Last week we looked at the marijuana debate, and whether it should be decriminalized, kept illegal, or made for medical purposes only. One of the main arguments that proponents of recreational marijuana put forth was that alcohol is just as dangerous if not more dangerous and detrimental to health than marijuana. But how does that compare to facts and evidence? For this week’s scientific conservatism post, we will break down this issue and give you the cold hard facts. If you missed our post about the marijuana debate, check it out on this link below.
Despite myself being on the side of medicinal marijuana, the comparison between alcohol and marijuana is a great point. If alcohol truly is more detrimental to health and more destructive to society, then we either should criminalize alcohol (not going to happen) or we should decriminalize marijuana. We must keep in mind that both of these substances are considered drugs; they alter some facet of your life through their effects on the body. It’s also important to keep in mind that almost all drugs have negative effects. In this post, we will look at the effects of each drug, how they work, and how to deal with them.
What is it?
“Cannabis, also known as marijuana among other names,is a preparation of the Cannabis plant intended for use as a psychoactive drug or medicine. The main psychoactive part of cannabis is tetrahydrocannabinol(THC); one of 483 known compounds in the plant, including at least 65 other cannabinoids. Cannabis can be used by smoking, vaporization, within food, or as an extract.” (Wikipedia)
Marijuana is largely referred to as a mild hallucinogen due to its psychoactive effects on the brain. Hallucinogens do just what they sound like to the body: visual, physical, auditory, and many more hallucinations can occur if you decide to consume this drug. This is a crucial differencebetween it and alcohol; alcohol is merely a depressant, while marijuana acts as a hallucinogen. For me, this is what justifies keeping recreational marijuana. However, if consumed at the proper dosage and in the proper way, marijuana does have proven medical benefits.
How does it affect the body?
“The active compounds in marijuana are similar to a class of molecules in our bodies called endocannabinoids. The endocannabinoid system influences our immune system, protects nerve cells from premature death, and influences mood, memory, appetite, sleep, sensation, and movement. Both endocannabinoids and the compounds in marijuana bind to proteins called cannabinoid receptors in the brain and throughout the body.” (Genetic Science Learning Center, University of Utah Health Sciences)
When the molecules found in marijuana bind to these receptors, they affect both the receptors themselves and the cells that contain those receptors. Because many of the affected cells influence “mood, memory, appetite, sleep, sensation, and movement “, these functions are also affected when marijuana and its active compounds are consumed.
Also, as mentioned earlier, marijuana acts as a mild hallucinogenic drug, altering our perception of the world around us. When your perception of the external world is altered or is malfunctioning, you can easily become incoherent, ineligible to drive a vehicle, and you can become a threat to the public. When users are under the influence of hallucinogenic drugs (when they’re high), they often make poor decisions.
Medical marijuana, on the other hand, has proven medical benefits. It’s important to note that this is when you consume it as directed by your physician (in the proper form and dosage).
“Research suggests that there are conditions for which medical marijuana may be an effective treatment:
- Cancer – Relieves nausea during chemotherapy treatment, may prevent the spread of some cancers.
- HIV/AIDS – Increases appetite in patients experiencing severe weight loss, eases neurological symptoms.
- Neurological disorders (including spinal cord injury and multiple sclerosis) – Reduces pain and spasticity resulting from nerve damage.
- Inflammatory pain – Cannabinoids seem to be more effective than opiates in treating long-term, chronic pain. (Opiates are better for treating short-term acute pain.)
- Autoimmune diseases (such as arthritis) – Suppresses the immune system, decreasing pain and inflammation.” (Genetic Science Learning Center, University of Utah Health Sciences)
How should we deal with it?
Despite the fact that almost all drugs have detrimental effects on the human body, not all drugs are created equal. I believe that because marijuana alters the brain in a way that you are almost completely subtracted from reality (that feeling called being “high”), it should be made for medical purposes only. That is not to say that alcohol does not affect cognitive processes (it definitely does), but it does not disconnect its users totally from reality, especially when consumed in moderation. Now let’s check out alcohol.
What is it?
“In chemistry, an alcohol is any organic compound in which the hydroxyl functional group (-OH) is bound to a saturated carbon atom.The term alcohol originally referred to the primary alcohol ethanol (ethyl alcohol), the predominant alcohol in alcoholic beverages.”(Wikipedia)
How does it affect the body?
“Alcohol interferes with the brain’s communication pathways, and can affect the way the brain looks and works. These disruptions can change mood and behavior, and make it harder to think clearly and move with coordination.” (NIH)
Alcohol also affects the heart, liver, and pancreas. (NIH)
“In 2014, 9,967 people were killed in alcohol-impaired driving crashes, accounting for nearly one-third (31%) of all traffic-related deaths in the United States.” (CDC)
How should we deal with it?
Proponents of recreational marijuana frequently state that Alcohol is far more severe when it comes to deaths. This is true, but we have to keep in mind that recreational marijuana is criminalized in 46 states while alcohol is legal in all 50. (Governing) Both marijuana and alcohol have detrimental effects on health, and I would recommend refraining from consuming either (at least in moderation). Also, it would be nearly impossible to criminalize alcohol due to its ubiquitous distribution and the uproar it would cause.
Author: Joe Schmid
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“Cannabis in the Clinic: The Medical Marijuana Debate.” Cannabis in the Clinic: The Medical Marijuana Debate. University of Utah Health Sciences, n.d. Web. 14 July 2016. <http://learn.genetics.utah.edu/content/addiction/cannabis/>.
Pictures are labeled “free to use, share or modify, even commercially”. These are not our own pictures, and the websites do not endorse ours in any way. There were changes made to the pictures, and those were to make them both smaller. “Cannabis Sativa Plant” by “Lode Van de Velde” and “Alcohol” by “geralt” URL: