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Study: Alcohol Is “More Than Twice As Harmful As Cannabis” — So Explain Again Why Pot Is Illegal?

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Alcohol consumption causes far greater harms to the individual user and to society than does the use of cannabis, according to a new review published online in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, the journal of the British Association of Psychopharmacology.

Investigators at the Imperial College of London assessed “the relative physical, psychological, and social harms of cannabis and alcohol.” Authors reported that cannabis inhalation, particularly long-term, contributes to some potential adverse health effects, including harms to the lungs, circulatory system, as well as the exacerbation of certain mental health risks. By contrast, authors described alcohol as “ a toxic substance” that is responsible for nearly five percent “of the total global disease burden.”

Researchers determined, “ A direct comparison of alcohol and cannabis showed that alcohol was considered to be more than twice as harmful as cannabis to [individual] users, and five times more harmful as cannabis to others (society). … As there are few areas of harm that each drug can produce where cannabis scores more [dangerous to health] than alcohol, we suggest that even if there were no legal impediment to cannabis use, it would be unlikely to be more harmful than alcohol.”

They concluded, “The findings underline the need for a coherent, evidence-based drugs policy that enables individuals to make informed decisions about the consequences of their drug use.”

The researchers' findings should hardly come as a revelation. Last week, a just-published study that was completely ignored by the mainstream media reported that alcohol consumption increased lung cancer risk by 30 percent.

Surprised? You shouldn't be. After all, a February 2011 World Health Organization report concluded that alcohol consumption causes a staggering four percent of all deaths worldwide, more than AIDS, tuberculosis or violence. A just-published analysis in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine finds that in the United States alone, an estimated 79,000 lives are lost annually due to excessive drinking. The study further estimates that the overall economic cost of excessive drinking by Americans is $223.5 billion annually.

Naturally, any health costs related to cannabis use pale in comparison. A 2009 review published in the British Columbia Mental Health and Addictions Journal estimated that health-related costs per user are eight times higher for drinkers of alcoholic beverages than they are for those who use cannabis, and are more than 40 times higher for tobacco smokers. "In terms of [health-related] costs per user: tobacco-related health costs are over $800 per user, alcohol-related health costs are much lower at $165 per user, and cannabis-related health costs are the lowest at $20 per user," investigators concluded.

In an op/ed I wrote last year entitled "Pot Versus Alcohol: Experts Say Booze Is the Bigger Danger," I cited the findings of numerous independent commissions, all of which pronounced that the risks of marijuana were nominal compared to those associated with booze. You can read these findings here and much of this evidence is discussed in even greater detail in my book, Marijuana Is Safer: So Why Are We Driving People to Drink?

Nevertheless, despite its enormous societal toll, alcohol remains celebrated in this country -- American Craft Beer Week is now endorsed by the U.S. Congress -- while cannabis remains arbitrarily criminalized and demonized. It's a situation illogical enough to drive most anyone to drink.

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