and scarcity of the product.
10 Heroin - $130 per gram
Currently, almost 80% of all opium that's used in heroin is sourced in Afghanistan. During the 1990s, Latin America was the biggest source of the drug in the United States.
Heroin travels directly to the brain, transforms into morphine and seeks opioid receptors responsible for breathing and other automatic cognitive processes necessary for life. Due to its euphoria-inducing qualities, heroin is one of the most addictive and destructive drugs in the world.
9 Cocaine - $215 per gram
Another incredibly addictive and expensive stimulant is cocaine, which is derived mostly in South America from the coca leaf. Part of the value of pure cocaine is the ability to make incredible amounts of profit by cutting it with cheaper substances or freebasing the raw material, turning it into crack cocaine.
Due to the short length of the effects of cocaine, addicted users often binge in order to avoid experiencing the negative side effects.
8 Lysergic Acid Diethylamide - $3,000 per gram
More commonly known as acid or LSD, lysergic acid diethylamide was discovered by Albert Hoffman in Switzerland in 1938 while attempting to create a substance useful as a psychological remedy.
Instead, counter culture gurus such as Timothy Leary suggested that people try it as a method to expand consciousness, resulting in the drug becoming wildly popular in the 1960s. LSD creates powerful hallucinations and can result in a dangerous trip that results in psychological problems as well as serious physical injuries.
7 Plutonium - $4,000 per gram
Plutonium is derived from uranium that has been used in nuclear reactions. This element rarely comes into existence through natural processes. Nuclear power plants often use the plutonium from uranium reactions to continue the nuclear process, resulting in more than one-third of nuclear fission energy.
6 6 Painite - $9,000 per gram
First discovered in Burma during the 1950s, painite is a rare mineral that features a pinkish, reddish or brown hue. Once known as the rarest mineral in the world, very few specimens of painite exist.
Recent discoveries in the Mogok area of Myanmar, however, promise to result in an eventual reduction in its scarcity.
5 Taaffeite Stone - $20,000 per gram
Taaffeite stone is another incredibly rare gemstone only recently identified by collectors. The attractive colors of this rare material range from red to purple, although there are less than ten red taaffeite stones known to exist.
The amount of taaffeite discovered would fill the volume of approximately half a cup.
4 Tritium - $30,000 per gram
Tritium forms naturally when deuterium or nitrogen atoms are bombarded with cosmic radiation, resulting in a hydrogen nucleus with two additional neutrons.
As a radioactive form of hydrogen, tritium produces a glow that's useful for self-lit exit signs, gun sights and other illuminated products such as watches.
3 Diamond - $55,000 per gram
Long-prized for their beauty and value, diamonds are the most expensive gemstone despite the fact that they're not the rarest on earth. Diamonds form deep under the earth's crust through intense pressure and heat, which transform carbon molecules into the hardest gem on earth. Some diamonds have been dated as far back as 3.2 billion years.
The high value of diamonds is, of course, a contentious issue as the resource has been known to be exploited. The mineral is commonly found in certain war-torn areas of Africa, where 'blood diamonds' can be used as bartering material for illegal weaponry.
2 Californium - $27 million per gram
Discovered in California in 1950, Californium is a rare earth metal that doesn't occur naturally on the planet. Highly radioactive, one microgram of Californium releases up to 170 million neutron particles every minute, making it extremely toxic to most organic life. Uses of this element include detection of gold, platinum and moisture gauges for oil wells.
1 Antimatter - $6.25 trillion per gram
By far the most expensive substance on earth is antimatter, which requires some of the most advanced technology available, such as CERN, in order to create small amounts that are enough for physicists to study. Many people were introduced to the idea of antimatter through science fiction due to its incredibly destructive properties when mixed with regular matter.