A new study published in Scientific Reports calculates the safety of illicit substances according to risk of death. The findings? Apparently, researchers have been underestimating the dangers of alcohol and overestimating the dangers of marijuana.
Based on the data, marijuana appears to be 114 times less deadly than alcohol, and out of all the drugs surveyed, alcohol ranks as the most deadly, and marijuana turns out to be the least deadly. Following directly after alcohol is heroin, then cocaine. Tobacco is fourth deadliest, revealing a dramatic difference between the danger of substances commonly grouped together.
The findings contribute to growing literature on the benefits and risks of marijuana use, which is often neglected in policy debates. Still, researchers caution that the data is preliminary.
Despite its preliminary status, researchers still argue the results are sufficient enough to orient risk management prioritization to alcohol and tobacco, instead of substances like marijuana.
As the researchers write, “[c]ompared to medicinal products or other consumer products, risk assessment of drugs of abuse has been characterised as deficient, much of this is based on historical attribution and emotive reasoning. The available data are often a matter of educated guesses supplemented by some reasonably reliable survey data from the developed nations.”
The study, using a new methodology called “Margin of Exposure,” confirms previous findings from about 10 years ago, reports the Washington Post. It sheds more light on the contemporary debate of the risks of marijuana usage as medical marijuana programs are spreading across the U.S., and recreational marijuana is slowly edging its way into legality.
State legislatures are facing considerable pressure from medical and recreational marijuana advocates. In New Jersey, advocates for legal marijuana launched a new campaign last week, vowing that they won’t stop until the state legalizes marijuana. Republican Gov. Chris Christie has said publicly that he is prepared to veto any legalization purporting to make marijuana legal, but once 2017 rolls around, Christie will no longer be able to run for governor. (RELATED: It’s Time To Legalize Marijuana In New Jersey, Coalition Says)
Other researchers want to emphasize that although marijuana has health benefits, users shouldn’t be too quick to write off any negative aspects — especially for children. The American Academy of Pediatrics has maintained that just as parents don’t allow their children to drink alcohol, they shouldn’t allow their children to smoke marijuana, since the drug can negatively affect brain development and lung function. There is currently no scientific evidence to support medical marijuana for children, and it can often impair learning and memory formation.
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