Putting aside the matter of alcohol’s legality and marijuana’s illegality, there are some fundamental differences between these 2 substances. There is an extensive body of medical research which demonstrates that very moderate use of alcohol by adults who are able to drink (no history of alcoholism, non-pregnant women, and no other medical conditions which preclude drinking) is actually good for their health. Men who drink 3-6 standard drinks (12 oz. beer or 5 oz. wine or 1.5 oz. whiskey) per week (in 2 or more sittings) and women who drink 2-4 standard drinks per week (in 2 or more sittings) simply suffer from less heart disease than people who do not drink at all. Although medical use of marijuana may help certain individuals with either glaucoma or with nausea due to chemotherapy, there are no credible studies which demonstrate that cannabis has general positive health effects for moderate pot smokers.
A second fundamental difference is in the route of administration. Although, marijuana is occasionally ingested, it is mostly smoked. Our respiratory systems were simply not built to handle smoke. Like cigarette smoke, marijuana smoke contains carbon monoxide, carcinogens, tars and other toxins. Some research even indicates that marijuana smokers who hold the smoke in their lungs for a long time before exhaling (as many do) are particularly likely to suffer lung damage. On the other hand, moderate use of alcohol by people who are able to drink is not intrinsically damaging to the digestive system.
Although many pot smokers have difficulty giving up marijuana in spite of its negative consequences and despite a strong desire to quit for once and for all, there is little doubt that out-of-control alcoholism does more overall damage (both to individuals and to society) than out-of-control pot-smoking. So it’s healthier to drink alcohol moderately than to be a casual marijuana user, and more dangerous to be a big-time alcoholic than to be a serious pot-head. For both substances, about 15-20% of users end up getting hooked, losing control, and causing problems to themselves and others.
So which is the lesser of the evils? If you are able to drink, then drink moderately. As long as marijuana is illegal, stay away from it. If you don’t, you may end up rubbing shoulders with people who have a vested interest in introducing you to more hazardous (and more lucrative) drugs like cocaine and heroin. And remember that the pot you could buy could end up being laced or contaminated with harmful substances and chemicals. If marijuana is ever legalized, don’t forget that smoking anything can damage your lungs, and that a significant percentage of initially “casual” marijuana smokers end up doing persistent harm to themselves because they are not able to cut down or stop when they wake up and decide that it’s time to clean up their act.
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