As cannabis legalization continues to spread across the country, more and more Americans are enjoying safe, legal access to it. With more and more people trying cannabis for the first time and experiencing its benefits, the public opinion of cannabis is shifting. 15 years ago, there was still a huge stigma around cannabis and negative connotations associated with stoners. But a recent poll done by the American Psychiatric Association found that Americans now view cigarettes and alcohol as roughly twice as dangerous as cannabis. This is a surprising shift and reflects the cultural impact legalized cannabis is having. Let’s take a look at some of the health effects associated with cannabis, alcohol and cigarettes to see if this perception is actually accurate or if Americans are just caught up in the hype.
Health Effects of Cannabis
Cannabis itself is not without health risks, especially if you smoke cannabis. Smoking is the most detrimental method of cannabis consumption. When you inhale smoke, you inhale toxic carcinogens and tar from the burning plant, which over time can build up in your lungs and cause respiratory issues like a smokers’ cough. Smokers who use bongs and glass pipes experience a cleaner hit than those who smoke joints or blunts, but there's no way to filter out all the toxic chemicals in smoke. Consuming cannabis in other forms, like edibles, vapes or topicals can help to reduce some of the respiratory health risks associated with cannabis.
Cannabis also poses health risks because it is psychoactive. Psychoactives are substances that affect how the brain works and cause changes in mood, awareness, thoughts, feelings and behavior. Because of this, cannabis makes certain activities inherently unsafe. You should never drive or operate any vehicle under the influence of cannabis. Other seemingly harmless activities like swimming, where it’s important that your awareness and reflexes be sharp, can also be unsafe while under the influence of cannabis.
While cannabis can alter your mind and has the potential to cause you to have an accident, there have never been any reports of death from a cannabis overdose. However, prolonged and heavy consumption of cannabis can cause dysregulation in your body that can result in painful digestive issues, mental health issues and other complications in the body.
Cannabis vs. Alcohol
Comparing the health effects of cannabis and alcohol is almost unfair. Alcohol is literal poison for the human body and one of the most harmful substances a person can consume. 36,000 people a year die as a result of chronic alcohol use, while there isn’t even a category to track deaths related to cannabis. Not only can consuming alcohol kill you, stopping alcohol consumption suddenly can also kill you; alcohol withdrawal is an incredibly painful condition that can be fatal. While cannabis has demonstrated neuroprotective qualities, alcohol causes tremendous damage to the brain, in some cases permanently changing the way it works. Alcohol increases the risk of personal injury with more than 20% of all hospitalized injuries attributable to alcohol. Alcohol is also a major factor in violent crime committed in the US with between 25-30%, or about 5,000,000 crimes annually, being linked to alcohol use. Cannabis has several reported health benefits associated with its usage, while alcohol only has this potential when used in moderation. Moderate alcohol consumption has the potential to raise good cholesterol and red wine is rich in antioxidants. Cannabis however, has quite a few reported benefits including pain reduction, improved sleep, relief of anxiety and reduced nausea and vomiting for chemotherapy patients.
Cannabis vs. Cigarettes
Now let’s compare the health effects of cannabis and cigarettes. We’ll start with the obvious, which is that both pose risks to your respiratory health because inhaling smoke is required. No matter what is burning, smoke is toxic. So while stoners love to believe that smoking a blunt isn’t as bad as smoking cigarettes, that’s only partially true. Cigarette smoke is more toxic than cannabis smoke because of all the toxic chemical additives in cigarettes. There are over 600 ingredients in cigarettes and the smoke contains more than 7,000 different dangerous chemicals. Cannabis smoke is much more pure than tobacco cigarette smoke, but it’s still not safe, and contains many toxic chemicals as well as tar from the burning flower. Unlike cigarettes though, cannabis users can opt for other methods of consumption that won’t have negative effects on their body. Edibles and cannabis infusions can be taken orally and don't stress your respiratory system at all. Vapes and concentrates produce vapor instead of smoke, which can still be mildly irritating to your respiratory system but is way less harmful than smoke. Cigarettes on the other hand have no alternatives, and cigarette smoke is one of the most dangerous things a person can inhale. It’s so toxic, it even kills non-smokers who spend time around smokers, about 41,000 people a year, to be exact.
If cigarettes don’t kill them, tobacco smokers are left with a host of very serious health issues to deal with. Like the fact that cigarette smoke has the potential to cause cancer anywhere in the body, especially in the stomach, mouth and lungs. Other respiratory issues, like COPD and emphysema require serious medical intervention if a person hopes to survive. Cannabis has not been shown to cause any of these health issues and is often used to help former smokers deal with the difficult effects of their cancer diagnosis.
It is worth noting, that while cigarette smoke is highly destructive to the human body, cigarettes are not psychoactive, which means they don’t change the way your brain is working. Because they have no psychoactive properties, the likelihood that smoking too many cigarettes will cause you to have an accident like cannabis and alcohol have the potential to do, is very low.
The Facts Speak For Themselves
You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to see that the research and evidence is clear that cannabis is much less dangerous than cigarettes and alcohol. From the dangers caused by psychoactive effects to the direct damage these substances do to the body, it’s clear that cannabis does very little harm comparatively. Americans are so serious about this shift in thinking that many people are choosing to swap out their alcoholic beverages with cannabis infusions in social situations. With the associations between alcohol and violence proven through years of research, this shift could mean a safer, gentler and higher America, and who wouldn't want that?