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A recent study by the CDC has revealed some shocking figures about the dangers of alcohol consumption in America. According to the study, approximately 6 people die every day from alcohol poisoning in the United States; that equates to over 2,220 each year.

These staggering numbers are made even more scary when you consider that these deaths come only as a result of binge drinking to the point of no return. The number of alcohol related deaths is even more staggering; a whopping 88,000 per year. The causes of these deaths range from heart and liver disease to multiple forms of cancer that are developed as a result of prolonged and excessive alcohol use. Even more disconcerting are the more than 30,000 alcohol related traffic fatalities per year.

There is no lack of evidence in the dangers of alcohol consumption and public opinion is certainly reflective of this. According to a 2014 Pew Research study, 69% of Americans believe that alcohol is more dangerous than marijuana. Similarly, when asked if marijuana were made as widely available as alcohol, 63% of respondents said that alcohol is more dangerous for society.

With public opinion stacking up in favor of marijuana being safer than alcohol, why is it that only a slim majority supports marijuana legalization? After all, 23 states have now approved medical marijuana for a wide realm of chronic and debilitating conditions.

Aside from the scare tactics that have dominated the marijuana debate for the last 40-some years, the federal classification of marijuana as a Schedule I substance means that it has absolutely no medicinal value (at least in the eyes of the federal government). Due to this fact, the ability for scientists and universities to study the effects of marijuana have been extremely limited for some time now.

In 2010, the UK’s Independent Scientific Committee on Drugs produced a study that weighed the impact of 20 different types of drugs (alcohol included) on their harm to the user as well as the harm to others. Overall, alcohol ranked highest among all drugs, whereas cannabis ranked eighth. Based on the ranking criteria of specialists in this study, alcohol is indeed far worse than marijuana. However, that is not to say that marijuana doesn’t produce any harmful effects.

Is Marijuana Safer Than Alcohol

Although the harmful effects of alcohol consumption look to be much greater than cannabis use, the propensity for addiction is nearly the same in both substances. Around 9% of regular cannabis users will become addicted. Similarly, about 9% of alcohol consumers will eventually become dependent.

The real difference between the two lies the severity of the effects between the two substances. While it would take between 20,000 and 40,000 marijuana cigarettes to reach a lethal dose of THC, one could reach a lethal dose of alcohol with just one bottle. That being said, there has never been a recorded death from overconsumption of marijuana.

Marijuana use can produce some negative side effects that may make a user temporarily uncomfortable, such as elevated heart rate, anxiety, and decreased cognitive function. Just last year a New York Times reporter went overboard when she thought that her marijuana edibles weren’t working; the results weren’t pretty. While overconsumption of marijuana can lead to a genuinely unpleasant experience, you will not die. With alcohol, there is a serious risk of death when you over-consume.

The longterm effects of abuse of any substance can have dire circumstances, but few are worse than alcohol. Cirrhosis of the liver, epilepsy, alcoholic dementia, heart disease, ulcers, and cancer are among the most destructive health conditions associated with alcoholism. Of course, not everyone who consumes alcohol is an alcoholic. The Mayo Clinic even suggests that 1 drink a day may even produce benefits to health.

Marijuana research is just beginning to trickle in and any evidence on long-term marijuana use remain mostly anecdotal. However, some studies suggest that prolonged marijuana abuse can affect cognitive abilities, cause respiratory problems, and weaken the immune system. For some, marijuana provides much-needed relief from debilitating diseases like cancer, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, and several epileptic conditions. As more research dollars flow in to marijuana research, more conclusive evidence will tell us wether or not marijuana use is harmful with prolonged use.

For now, it’s safe to say that alcohol is far more dangerous than marijuana. Just 10 times a normal portion could be enough to send you to the hospital with alcohol poisoning. Six people die every day in America due to the same set of circumstances. While marijuana may not send you to the hospital, we still can’t say for sure whether long term use is the best thing for our health. For now, he only safe bet is to only use in moderation with either substance or abstain from use completely.

Photo Credit: Veronique Debord

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