How scientists rank drugs from most to least dangerous and why the rankings are flawed

As mentioned, alcohol can cause many different negative effects on your body, most notably the liver. Chronic alcohol use can lead to liver diseases such as fatty liver, alcoholic hepatitis, and cirrhosis, gastritis and pancreatitis. Alcohol is highly addictive and some people can have a genetic predisposition to alcoholism. Chronic use of alcohol can cause a physical dependency that will require outside intervention to treat this and help you become sober.

Now while cannabis deaths caused by disease, illness or drug interactions there are some data points regarding accidents, specifically car accidents. Legalization has provided data points about the potential increase in accidents related to cannabis. The researchers looked at brain scans from about 850 substance-using adults ages 18 to 55 and about substance-using 440 teens ages 14 to 19, all of whom reported varying levels of alcohol and cannabis use. When it comes to addiction profiles and risk of death or overdose combined with ties to cancer, car crashes, violence, and obesity, the research suggests that marijuana may be less of a health risk than alcohol.

  1. This may seem like a petty academic squabble, but it’s quite important as researchers and lawmakers try to advance more scientific approaches to drug policy.
  2. There is also a need for more research into the interaction between alcohol and cannabis, Hutchison said, especially because people who use these substances tend to use both.
  3. Drug experts broadly agree that individuals and society would arguably be better off if marijuana became the most accepted recreational intoxicant of choice instead of alcohol.
  4. One study linked the use of potent marijuana to psychotic disorders, but other studies suggest people with psychotic disorders may be predisposed to pot use.

Alcohol is a factor in 40 percent of violent crimes, according to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence. But various studies found marijuana doesn’t make users more aggressive or lead to crime. The drug policy experts I talked to about Nutt’s study generally agreed that his style of analysis and ranking misses some of the nuance behind the harm of certain drugs. The analysis doesn’t fully account for a drug’s legality, accessibility, or how widely a drug is used. If heroin and crack were legal and more accessible, they would very likely rank higher than alcohol.

The immediate effects of weed can vary quite a bit from person to person. For example, one person may have a very low tolerance for weed but be able to tolerate alcohol well. Another person might not have any issues with misusing alcohol but still find it hard to function without weed.

Several studies link alcohol with violence, particularly at home. That has not been found for cannabis.

The US Department of Health lists alcohol as a known human carcinogen. Research highlighted by the National Cancer Institute suggests that the more alcohol you drink — particularly the more you drink regularly — the higher your risk of developing cancer. But cigarette smoking plays a complicated role in studying drinking on prednisone the impact of marijuana smoke, Baler said. Marijuana smokers tend to smoke much less than cigarette smokers, as some may smoke one joint a few times a week. Drinking can lead to alcoholic liver disease, which can progress to fibrosis of the liver, which in turn can potentially lead to liver cancer, Murray said.

Alcohol versus pot

Of those who had tried marijuana at least once, roughly 9% eventually fit a diagnosis of addiction. To put that in perspective, the addiction rate for cocaine was 17%, while heroin was 23% and nicotine was 32%. “Alcohol use is a leading risk factor for global disease burden and causes substantial health loss,” the researchers wrote in their paper, “and the level of consumption that minimizes health loss is zero.” Although for palliative care, he said, “that would be a different realm of medicine,” in which the goal is to drug a person so they do not feel pain. “There are segments of the population that want to bypass the entire process, grabbing this nugget of truth … and claiming smoking marijuana can be good for your health and have medical uses,” Baler said.

When marijuana and alcohol are combined, both substances’ effects are increased, and severe reactions are possible. As a result of the combination, people may take unexpected or unsafe actions. In November 2017, a group of the nation’s top cancer doctors issued a statement asking people to drink less. Moderate alcohol consumption may have cardiovascular benefits but excessive drinking can put you at an increased risk of high blood pressure, cardiomyopathy, and arrhythmias. Again, there isn’t significant data to point to specific deaths caused solely by weed. Again, a cannabis overdose can cause increased nausea and vomiting but is not fatal.

All of this helps prove that marijuana isn’t totally harmless — and some of its risks are likely unknown. There’s also some divergence within the specific categories of harm. But alcohol’s crime risk is due to its tendency to make people more aggressive (and more prone to committing crime), while heroin’s crime risk is based on the massive criminal trafficking network behind it.

Marijuana affects the cardiovascular system, increasing heart rate and blood pressure, but a person can’t fatally overdose on pot like they can with alcohol, Baler said. Sian Ferguson is a freelance health and cannabis writer based in Cape Town, South Africa. She’s passionate about empowering readers to take care of their mental and physical health through science-based, empathetically delivered information. Nutt acknowledges these problems, but argues that his analysis provides value to policymakers. “I believe we have provided the best currently available analysis of an extremely complex multifaceted data set.”

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Weed can also trigger temporary feelings of paranoia and hostility, but it’s not yet clear whether those symptoms are linked with an increased risk of long-term psychosis. Studies have found that these effects can persist for several weeks after stopping marijuana use. There may also be a link between daily weed use and poorer verbal memory in adults who start smoking at a young age.

Marijuana vs. alcohol: Which is worse?

In the short term, THC, one of marijuana’s chemical constituents, can cause changed moods, impaired physical movement, and hallucinations. Even more troubling, marijuana usage has the potential to cause brain damage in the long run. When it comes to addiction profiles, risk of death or overdose, and links to cancer, car crashes, violence, and obesity, the research suggests that marijuana may be less of a health risk than alcohol.

While one person might feel relaxed while drunk, another might feel restless. Heavy drug use is never ideal — and marijuana is no different in this regard. With proper tolerance breaks, you can lower your tolerance of THC and become less reliant on large amounts of cannabis to feel the same way and regulate your cannabis use.

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