Marijuana still safer than alcohol, study says


It’s less harmful than a bottle of vodka, according to a new study. Image: “It was 3 a.m.”/Flickr/CC BY

Voters in Colorado and Washington State decided to make marijuana legal for recreational use in November. That again raises questions about just how safe or dangerous it really is. Is it truly more worrisome for society than alcohol, which has always been legal and regulated for adults, except for a brief period of prohibition?

Marijuana and prohibition

Many commentators, armchair and expert, have drawn parallels between the prohibition of alcohol and the illegal status of marijuana. In the brief time that alcohol was illegal, a dangerous black market rose, controlled by organized criminals, causing countless deaths as a result of its trafficking and enforcement. When prohibition was lifted, those criminals went straight or moved on to other black markets, such as illegal drugs. But the illegal booze market was effectively shut down in one fell-swoop.

Closing the gateway

Some say that marijuana, being the so-called gateway drug, is potentially more harmful to society than alcohol is. However, because many heroin users — perhaps most — tried pot before going on to the hard stuff does not logically conclude that marijuana led to their using hard drugs. The fact is most of them probably used alcohol before heroin as well, since it is legal and more available. Why isn’t it then considered the “gateway drug?”

And what about the multitude of recreational marijuana users who go to work each day, don’t get into legal troubles and don’t move on to harder drugs? The gateway argument simply doesn’t hold water.

Study says pot safer than booze

A new study makes it clear that marijuana is indeed a safer drug than alcohol. The study, conducted by researchers at UC San Diego, will be published in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research next spring. It found that teens who drink regularly show reduced brain tissue, but teen pot smokers do not.

The researchers collected their data from the brain scans of 92 people between the ages of 16 and 20. Half of the teens studied had known histories of alcohol or marijuana use, and continued to use them during the study. The other half of the group were clean of alcohol and drugs, creating a control group.

The participants who had five or more drinks a week showed a reduction in white brain matter in before and after scans. That loss  affects memory, attention span and the ability to make decisions in the long-term. No such white matter depletion was noticed in the subjects who smoked marijuana up to nine times a week, however.

Eliminate black markets

When something people want is made illegal, it creates a black market and only crime and murder can come of that. The so-called war on drugs continues to take the lives of many every year. Much of that loss of life is over the movement of marijuana. Plus our jails are filled with people, innocent except for using or selling marijuana, who are all being kept at the tax payers expense.

It is clear that those who want to smoke pot are going to do so whether it is legal or not. We can get smart as a nation, make pot legal and regulate it across the country, or we can see more people die or rot in jail. The choice is ours.


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