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With alcohol now ranking as the world’s third leading cause of illness worldwide, according to a just-released report from Canada’s Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, the contrast between alcohol and cannabis has never been sharper. The new study, published March 4 as an article in the journal Addiction, showed that alcohol is responsible for 5.5 percent of all disease and illness, behind only high blood pressure and tobacco use among the 67 leading causes of disease and injury.

We already knew that alcohol causes far more damage to users, and to society, than does the use of marijuana; we learned that definitively from a 2011 study published in the Journal of Psychopharmacologythe journal of the British Association of Psychopharmacology.

In that study, researchers at the Imperial College of London looked at “the relative physical, psychological, and social harms of cannabis and alcohol.” They determined that marijuana smoking, particularly long term, does some harm to the lungs (not supported by some other studies) and circulatory system, and increases certain mental health risks (also quite debatable).

But in contrast, the authors described alcohol as “a toxic substance” responsible for almost five percent “of the total global disease burden.”

​”A direct comparison of alcohol and cannabis showed that alcohol was considered to be more than twice as harmful as cannabis to users, and five times more harmful as cannabis to others (society),” investigators determined. “As there are few areas of harm that each drug can produce where cannabis scores more [dangerous to health] than alcohol, we suggest that even if there were no legal impediment on cannabis use, it would be unlikely to be more harmful than alcohol.”

“The findings underline the need for a coherent, evidence-based drugs policy that enables individuals to make informed decisions about the consequences of their drug use,” the researchers concluded.

The findings are underlined by another 2011 study, almost completely ignored by mainstream media, showing alcohol use increases lung cancer risk by 30 percent.

Alcohol use causes an incredible four percent of all deaths worldwide — more than AIDS, tuberculosis, or violence — according to a February 2011 report from the World Health Organization.

And another study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that in the U.S. alone, an estimated 79,000 lives are lost annually due to “excessive” drinking. The study estimates that the overall cost of excessive drinking by Americans is $223.5 billion each year.

Health-related costs per user are eight times higher for those who drink alcohol when compared to those who use marijuana, and are more than 40 times higher for tobacco smokers than for marijuana smokers, according to a 2009 review published in the British Columbia Mental Health and Addictions Journal.

“In terms of [health-related] costs per user: tobacco-related health costs are over $800 per user, alcohol-related health costs are much lower at $165 per user, and cannabis-related health costs are the lowest at $20 per user [italics added],” the investigators concluded.

Much of the evidence showing that the risks of marijuana are small compared to those associated with alcohol is covered in the excellent book Marijuana Is Safer: So Why Are We Driving People To Drink?, coauthored by Paul Armentano, Steve Fox and Mason Tvert.

Given all the evidence of the enormously higher cost of alcohol use than cannabis use to society, you may be wondering why it’s considered socially acceptable for everyone from the President on down to be seen drinking a beer, yet smoking a joint is considered a big deal.

And guess which one is against federal law?


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