Comparing the safety of alcohol and cannabis
Alcohol and cannabis are two of the worlds most widely used drugs. Alcohol is legal almost everywhere in the western world, and cannabis is transitioning slowly through the end of its own period of prohibition.
Prohibition has been used by politicians to deter and prevent the social use of mind-altering substances deemed (often by a self righteous minority) to be unsuitable for wider public use. The greatest experiment with prohibition was with alcohol in the 1920’s and 1930’s. Prohibition was deeply unpopular with the public opinion of free-choice, and it gifted control of alcohol supply and all ensuing untaxed revenues to criminal gangs. This money was then used to amplify and fund criminal activities in other areas of society. Despite these findings, most countries have persisted with prohibition as the preferred system for cannabis even though the only beneficiaries are criminal gangs.
Alcohol contains just one psychoactive ingredient called ethanol which is known to be highly dangerous and addictive. Alcohol causes serious physical and mental health problems to millions of people and is directly responsible for 2.5 million annual deaths worldwide. Alcohol abuse also causes impaired health in hundreds of millions, is frequently connected with violent behaviour , and widespread social disorder.
The World Heath Organisation estimate that there are about 200 million alcoholics worldwide, about 4% of the earths adult population.
Despite that, alcohol remains the most widely used drug in most societies, and is often the only ‘legal’ government approved mind altering substance which can be bought, sold and taxed. Currently there are no major illnesses where alcohol is prescribed medicinally but there is growing evidence to link alcohol misuse to depression. Alcohol is the drug of choice, used publicly by national leaders to toast and celebrate at important occasions. This has normalised the public consumption of alcohol, the former Prime Minister of Australia (Bob Hawke) increased his popular status when he set a world record for drinking 2.5 pints of beer in 11 seconds. However, whenever a politician admits to cannabis use the media often scandalises the story and uses it as a reason to question their judgement and suitability for public office.
Cannabis contains numerous cannabis related chemicals called cannabinoids. There are around (depending on the classification used) 60-100 cannabinoids, many of there act in conjunction with each other in a way that can amplify the medical effects, a process known as the entourage effect. There has never been a death caused from a cannabis overdose, the lethal dose of cannabis would require a person to smoke the equivalent of several hundred kilograms within 15 minutes. Cannabis extracts have been show to be effective in shrinking tumours in animals, will medical science eventually prove that cannabis can be helpful for humans too?
Cannabidiol (CBD) is one of the many poorly understood and under-researched cannabinoid chemicals found in cannabis, there is now growing evidence that it is a major help in suppressing epileptic fits in people for whom traditional pharmaceuticals simply do not work. Specialist varieties of cannabis are now being bred which are highly effective in treating chronic epileptic conditions such as Dravets syndrome. Those pharmaceutical companies that have been given government licenses to manufacture cannabis extracts are in no doubt at all, cannabis is a safe and effective medicine for Multiple Sclerosis and treating cancer pain. Cannabis is also useful to increase appetite, assist improved sleep and reduce nausea in chemotherapy patients. Other people find cannabis helpful for Crohns disease and arthritic pain.
Many dismiss the concept of medicinal cannabis because smoking is such an unhealthy process. Yet there are numerous ways to use cannabis which do not involve smoking.
Today Cannabis is slowly getting credit for its medical value, and this is putting pressure on politicians to change decades of prejudice and bias against cannabis use. The progress has been painfully slow for cannabis campaign groups, but progress is being made. The USA was the driving force behind the prohibition of cannabis, but today around half the states in USA have legal recreational or medical cannabis. That number grows steadily year by year, and many feel that the USA is the most important and influential reformer of cannabis laws.
In the coming decade cannabis will see a continued transition from prohibition to mainstream medicine. History will judge the substandard politicians of todays (and yesterdays) era for the illogical and punitive way they have criminalised those that enjoyed it for recreational use, and those that had to use it through medical necessity.