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.

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

    1. Maxx says:

      I hate drinking. It makes me feel like shit, and I wake up the next day feeling like shit. a hit or two every few days or so is nice. Marijuana is safer!

    2. adam withrow says:

      I certainly hope you guys forwarded this to the White House after that response they gave to the petition. This stuff just shows how flagrantly corrupt this system is. The science shows that marijuana is a threat to oil companies, pharmaceutical companies, tobacco companies and alcohol companies.

      So, taking a science-based stance, the White House has shown that it takes bribes from the highest bidder. Isn’t it a shame that we’re trying to legally change things using civil awareness and education when we could just bribe our way to legalization if we had the money?

    3. Cannabis does not have any reoccurring effects after distinction. Another issue, that should also coinside with the withdrawals from Alcohol. Which, the last time I’ve heard about it, Death was the answer….

    4. loren says:

      this should be sent to the Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette so he can see the proper reports other than spedding the LIES he tells the people of Michigan

    5. TheOracle says:

      To answer the question in the title of the article, pot is illegal because ramping up the enforcement of its prohibition coincided with the Civil Rights Act of 1964 so that pot prohibition laws and their enforcement became the new Jim Crow laws.

      It really is that simple.

      The U.S. needed/needs a continuous source of practically slave labor for its prison sector whilst simultaneously creating the circumstances that give those less affected by the enforcement a distinct advantage over those who are put at a disadvantage.

      It’s how the Ku Klux Klan’s Invisible Empire has the goody two shoes in the country doing its bidding and providing cover for the injustices the system perpetrates against people like me, people of color, whites who are labels as so-called N-Lovers, etc.

    6. Andrew Zebrun III says:

      NEWS FLASH, BOOZE LINKED TO BREAST CANCER!Drinking kills in a lot more ways than we previously knew!

    7. Jamie says:

      I suggest a new “We the People” petition to prohibit alcohol and tobacco citing many of the reasons Gil gave for declining the consideration of regulating marijuana. If enough signatures can be obtained I would be very interested in seeing the response provided by the White House. I can make some assumptions and/or speculation on some likely contradictions but I think this might be an interesting approach.


    8. Zach says:

      Was the data collected on individuals who had smoked cannabis? Or vaporized, eaten, or was it a combination?

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