Marijuana vs. Alcohol
Safer for the Consumer
Safer for the Community
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. The government has even tried to convince you
that most people who use marijuana are losers who sit around on couches
all day doing nothing.
What we would like to do is wipe the slate clean and start over.
Forget everything you have heard in the past and be open-minded to the
truth about marijuana. We are not here to tell you that it is without
harms or is some kind of miracle drug. We simply hope you will come to
understand that it is far, far less harmful than what your government
has told you.
Part of the problem is that many people are simply unfamiliar with
marijuana. 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
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.
None of this is “bad” or “wrong” or “immoral.” It is simply something
that these responsible adults choose to do. And frequently it is
something they choose to do specifically instead of alcohol. And for
good reason! Alcohol is more toxic, more addictive, more harmful to the
body, more likely to result in injuries, and more likely to lead to
interpersonal violence than marijuana.
Below are just a few facts that highlight the very different impacts
of these two popular substances on those who consume them and on the
broader community. A vast amount of additional information can be found in the book, Marijuana is Safer: So why are we driving people to drink? (Chelsea Green, 2009), which can be purchased on Amazon.com or accessed for free on-line at Scribd.com.
Safer for the Consumer
Many people die from alcohol use. Nobody dies from marijuana use. 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've 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
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: "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." Interestingly enough, some research has even shown that marijuana use has been associated with a decreased risk of injury.
Safer for the Community
Alcohol use contributes to aggressive and violent behavior. Marijuana use does not. Studies have repeatedly shown that alcohol, unlike marijuana, contributes to the likelihood of aggessive and violent behavior. An article published in the Journal of Addictive Behaviors
reported that "alcohol is clearly the drug with the most evidence to
support a direct intoxication-violence relationship," whereas "cannabis
reduces the likelihood of violence during intoxication."
Alcohol use is a major factor in violent crimes. Marijuana use is not. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism estimates that 25-30% of violent crimes in the United States are linked to the use of alcohol. According to a report
from the U.S. Dept. of Justice, that translates to about 5,000,000
alcohol-related violent crimes per year. By contrast, the government
does not even track violent acts specifically related to marijuana use,
as the use of marijuana has not been associated with violence. (Of
course, we should note that marijuana prohibition, by creating a widespread criminal market, is associated with acts of violence.)
Alcohol use contributes to the likelihood of domestic abuse and sexual assault. Marijuana use does not. Alcohol
is a major contributing factor in the prevalence of domestic violence
and sexual assault. This is not to say that alcohol causes these problems; rather, its use makes it more likely that an individual prone to such behavior will act on it. For example, a study
conducted by the Research Institute on Addictions found that among
individuals who were chronic partner abusers, the use of alcohol was
associated with significant increases in the daily likelihood of
male-to-female physical aggression, but the use of marijuana was not.
Specifically, the odds of abuse were eight times higher on days when men
were drinking; the odds of severe abuse were 11 times higher. According
to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN)
website highlights alcohol as the "most commonly used chemical in
crimes of sexual assault" and provides information on an array of other
drugs that have been linked to sexual violence. Given the fact that
marijuana is so accessible and widely used, it is quite telling that the
word "marijuana" does not appear anywhere on the page.