Pubdate: Fri, 11 Apr 2014
Source: Sierra Sun (Truckee, CA)
Copyright: 2014 Sierra Sun
Author: Andy Whyman
Note: Incline Village resident Andrew Whyman, MD, is a clinical and 
forensic psychiatrist.


EDITOR'S NOTE: Incline resident Andy Whyman, MD, is a former opinion 
columnist for the Bonanza. Over the next several months, he will 
author columns pertaining to drugs, mental health and substance abuse 
in an effort to raise better awareness. The columns will be featured 
on a periodic basis in both the Bonanza and Sierra Sun.

Some weeks ago I read about the results of an informal survey 
conducted in Colorado before the passage of its new law legalizing marijuana.

In that survey, one-third of respondents believed marijuana is more 
dangerous than alcohol, one-third believed it is as dangerous as 
alcohol, and one-third believed it less dangerous than alcohol.

I decided to conduct an entirely unscientific survey on the same 
issue in Incline Village. The results were the same. So, let's talk 
facts and see where they lead.

First, the pharmacology. Physical addiction is generally measured in 
two ways: One, you need more of the drug to achieve a similar effect, 
and two, stopping the drug leads to a distinct set of withdrawal symptoms.

Using this metric, alcohol is moderately addictive, much like 
tranquilizers such as Valium, or stimulants like methamphetamines. 
Marijuana is low in addictive potential, in the same range as 
caffeine. At the extreme end of alcohol withdrawal, alcohol can cause 
delirium tremens, a psychotic agitated condition, and death. 
Marijuana withdrawal is at worst mild and subtle.

Turning to the literature on the long term health effects of alcohol 
and marijuana, recent research concluded that excessive alcohol 
consumption is responsible for an average of 79,000 premature U.S. 
deaths per year. By contrast, no study has identified a link between 
long-term marijuana use and increased mortality.

Looking at the same issue through the lens of overdose fatalities, 
there are many thousands of overdose deaths from alcohol in the U.S. 
each year. There are no recorded cases of overdose fatalities 
attributed to cannabis.

Internationally, alcohol is responsible for 4 percent of world wide 
deaths, more than AIDS, tuberculosis, or violence. In males aged 
15-59, alcohol is the number one risk factor for death. In the U.S. 
alcohol is the third leading cause of death after tobacco and poor diet.

Looking at injury risk, there were 10,000 drunk driving deaths in 
2010. Drugged driving deaths due to marijuana are few. Indeed, in one 
study cannabis smoking is associated with an increased risk of 
accident comparable to antihistamines and penicillin.

None of the data implies that marijuana makes you a safe driver, and 
there are a few studies suggesting a positive association between 
recent cannabis use and an increased risk of vehicular accident. Said 
risk, however, is not remotely comparable to the risk of consuming 
even small amounts of alcohol.

In comparing the effects of alcohol and cannabis on potentiating 
violent behavior, alcohol, because of its disinhibiting effects, 
fuels aggression. Alcohol contributes to 25-30 percent of violent 
crime. Forty percent of jailed or imprisoned murderers were drinking 
at the time of their crime. Men are eight times more likely to be 
abusive when consuming alcohol. Cannabis, by contrast, is not 
associated with any increase in violent behavior.

What about college life and substance abuse? Alcohol use by college 
students makes even food and beverage executives blush. A Harvard 
study concluded that 80 percent of college students drink alcohol, 
and that a remarkable 44 percent engaged in "binge drinking," defined 
as four drinks for women and five for men in a short time span, 
during the prior two weeks.

The social consequences of this level of alcohol intake are 
staggering. There are an estimated 1,700 alcohol related 
unintentional deaths per year in the college age population, while 
approximately 160,000 students per year are unintentionally injured 
while under the influence of alcohol.

Some 70,000 students are assaulted by students who have been drinking 
and 10,000 students are victims of alcohol-related sexual assault or date rape.

There are no comparable data about marijuana on campus, but virtually 
all credible research indicates that cannabis is not a measurable 
factor associated with violence, aggression, or other delinquent behavior.

In fact, National Commissions in the U.S., Canada and Great Britain 
all found that cannabis is not associated with an increase in "risk 
taking behavior."

So, staring these facts in the face, hands down, no contest. 
Marijuana is far safer than alcohol in all respects. It's safer for 
the individual, it's safer for others, and by extension it's safer for society.

Somewhere, the politicians and the criminal justice system got their 
wires crossed on this issue. The safer substance, cannabis, is 
illegal while the more dangerous one, alcohol is entirely legal.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom