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Study: Alcohol Is “More Than Twice As Harmful As Cannabis” — So Explain To Me Again Why Pot Is Illegal?

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director November 1, 2011

    Alcohol consumption causes far greater harms to the individual user and to society than does the use of cannabis, according to a new review published online in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, the journal of the British Association of Psychopharmacology.

    Investigators at the Imperial College of London assessed “the relative physical, psychological, and social harms of cannabis and alcohol.” Authors reported that cannabis inhalation, particularly long-term, contributes to some potential adverse health effects, including harms to the lungs, circulatory system, as well as the exacerbation of certain mental health risks. By contrast, authors described alcohol as “ a toxic substance” that is responsible for nearly five percent “of the total global disease burden.”

    Researchers determined, “A direct comparison of alcohol and cannabis showed that alcohol was considered to be more than twice as harmful as cannabis to [individual] users, and five times more harmful as cannabis to others (society). … As there are few areas of harm that each drug can produce where cannabis scores more [dangerous to health] than alcohol, we suggest that even if there were no legal impediment to cannabis use, it would be unlikely to be more harmful than alcohol.”

    They concluded, “The findings underline the need for a coherent, evidence-based drugs policy that enables individuals to make informed decisions about the consequences of their drug use.”

    The researchers’ findings should hardly come as a revelation. Last week, a just-published study that was completely ignored by the mainstream media reported that alcohol consumption increased lung cancer risk by 30 percent.

    Surprised? You shouldn’t be. After all, a February 2011 World Health Organization report concluded that alcohol consumption causes a staggering four percent of all deaths worldwide, more than AIDS, tuberculosis or violence. A just-published analysis in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine finds that in the United States alone, an estimated 79,000 lives are lost annually due to excessive drinking. The study further estimates that the overall economic cost of excessive drinking by Americans is $223.5 billion annually.

    Naturally, any health costs related to cannabis use pale in comparison. A 2009 review published in the British Columbia Mental Health and Addictions Journal estimated that health-related costs per user are eight times higher for drinkers of alcoholic beverages than they are for those who use cannabis, and are more than 40 times higher for tobacco smokers. “In terms of [health-related] costs per user: tobacco-related health costs are over $800 per user, alcohol-related health costs are much lower at $165 per user, and cannabis-related health costs are the lowest at $20 per user,” investigators concluded.

    In an op/ed I wrote last year entitled “Pot Versus Alcohol: Experts Say Booze Is the Bigger Danger,” I cited the findings of numerous independent commissions, all of which pronounced that the risks of marijuana were nominal compared to those associated with booze. You can read these findings here and much of this evidence is discussed in even greater detail in my book, Marijuana Is Safer: So Why Are We Driving People to Drink?

    Nevertheless, despite its enormous societal toll, alcohol remains celebrated in this country — American Craft Beer Week is now endorsed by the U.S. Congress — while cannabis remains arbitrarily criminalized and demonized. It’s a situation illogical enough to drive most anyone to drink.

    106 Responses to “Study: Alcohol Is “More Than Twice As Harmful As Cannabis” — So Explain To Me Again Why Pot Is Illegal?”

    1. Jeff says:

      https://wwws.whitehouse.gov/petitions/%21/petition/publicly-request-resignation-gil-kerlikowske/KVxx6PK1

      so like i said ol’ Gil uses 1930 science (Propoganda) to justify current policy..totally unacceptable..I am an american..and i should have liberty like promised in the constitution..but this but-fuck is in the way..fire his dead ass , and hope the next one is better..i myself feel insulted by his respons to the last petition..and so should you..we are not gullible children..we know the science and facts..sign the damn thing !!

    2. Michael says:

      yes! i understand completely. At the age of 22 I got my first and last IWO thanks to booze. I never make bad choices while high. I also have a full time job that I am good at. An alcoholic could not do my job.

    3. Gerry says:

      I’ve known alot of violent drinkers in my day but never a violent pot smoker. I’ve witnessed first hand what smoking can do, I lost my dad and my first husband to cigarette smoking. I have smoked for over 40 years to combat a mental health issue I have with violence. It works for me. Without it I am an explosive person just waiting for a reason to do so. With it I’m pretty easy going and can control my anger for the most part. I have no ill effects from the prolonnged smoking, except for a slight cough but I think alot of us experience that. I know lots of people that use it for different things my daughter in law has MS and it helps her tremendously, she has quit using a cane all together. My nephew uses it for bipolar disorder no pharmacuticle has helped him but mj keeps him a little more under control. My brother in law controls his diabetes with it. Just can’t under stand why there is not more research on this wonder plant.

    4. Andrew says:

      Making the switch from booze and anti-depressants to medical marijuana saved my life after the Iraq war.

    5. Brandon says:

      Finally! Someone talks about stupid alcohol. I’m tired of having to make the choice between going to jail for choosing a safer shbstance, or choosing to follow others and make the mistake to use alcohol. Wtf is wrong with these idiots? Is it that there is so few intelligent people that marijuana is illegal? They say a society is defined by the drugs they use. If that’s true then America is one dumbass country!!!

    6. AARON says:

      I FEEL ITS BECAUSE MONEY GOVERMENT WANTS MONEY ITS HARD FOR THEM TO TAX IT IN SUM STATES U CAN GET A LICENSE TO GROW IT TO SELL IT AND USE IT. BUT THOSE LICENSE COST A FORTUNE AND JUST LIKE EVERYTHING U GOT TO RENEW IT HA MORE MONEY. AND THEN THEY WANNA TAX U FOR BUYIN SELLING IT. BUT I THINK EVENTUALLY WHEN THEY FIND OUT THEY CAN MAKE ALOT OF MONEY ON IT LIKE BEER AND ALCOHOL I GARRENTEE IT WILL BE LEGAL

    7. RJ says:

      u know i think it would be a great idea for the people of this website to make some sort of poster or paper that says something like learn the truth about cannibus use at NORML.COM or something then the people who go to this webssite could print off a whole bunch of coppies and and hand em out or staple em to telephone poles just make more people more aware about this website i didnt even know about it untill a week ago when my dad told me about it the best way to change public opinion is by showing them the facts and the facts are all gathered on this website i think the best thing u can do is advertise this site i know its nonprofit so that might be out of the question for the people who run the website but for people like me or others we could get the truth out there im sure theres a ton of people out there who are reasonable its just they have never herd any other side of the story than the governments before i used pot i was afraid of it too i thought i was some horrible drug that everyone had warned me about but now i can see its reletivly harmless and any dangers that u get from smoking can be removed by cooking it so i still feel better for longer with no chance of lung cancer i love brownies

    8. Bella says:

      ‘Relavation’? Really, now?

    9. This is a very, very conservative estimate. The UK Cannabis Law Reform party, known as CLEAR, calculated a ratio based on mortality, hospital admissions, toxicity and propensity to psychosis, (all sources peer reviewed and verifiable). This showed a ratio of 2953:1.

      So lets knock a zero off and cut it in half. I think it’s common sense that alcohol is at least 100 times more harmful than cannabis.

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