The repeal of Prohibition in the US was accomplished with the passage of the 21st Amendment to the Constitution in 1933. Currently, only 18 US states and DC have enacted laws to legalize medical marijuana. Though our government fights a war on drugs, many studies show that alcohol is in fact more harmful than marijuana in more ways than one.
The findings seem to confirm a study published last month in The Journal of School Health, which fleshed out several misconceptions about the so-called “gateway drug” theory and pinpointed alcohol, instead of marijuana, as the most commonly abused substance for first-time drug users.
A Yale study published Tuesday in the Journal of Adolescent Health found that people who used alcohol or tobacco in their youth are almost twice as likely to abuse prescription opiate drugs than those who only used marijuana.
A 2006 study conducted with over 2000 participants by UCLA into the effects on cannabis smoking in the long term have resulted in surprising findings - that marijuana smoking alone does not increase the risk of developing lung cancer. This finding surprised even the researchers, who found that marijuana smoke did contain known carcinogens.
One hypothesis for this result is that THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) has anti-tumor properties and promotes the destruction of cancer-causing cells prematurely so they cannot produce cancer.
Many anti-marijuana advocates say that marijuana causes lung cancer and this is one main scare tactic to prevent its use. With a major university backed study pointing the facts in the opposite direction, many feel that opinions on marijuana usage are changing.
By contrast, the active compounds in marijuana, known as cannabinoids, are relatively nontoxic to humans. Unlike alcohol, marijuana is incapable of causing a fatal overdose, and its use is inversely associated with aggression and injury. According to a just-published review in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, “A direct comparison of alcohol and cannabis showed that alcohol was considered to be more than twice as harmful as cannabis to users, and five times more harmful as cannabis to others (society).
Alcohol is toxic to healthy cells and organs, a side effect that results directly in about 35,000 deaths in the United States annually from illnesses such as cirrhosis of the liver, ulcers, cancer and heart disease. Heavy alcohol consumption can depress the central nervous system — inducing unconsciousness, coma and death — and is strongly associated with increased risks of injury. According to US Centers for Disease Control, alcohol plays a role in about 41,000 fatal accidents a year and in the commission of about 1 million violent crimes annually. Worldwide, the statistics are even grimmer. Stated a February 2011 World Health Organization report, alcohol consumption causes a staggering 4 percent of all deaths worldwide, more than AIDS, tuberculosis or violence.
Many studies on the long term effects of alcohol which show health benefits refer to moderate usage of alcohol as the key to obtaining positive results. However, studies show that even moderate alcohol drinking is associated in the long term with liver cancer, liver disease, and hypertension.
While studies showing the deleterious effect of alcohol on adolescents and adults have been more consistent, studies of the effect of marijuana have not, Tapert said. "One reason is that marijuana can really vary. Different strains contain different levels of THC and other marijuana components. For example, some studies have suggested one component, cannabidiol, may actually have neuroprotective effects," she said.
Researchers scanned the brains of 92 adolescents, ages 16 to 20, before and after an 18-month period. During that year and a half, half of the teens -- who already had extensive alcohol and marijuana-use histories -- continued to use marijuana and alcohol in varying amounts. The other half abstained or kept consumption minimal, as they had throughout adolescence.
The before-and-after brain scans of the teens consuming typically five or more drinks at least twice a week showed reduced white matter brain tissue health, study co-author Susan Tapert, neuroscientist at University of California, San Diego, told HuffPost. This may mean declines in memory, attention, and decision-making into later adolescence and adulthood, she said.
However, the level of marijuana use -- up to nine times a week during the 18 months -- was not linked to a change in brain tissue health. The researchers did not test performance; they only looked at brain scans.
The study was conducted by researchers at UC San Diego and is scheduled to be published in the April issue of the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.
Alcohol contributes to acts of violence; marijuana reduces aggression. In approximately three million cases of reported violent crimes last year, the offender had been drinking. This is particularly true in cases of domestic violence, sexual assault, and date rape. Marijuana use, in and of itself, is absent from both crime reports and the scientific literature. There is simply no link to be made.
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: "Cannabis 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."
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.
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.
Despite pot's popularity, surveys indicate that many people - nonusers in particular - tend to overestimate the drug's actual harms. Not necessarily to the same degree as the federal government, mind you, but nonetheless much of the public still holds many misconceptions about the plant and its effects. In fact, some one-fifth to one-third of Americans assume that pot is more harmful than booze. Another one-third of Americans consider marijuana to be equally as harmful as alcohol.
Many people who are against the use of marijuana are simply misinformed because they are not familiar with the substance. And, because it is considered a "drug," our federal government seems to overlook the facts and treats it no different than other much more harmful substances in their war on drugs.
Marijuana has become even more popular since the 1960s, and some of the people who first smoked it as teenagers are still using it as they near retirement. Most people still consider it to be safer than other illegal drugs ( and in some people's view, safer than alcohol). Another reason for its popularity is that, unlike ecstasy or cocaine, marijuana is seen as natural - it is not produced in a laboratory.