What is More Dangerous, Alcohol or Cannabis Products?

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The simplest line is: People die from alcohol use, but not from cannabis. Business Insider reports, “More than 30,700 Americans died from alcohol-induced causes in 2014. There have been zero documented deaths from marijuana use alone.” If you add alcohol-related accidents or homicides, the number reaches 90,000.       

New research supports these concerns and flatly show that alcohol is more dangerous than cannabis products.

The case against alcohol

Alcohol is the most commonly used inebriant — available, accessible, and addictive. It has been regulated by state and federal law since the lifting of the prohibition era. Except for a few small jurisdictions with restrictions, a few dominated by religious objections, and a few determined by political positions, alcohol is easily and affordably accessed throughout the U.S.

Alcohol is celebrated as part of some cultural rituals, holiday observations, and business events. People drink with others, at meals, and alone. And, too many fall victims to its addiction potential.

Jenn Gumbiner, Ph.D. explained the problem in Psychology Today. As she says, “Prolonged and consistent use of alcohol affects nearly every organ of the body, especially the gastrointestinal tract, cardiovascular system, and central nervous system.” She continues,

  • “Alcohol is a contributing factor in gastritis, ulcers, liver cirrhosis, pancreatitis, hypertension, muscle weakness, and memory impairment.
  • Other symptoms include: Tremor, unsteady gait, insomnia, and erectile dysfunction.
  • In pregnant women, drinking can lead to abortion or fetal alcohol syndrome and birth defects.
  • Drinkers fall more and cause accidents.
  • Alcohol is related to 55% of fatal auto accidents.
  • Half of all murderers and their victims are believed to involve alcohol.
  • Furthermore, alcohol leads to disinhibition of feelings of sadness and aggression which can lead to suicide.”

The nail in the alcohol coffin

Despite anecdotal evidence and accumulating evidence against the immoderate use of alcohol, there has been no study that directly contrasts the alcohol experience with the cannabis experience — until recently.

Scientific Reports covered an exhaustive and complex study that confirmed the risk of alcohol use exceeds that in cannabis use. “Specifically, the results confirm that the risk of cannabis may have been overestimated in the past. At least for the endpoint of mortality, the MOE for THC/cannabis in both individual and population-based assessments would be above safety thresholds (e.g. 100 for data based on animal experiments). In contrast, the risk of alcohol may have been commonly underestimated.” (I have put some word in bold to simplify the conclusion)

The study examined the Margin of Exposure (MOE) of participants to the broad spectrum of drugs and alcohol. The exposure included alcohol, amphetamine, cannabis, heroin, nicotine, methadone, and MDMA. The study confirmed that alcohol presents the highest risk of death to individuals. On the scale of risk, nicotine, cocaine, and heroin rank next. And, you can easily conclude that real and imagined concerns about cannabis are misplaced. Clearly, the political and social energies spent on anti-cannabis pressures would be better directed elsewhere.

Here’s the case that alcohol is more dangerous than cannabis products:

  1. Alcohol kills. The CDC (Centers for Disease Control) recent report says, “Drinking too much can harm your health. Excessive alcohol use led to approximately 88,000 deaths and 2.5 million years of potential life lost (YPLL) each year in the United States from 2006 – 2010, shortening the lives of those who died by an average of 30 years. Further, excessive drinking was responsible for 1 in 10 deaths among working-age adults aged 20-64 years. The economic costs of excessive alcohol consumption in 2010 were estimated at $249 billion, or $2.05 a drink.
  2. Alcohol is toxic. Ten drinks could kill you. But, theoretically, it would take thousands of cannabis doses to kill. But, since no one has died of a cannabis overdose, we don’t know for sure.
  3. Alcohol costs. US News reported, “CDC researchers found that excessive drinking in 2006 cost the country as a whole more than $223 billion. Branching off from that research, the center found that excessive alcohol use cost states about $2.9 billion each on average. State costs ranged from about $420 million in North Dakota to as high as $32 billion in California.”
  4. Alcohol damages. Brain cells suffer from regular alcohol consumption. This is a special concern in studies of adolescents who use cannabis and alcohol. Where cannabis treats brain cells with neuroprotective properties, alcohol counteracts those benefits.
  5. Alcohol causes cancer. Alcohol has been linked to cancer of the colon, esophagus, liver, lungs, pancreas, and prostate, often because it is linked with cigarette smoking. Cannabis has not been linked to cancer. In fact, CBD appears to have anti-tumor properties.
  6. Alcohol addicts. Those who use alcohol are more likely to develop dependence and addiction. Alcohol has addictive properties that show up during withdrawal. While chronic cannabis use has led to Cannabis Use Disorder (CUD), it does not equal the same biochemical dependence and it appears to affect those who are predisposed to dependence.
  7. Alcohol injures. Alcohol increases the risk of serious physical injury because it leads to risk-taking behavior causing falls, traumatic brain injury, vehicle crashes, and more. Statistics on admissions to emergency centers show some third of the assaults and injuries reported were alcohol-related. There are no comparable reports on marijuana injuries.

Alcohol continues to be attached to vehicle accidents and fatalities, to domestic violence, and to suicide. Moderate drinking, for example, one glass of wine a day, may have beneficial effects for the heart, circulation, and mood. But, heavy drinking, binge drinking, and chronic drinking put alcohol users at risk of physical, neurological, and psychological damage.

On the cannabis side of the debate

There really is no debate. Alcohol is more dangerous than cannabis products. But, there are some caveats.

  • Cannabis, like alcohol, can cause problems with memory loss and eye-hand coordination.
  • Despite common behavior, users should not mix alcohol and cannabis.
  • Heavy and chronic cannabis smoking presents some respiratory risk from inhaling combustibles, especially when the user smokes cigarettes as well. The cigarettes’ nicotine is far more dangerous and addictive.
  • Heavy and chronic cannabis use can lead to Cannabis Use Disorder (CUD) which does share some characteristics with addiction.
  • Cannabis has been used to treat all the ailments that tobacco causes.
  • Cannabis is available in so many forms users do not have to opt for the risks involved with smoking.

What is more dangerous, alcohol or cannabis products?

The answer is in the history of use. Alcohol causes problems that have not been linked to cannabis use. The contrast is clear enough for advocates to defend cannabis issues and for politicians and healthcare to reconsider their position on alcohol.