When Colorado voted to legalize recreational marijuana, the campaigners explicitly invited a comparison of the safety of marijuana and alcohol. They called their referendum the Regulate Marijuana like Alcohol Act of 2012. They made the argument that if the state could successfully regulate alcohol, then it could also regulate marijuana, which, campaigners said, was safer than alcohol.
This position has even been endorsed by no less than President Barack Obama, who admitted to smoking marijuana regularly in his youth. (Long gone are the days of “I didn’t inhale”—quite the change in just 20 years. It makes us excited to think what the next 20 years will bring for the marijuana industry.)
But which one is really safer?
This is an area where we have pretty good answers. Alcohol is clearly more addictive than marijuana. Even though 22% of women and 11% of men are complete abstainers from alcohol, one in 12 Americans is addicted to alcohol. That means that alcohol’s addictiveness is at least 10% of the population that tries it, compared to estimates that marijuana has an addictiveness of only 9%. But it’s hard to say whether that comparison will hold up once more of the population is exposed to marijuana as a legal substance.
The characteristics of addiction differ greatly between the two groups as well. People who are addicted to alcohol tend to consume a lot more alcohol, which seems to lead to more negative health outcomes for the user.
Alcohol seems to be harder on the body than marijuana. Alcohol damages the brain and the liver. It has been linked to cancer.
Marijuana on the other hand hasn’t been linked to any serious long-term health consequences. It has been exonerated from brain damage—though it still isn’t recommended from growing teens—and lung cancer. Although marijuana is smoked, carrying the potential for lung damage, because it tends to be smoked less often than cigarettes it doesn’t seem to cause as much harm.
Loss of Motor and Self Control
Both alcohol and marijuana can lead to a loss of motor control and a reduction of personal inhibitions. Loss of motor control can lead to an increased risk of accidents, while loss of inhibitions can lead to an increase in risky behaviors.
In terms of motor control, it seems that marijuana likely has a much lower impact on a person’s ability to drive. With alcohol, it only takes 0.01% blood alcohol (1/8 the legal limit in most states) to lead to a significantly increased risk of car accidents. With marijuana, it seems marijuana’s impact on driving may be minor. One recent Norwegian study showed that there was no association between blood THC levels and a clinical test of impairment.
Only Time Will Tell
Of course, a lot of questions about the safety of these two substances comes down to a devil you know vs. devil you don’t comparison. There’s a lot we don’t know about marijuana use, especially marijuana use in a daily use setting.
But, safer or not, it seems clear that Americans are coming to believe that marijuana use is something most Americans should be allowed to decide for themselves, which will lead to an opening and expansion of the marijuana market.
If you would like to learn about job opportunities in the cannabis industry, please contact Ms. Mary Staffing.