How comparing the two drugs can be dangerous
Marijuana legalization is an age old topic that is often spoken about in political debates, burdens the minds of parents and peaks the curiosity of young adults.
With Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington having legalized recreational use of marijuana, and pro-Mary Jane advocates pushing for more support of marijuana legalization, people may ask how harmful marijuana really is.
In comparison to alcohol, marijuana doesn’t look so bad. However, comparing the drug to alcohol inherently hinders people’s perspective on its harmful effects. It has become a trend to compare the two substances, even though alcohol and marijuana are different drugs with different impacts on users.
A 2015 article from NBC News noted that marijuana is ranked as a Schedule 1 drug, along with heroin and LSD, meaning it is considered to have the highest potential for abuse by users, and to be one of the most dangerous drugs. According to the International Business Times, groups such as the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws and the Coalition to Reschedule Cannabis have filed petitions that ask the Drug Enforcement Administration to place marijuana on a lower schedule. However, both the DEA and the Food and Drug Administration have denied those petitions and kept marijuana at the same ranking.
All things considered, this high ranking of marijuana could be due to a lack of comprehensive data on the drug. Yet the effects of marijuana provide good reason for it to be classified on the same level as other dangerous drugs.
What is know about marijuana thus far is that some studies have associated it with potential changes in the brain, among other things. A 2015 study done by The Lancet Psychiatry, a specialty journal that publishes original research about aspects of psychiatry, stated a person was three times more likely to have a psychotic disorder if they had used cannabis compared to those who had never used the substance. In addition, according to the DEA, another possible risk involves changes in lung function or the possibility of long-term cancer due to chemicals like benzene that are found in marijuana.
PubMed, a search engine that accesses information from the U.S. National Library of Medicine, published a study that showed memory damage up to six weeks after cessation of heavy use of marijuana, which suggests persisting effects from using the drug. The Lancet Psychiatry conducted another study that correlated lower academic achievement with marijuana usage. Their study was based off of 48 other studies that found the same thing. All of these risks, although only possibilities and not guaranteed to happen, should be enough to lead people away from using marijuana. However, many people are ignoring these potential risks.
According to The New York Times, “It’s estimated that almost half of Americans age 18 to 20 have tried marijuana at some point in their lives; more than a third of them have used it in the last year.” Clearly the substance’s use isn’t rare, which means that many young people face these risks.
We are aware of the long-term effects of alcohol, which can include liver failure, permanent damage to the brain, high blood pressure, stroke and heart related diseases, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. It accounts for about 88,000 deaths in the U.S. each year, according to an article written by CNN in January 2014.
Although not nearly as many deaths can be attributed to the use of marijuana, the drug’s long term-effects are just as startling. The American Lung Association released an article in March 2015 that stated marijuana smoke has been shown to contain many of the same toxins as tobacco smoke, and because marijuana smokers tend to inhale more deeply and hold their breath longer than cigarette smokers, it can lead to a greater exposure per breath to tar.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse estimates 9 percent of people who use marijuana will become addicted to it, whereas 1 in 12 adults who use alcohol suffer from alcohol dependence. That is the equivalent of 8.3 percent, but this percentage wasn’t stated explicitly. Saying that 1 in 12 people suffer from alcohol dependence sounds a lot worse than saying 9 percent of people suffer from addiction to marijuana. However, after simple math, estimates of marijuana addiction are actually slightly larger.
Additionally, as stated in an NBC News article written in February 2015, “Since legalization last year in Washington and Colorado, pediatric marijuana-related calls to poison-control centers in those states have doubled.” As more people experiment with marijuana in a setting where it is legal, it appears that more bad reactions have occurred. This suggests maybe we don’t really know all the possible effects of marijuana, which would mean that more caution should be taken with regards to the drug and its legalization.
In a way, the current generation is like the guinea pig of the effects of marijuana. No one knows for sure just how badly the substance can harm people. So perhaps some people’s obsession with legalizing the drug isn’t the worst thing because it would allow for more definitive research on it.
However, legalization brings about many potential risks that don’t seem worth it in the long run. Making comparisons in general only serves to say that one thing is worse than the other; in this case cannabis advocates argue that alcohol is worse than marijuana. But take away the comparison, and marijuana becomes just another dangerous drug that should be restricted.
Devon Bedoya is a freshman journalism major who thinks it’s high time to think about marijuana’s effects. You can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.