Posted on: November 21, 2019 at 8:12 pm

Should cannabis be regulated in the same way as alcohol?  A police commissioner in the UK, Arfon Jones, thinks so. According to the former police officer, there is no reason why cannabis should not be sold over-the-counter in licensed shops [1]. With legalization occurring in different parts of the world like Canada, and several US states, it makes sense for everyone to be on the same page.  

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“Alcohol causes a lot more harm than cannabis does and I think the categorization would reflect that” [1]. 

He believes that it would be a better use of resources for the police force to go after organized criminal gangs that traffic harmful drugs [2].

But is it true that recreational cannabis is less harmful to our health than alcohol?  Would it truly be better to legalize the common drug? (To clarify, medicinal cannabis is not what’s being discussed here. Its effects are well documented and continue to be researched). 

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Health Effects of Alcohol

Alcohol consumption, particularly alcohol abuse, has a whole list of very well-documented and thoroughly-studied effects.  These effects go beyond the health of the individual, but can have an impact on their finances, their families, their workplaces and even society as a whole [3].

The trouble with alcohol is that it’s effects are not so straight-forward.  Light to moderate consumption can have positive health implications, but its effects become negative when consumed in large quantities [4].  

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Excessive alcohol consumption is a risk factor in 25 chronic diseases and conditions, and can play a significant role in some cancers, psychiatric conditions, and some cardiovascular and digestive diseases [3].

Alcohol and Violence

Alcohol abuse is also associated with aggression and violence.  This includes personal violence (a.k.a. suicide), interpseronal violence (such as domestic abuse), and group violence (think of a roudy group at a sporting event) [5].

Alcohol has even shown to be associated with violent crime at a much higher level than non-violent crime [6].

The Financial and Societal Strain of Alcohol Abuse

It is estimated that alcohol is involved in approximately 88 000 deaths every year in the United States [3].  The bulk of these deaths are not individuals with alcohol addiction, but rather due to binge-drinkers who are not classified as alcohol-dependant [3].

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that the U.S. spends more than $200 billion every year on excessive alcohol use [7].  This number, of course, does not include the cost of sick days, injuries, and death, nor does it account for the cost of medical and mental health conditions brought on by excessive alcohol consumption.

The Health Effects of Cannabis

There is much less known about both the short and long-term health effects of cannabis.  For this reason, it’s safety and regulation is a much more hotly-debated topic.

Short-Term Effects

Not shockingly, the most well-known and accepted short-term effect of marijuana use is intoxication.  This is usually categorized by disruptions in cognition, perception, consciousness, and other psychological functions [8]. 

Not every user experiences the same effects, and the research suggests that some users will experience a much more negative response to the drug than others [9].  These individuals may have panic attacks, hallucinations, anxiety, and vomiting [8].

It is also generally agreed upon that the acute use of cannabis impairs driving and increases the risk of car crashes [8]. 

There is some evidence to suggest that can trigger a coronary event, more research needs to be done in this area [8].

Long-Term Effects

Researchers know that long-term users can develop a dependency on the drug, and withdrawal syndrome is fairly well-documented [8].  There is also research to show that heavy cannabis use can result in psychotic disorders, such as schizophrenia, however, it this may only be in people who are susceptible to developing these disorders in the first place [8].  It is important to note that many of these outcomes are associated with adolescent use [8]. 

Adolescent use of marijuana has been linked to a number of negative outcomes, including early school-leaving, cognitive impairment, increased risk of using other illicit drugs, increased risk of depressive symptoms, increased risk of suicidal ideation and behavior [8].

Has Anyone Ever Died from using Marijuana?

Unlike alcohol, most experts agree you cannot die from cannabis alone [10].  Dr. Edward J Newton from the University of Southern California explains that cannabis has a good safety record in terms of overdosing, but impairment can put them at risk for trauma caused by impaired judgment [10].

Conversely, about 6 people die every day in the United States because of alcohol poisoning [11].

So Should it be Legal?

While there is still much to be learned about the health, financial, and societal effects of marijuana usage, there is a strong case for legalizing the drug, at least Arfon Jones thinks so:

“I want to see drugs controlled and sold by responsible retailers similar to off-licenses that sell alcohol.” [1]

He argues that the war on drugs has been unsuccessful and that regulating cannabis allows users to know the strength of what they’re taking.  It also makes it easier to prevent adolescents from getting their hands on the drug, who appear to be at a much greater risk for adverse effects than the rest of the population.

More and more authority figures are speaking out against the criminalization and prohibition of marijuana, and as time goes on we may see more and more countries legalizing and regulating the drug. There are still many hurdles to face, but it seems that nations like the UK and US are taking a serious look at legalizing it down the road. 

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Brittany Hambleton
Team Writer
Brittany is a freelance writer and editor with a Bachelor of Science in Foods and Nutrition and a writer’s certificate from the University of Western Ontario. She enjoyed a stint as a personal trainer and is an avid runner. Brittany loves to combine running and traveling, and has run numerous races across North America and Europe. She also loves chocolate more than anything else… the darker, the better!

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