Most of us know the effects that alcohol has on the body. We’ve all witnessed the gradual deterioration of our friend’s behaviour, and our own, on a night out. It starts off smoothly, but then as the drinks flow, so do the emotions. Girls cry and guys fight, and sometimes guys cry and girls fight. You are possessed by an aching for deep fat fried food that you usually wouldn’t think twice about eating if you were sober. And then the following morning there’s the paralysing hangover, the collective piecing together of what happened, and perhaps the odd repatriation. Alcohol is a very predictable drug – to the point where I’m sure some of us could confidently place bets on which friends will do what on a night out.
Marijuana can be just as predictable as alcohol. The initial floaty buzz is followed by the giggles and an increase in sporadic thought processes, and then the munchies hit, where you are again possessed by an aching for deep fat fried food that you usually wouldn’t think twice about eating if you were sober. There is also a level beyond this, where I have witnessed people do nothing but stare at their own feet for hours upon end. It’s quite funny.
What is strange about marijuana and alcohol, is that alcohol arguably causes much more harm than marijuana, yet marijuana carries a somewhat unsubstantiated stigma.
A 1994 paper compared the dangers of popular drugs, and classified them under the categories: dependence; withdrawal; tolerance; reinforcement; and intoxication. Nicotine and alcohol were found to rank on a similar level to heroine and cocaine in most of the categories, whilst marijuana was ranked closest to caffeine.
157 people in the UK died from alcohol poisoning in 2007. This figure has been gradually on the rise and is hundreds of times higher if you account for alcohol-related deaths (an estimated 33,000 per year) where alcohol has caused death in conjunction with other factors. In contrast there has never been a single recorded death attributed to direct marijuana consumption. Some studies have estimated that marijuana-related deaths could equal those of alcohol-related deaths, but they often state that it is the tobacco that is mixed with cannabis in joints, and long-term exposure that are the critical health dangers.
A lethal level of alcohol intoxication is quite easy to achieve (and some regularly try), whilst lethal levels of marijuana intoxication are thousands of times higher than a standard dose, and as such are theoretical due to the difficulty in physically consuming such a quantity. In fact, consuming just 7 times the effective dose of nutmeg can lead to death, and there have been recorded hospitalisations and deaths from people seeking a nutmeg high.
Long term alcohol consumption is the third leading preventable cause of death in the United States. The key word there is preventable. Evidence for harmful long-term effects of marijuana is conflicting, depending on the study, but a comprehensive and heavily controlled 2006 study by the University of California concluded that heavy long-term marijuana smokers showed no increase in cancer rates. I don’t even need to mention any studies that demonstrate the harmful long-term effects of alcohol as we all know the dangers, but liver disease, liver cancer, chronic pancreatitis, and cardiovascular disease are all major killers.
On top of the depressing death figures, alcohol also contributes much more to violence, sexual assault, injury, and aggressive and reckless behaviour than marijuana does, which tends to render the user too relaxed to commit any of the above. Yet prison cells are still occasionally frequented by “non-violent” cannabis users and dealers who occupy cells that would otherwise go to ‘violent’ criminals. Millions of pounds of tax payer’s money are wasted on policing, court costs and prison sentences, when millions of people use cannabis and commit few actions to actually justify these expenses.
Although there needs to be more conclusive evidence on the potential dangers of marijuana consumption, more and more people are calling for a rational approach to drugs classification. Prohibition has been shown not to work. The government should implement a facts-based approach that regulates the supply of cannabis and more importantly, quality controls it. A taxation system on the drug would provide a substantial monetary windfall estimated at £3-4bn (the same amount of money being cut from higher education funding) along with millions in savings from the aforementioned policing and court costs. California has managed these systems without descent into lawless order, so why couldn’t we?
A Department of Health spokesperson said last year in response to a report on the dangers of drugs that “the government is determined to prevent alcohol abuse without disadvantaging those who drink sensibly”.
Why can’t they end the hypocrisy and do the same for responsible marijuana users too?