Is Marijuana Safer than Alcohol?
To say that marijuana has been given a bad rap over the past few decades is an understatement. If you’re like most Americans, you have been led to believe that marijuana is a dangerous and addictive drug that has destroyed the lives of millions of teens and adults. You have been encouraged to believe that marijuana causes lung cancer and is a “gateway” to harder drugs.
They have never tried it (or perhaps only tried it a time or two decades ago) and assume the worst. They have been conditioned to think that marijuana use is bad and that people who use it are dangerous or strange or maybe even dirty. They have visions of people using marijuana and being totally zonked out, unable to maintain a regular conversation.
The truth is that marijuana is widely used in a manner quite similar to alcohol. Adults might consume it before enjoying a dinner party with friends. Friends might have a little before engaging in a spirited game of ultimate frisbee. And spouses – yes, even some couples you know – might imbibe a bit while enjoying a romantic evening together. Concert-‐‑goers have even been known to have a puff or two before or during a show – which more likely than not results in them dancing or otherwise enjoying the music, not lying on the ground like lumps.
Marijuana is Safer for the Consumer
- Many people die from alcohol abuse. Nobody dies from marijuana abuse. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that more than 37,000 annual U.S. deaths, including more than 1,400 in Colorado, are attributed to alcohol use alone (i.e. this figure does not include accidental deaths). On the other hand, the CDC does not even have a category for deaths caused by the use of marijuana.
- People die from alcohol overdoses. There has never been a fatal marijuana overdose. The official publication of the Scientific Research Society, American Scientist, reported that alcohol is one of the most toxic drugs and using just 10 times what one would use to get the desired effect could lead to death. Marijuana is one of – if not the – least toxic drugs, requiring thousands of times the dose one would use to get the desired effect to lead to death. This “thousands of times” is actually theoretical, since there has never been a case of an individual dying from a marijuana overdose. Meanwhile, according to the CDC, hundreds of alcohol overdose deaths occur the United States each year.
- The health-‐‑related costs associated with alcohol use far exceed those for marijuana use. Health-‐‑related costs for alcohol consumers are eight times greater than those for marijuana consumers, according to an assessment recently published in the British Columbia Mental Health and Addictions Journal. More specifically, the annual cost of alcohol consumption is $165 per user, compared to just $20 per user for marijuana. This should not come as a surprise given the vast amount of research that shows alcohol poses far more – and more significant – health problems than marijuana.
- Alcohol use damages the brain. Marijuana use does not. Despite the myths we’ʹve heard throughout our lives about marijuana killing brain cells, it turns out that a growing number of studies seem to indicate that marijuana actually has neuroprotective properties. This means that it works to protect brain cells from harm. For example, one recent study found that teens who used marijuana as well as alcohol suffered significantly less damage to the white matter in their brains. Of course, what is beyond question is that alcohol damages brain cells.
- Alcohol use is linked to cancer. Marijuana use is not. Alcohol use is associated with a wide variety of cancers, including cancers of the esophagus, stomach, colon, lungs, pancreas, liver and prostate. Marijuana use has not been conclusively associated with any form of cancer. In fact, one study recently contradicted the long-‐‑time government claim that marijuana use is associated with head and neck cancers. It found that marijuana use actually reduced the likelihood of head and neck cancers. If you are concerned about marijuana being associated with lung cancer, you may be interested in the results of the largest case-‐‑controlled study ever conducted to investigate the respiratory effects of marijuana smoking and cigarette smoking. Released in 2006, the study, conducted by Dr. Donald Tashkin at the University of California at Los Angeles, found that marijuana smoking was not associated with an increased risk of developing lung cancer. Surprisingly, the researchers found that people who smoked marijuana actually had lower incidences of cancer compared to non-users of the drug.
- Alcohol is more addictive than marijuana. Addiction researchers have consistently reported that marijuana is far less addictive than alcohol based on a number of factors. In particular, alcohol use can result in significant and potentially fatal physical withdrawal, whereas marijuana has not been found to produce any symptoms of physical withdrawal. Those who use alcohol are also much more likely to develop dependence and build tolerance.
- Alcohol use increases the risk of injury to the consumer. Marijuana use does not. Many people who have consumed alcohol or know others who have consumed alcohol would not be surprised to hear that it greatly increases the risk of serious injury. Research published this year in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research found that 36 percent of hospitalized assaults and 21 percent of all injuries are attributable to alcohol use by the injured person. Meanwhile, the American Journal of Emergency Medicine reported that lifetime use of marijuana is rarely associated with emergency room visits. According to the British Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, this is because: “ʺCannabis differs from alcohol … in one major respect. It does not seem to increase risk-‐‑ taking behavior. This means that cannabis rarely contributes to violence either to others or to oneself, whereas alcohol use is a major factor in deliberate self-‐‑harm, domestic accidents and violence.”ʺ Interestingly enough, some research has even shown that marijuana use has been associated with a decreased risk of injury.