An accurate headline for the widely circulated Feb. 23 Scientific Reports study showing comparative risks of alcohol, tobacco, cannabis and other illicit drugs would read ‘Yes, alcohol really is that dangerous.’ However, the material of the study has instead become cannon fodder for those who wish to see marijuana legalized. Which wasn’t the point of the effort.
The other drugs involved in the study were heroin, cocaine, tobacco, ecstasy and methamphetamine. Only the danger of the substance was used to determine their findings. Researchers did not take any other factors into account. “Much of the harm from drug use is not inherently related to consumption, but is heavily influenced by the environmental conditions of drug use,” the researchers stated in their study.
The narrative of the study aims to give a relative probability of dying from ANY of the drugs. According to the book, Every Silver Lining Has a Cloud, quantitatively, alcohol is the third leading cause of preventable death and illness in the United States, claiming at least 89,000 deaths a year, and by the author’s estimate, the number is significantly underexaggerated. Qualitatively, it causes more than 60 diseases aside from the disease of alcoholism. It creates complications for more than 200 different medical conditions from osteoarthritis to the common cold.
The new study does not reveal new information about how lethal the toxin and known carcinogen, alcohol, can be to otherwise healthy human tissue. Alcohol – and its metabolite, acetaldehyde (30 times more volatile than alcohol) – is the most dangerous drug, illicit or otherwise. The study merely announces the fact that the dangers of alcohol are exponentially higher than the dangers of marijuana, not that marijuana is safe, as pro-cannabis forces would claim.
A rattlesnake’s venom is less toxic than an Inland Taipan’s. So, which would you like to bite you today? It may be a good thing that meth users aren’t as well financed, otherwise we would see a headline from the tweakers that ‘Meth is safer than alcohol’ as a conclusion to the study.
When the dialogue has digressed to the point of comparing one drug’s safety to another, the conversation is akin to choosing on which side of the Titanic to place a deck chair. Where the research falls short of being a true call to expand legalization of marijuana, it should instead serve as a warning that the status-quo of alcohol policy may need to be addressed.
Pro-cannabis and pro-alcohol forces both miss the forest by bumping into trees like this study… yes, another cliche, but sometimes the cliches get it right. When you take the emotion out of the dialogue and stick to evidence-based — not observational — studies, the overwhelming preoponderance of research, including the new study, shows neither drug extends life or improves health.