President Obama recently decided to put in his two cents when it comes to the debate of marijuana legalization. President Obama suggested that the use of cannabis is nothing more than a bad habit, something that is not unlike smoking cigarettes. He also suggested that the substance is no more dangerous than drinking alcohol. However, alcohol is legal for those over the age of 21 while marijuana remains a Schedule 1 substance according to its classification by the Drug Enforcement Agency. This puts it on the same level as XTC, LSD and heroin. While President Obama is certainly allowed to speak his mind and give his view on the matter, there are five reasons why we take exception to the suggestion that the drug is somehow just as safe as alcohol.
Problems with Dependence
There is no denying that we know that alcohol has addictive properties. According to the NIAAA, almost one in every 12 adults (17.6 million Americans) struggles with alcohol dependence or abuse. People who withdraw from drinking can have issues with fever, nausea, insomnia, headaches, depression, anxiety and may even experience seizures.
According to the latest estimates, almost ten percent of all cannabis users are going to develop some sort of dependency on it. This is about half of the number of people who become dependent on cocaine. We have clear scientific evidence that people struggle with withdrawal symptoms if they are heavy cannabis users and try to quit cold turkey. These withdrawal symptoms include nausea, anxiety and insomnia. However, it is certainly not as addictive as some other substances.
Driving Under the Influence
According to statistics from the National Transportation Safety Board, 20 people are injured and one person is killed every hour in an accident that involves a drunk driver. Recent studies have shown that even those drivers that are technically under the limit are far more likely to be responsible for an accident than those drivers that are sober.
Unfortunately, there is no conclusive evidence to suggest how marijuana use and driving are connected. While earlier studies did show that smoking beforehand reduced the psychomotor skills necessary to drive, most people suggested that these studies were rather limited. A recent study review published in the British Medical Journal found that people who use marijuana within three hours of driving are almost twice as likely to be responsible for an accident as those drivers who drive sober. While some may argue that one study review is not enough evidence, it should certainly cause hesitation when we are talking about legalization.
Obesity and Other Health Problems
According to the latest estimates on added medical costs because of obesity-related problems, the number currently stands at $190 billion. If we look at the total U.S. health care costs, that is almost 21 percent. Alcohol can cause weight gain. Beer has about 150 calories, while a shot of liquor has about 100 calories. Because alcohol lowers our inhibitions, most people end up eating greasy food with plenty of calories such as nachos or pizza late at night. If we consider that smoking cannabis can lead to the ‘munchies’ and makes people lethargic, it may mean more unhealthy food options and less exercise. These are not direct killers, but can certainly add up over time.
Long-Term Health Risks
Again, most people understand that consuming alcohol, especially to excess, may lead to an increased risk of certain types of cancer, certain psychiatric issues, neurological problems and liver disease. However, the majority of people who are advocating for legalization suggest that marijuana is some harmless substance that does not have any consequences. The truth is that experts are in agreement that the preferred method of ingesting the drug (smoking) is worse for our body and more dangerous than smoking regular cigarettes. The amount of tar that enters the lungs is also four times as much, which means that for every one joint, users’ lungs feel as though they smoked four cigarettes.
Several studies have shown that high doses of marijuana may lead to temporary psychotic reactions. These include paranoia and hallucinations. Young adults with a family history of schizophrenia are far more likely to develop the disorder themselves if they use marijuana.
The Fatal Consequences
Statistics place the number of deaths due to excessive alcohol use throughout America at about 88,000. About half of those deaths are because of chronic alcohol use (liver failure) while the rest are attributed to acute situations (a drunk driving accident or alcohol poisoning). We know that alcohol can be dangerous but it is still legal.
However, marijuana hinders our motor skills, affects our reflexes and slows down our overall perception. This may lead to marijuana-related car fatalities, which will only rise if the number of people that use the drug legally increases. Another study suggested that the risk of a heart attack after smoking marijuana increased by almost 500 percent. The substance does have a serious effect on the user’s heart rate.
The truth is that an overdose is not likely to happen. In fact, there are no recorded instances available that suggest anyone has ever had a fatal overdose. However, that does not make it safe, especially if we consider how long the effects of the drug will linger in the body.
We are not going suggest that people who advocate for decriminalization/reclassification do not have a point. For example, there is no denying that this drug should not be on the same list as heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamine. The reason that it should not is that the overall risk of addiction and the impact on society is far less with cannabis. However, just because something is ‘less dangerous’ does not necessarily mean it is a good idea to legalize it. It is important to review the information and make appropriate changes.
It seems that just a few decades ago people were demonizing the green plant, suggesting that it could make someone insane. Yet it appears that in the last decade, the discussion has shifted to the other side of the spectrum, with people (including the President) dismissing the harmful effects of the drug. It is important that people look at the facts objectively, something that is not currently being done.