Cannabis vs. Alcohol: A Scientific Comparison

Over the past 20 years, we’ve seen the legalization of medical cannabis across the nation in 23 states. Although legalization has been increasing, cannabis opponents still claim marijuana does more harm than good for public safety. Cannabis remains a controlled substance under the CSA as a Schedule 1 drug, along with more harmful substances such as cocaine and heroin. Alcohol is one of the most widely available mood altering substances, which remains legal and common. It’s effects of brain damage or impairment need more attention of policy makers. Recent reports are showing that cannabis causes less harm than alcohol--though cannabis remains under far more political pressure.

Historically, cannabis has been widely misunderstood on the political level. In 1944, the La Guardia Committee, conducted by the New York Academy of Medicine, published a study on the effects of marijuana. The report was heavily contested by Harry Anslinger, who labelled it unscientific and deemed marijuana use would result in insanity, criminal behavior, addiction and the use of other drugs. As cannabis became more commonplace, we’ve found that such statements are entirely false.

A 2015 study published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information compared the effects of cannabis, alcohol, tobacco and other illicit drugs. The study reviews the mortality risk associated with the substances by comparing the lethal dose of each substance with the typical amount used, this being the margin of exposure. The ratio was used to determine the risk of dying from an overdose of each of the substances. It found that the margin of exposure “point to risk management prioritization towards alcohol and tobacco rather than illicit drugs. The high MOE values of cannabis, which are in a low-risk range, suggest a strict legal regulatory approach rather than the current prohibition approach.” One example that comes to mind is the addiction of alcohol vs. cannabis. It was found that alcohol, when compared to marijuana, was approximately 114 times more deadly. Through the results of this study and others, it shows that policy should be urging federal government to focus on mitigating the harmful effects of tobacco and alcohol than marijuana. Multiple studies from this Hello MD article state that alcohol (even moderate use) can cause more brain damage than cannabis. One of the studies took data from neuroimaging conducted on adults and adolescents, which found that alcohol created brain structure changes, where cannabis did not. Another showed some changes in grey matter in the brain connected to cannabis, associated with consumption by adolescents before adulthood.

The number of DUI arrests made annually are currently at 1.5 million, deaths from driving under the influence is at 10,075. Even with limited information, the number of deaths or reported accidents from cannabis consumption while driving is low. However, anecdotes and reports show that driving under the influence of cannabis can double the risk of an automobile accident vs. driving sober. A study published in the journal PLOS-One, scientists at the University of Lyon looked at data from fatal accidents in France during 2011. They found that “drivers under the influence of alcohol are 17.8 times more likely to be responsible for a fatal accident,” when compared to sober drivers. Drivers under the influence of cannabis, by contrast, are 1.65 times more likely to be responsible for causing a fatal accident.

With all things, use moderation. Make a good example and put your best practices forth when dealing with controlled substances. Having safe access to cannabis is a true privilege in these changing tides. Also, take advantage of safe cannabis delivery from yours truly! Relax, be safe and enjoy your HERB!

Resources courtesy of Hello MD, Leafly and Wikipedia.

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