08 May 2008

The deadliest dope is legal

I think it is widely known that tobacco and alcohol cause more deaths than any other substance. In fact, tobacco causes about 440,000 deaths a year and alcohol about 80,000. This complicates our search for why marijuana should be illegal, considering marijuana, depending on your definition of "directly causes," causes between 0 and 21 deaths per year (search cannabis). But let's give it a go anyhow.

21 deaths isn't 0. So technically it is possible to overdose on cannabis (then again, maybe not, 2nd source). And there are other forms of harm other than outright death due to overdose. Behavior alteration can increase the likelihood of dangerous activity. One source claims marijuana users have a 30% greater risk of injury. Again, unfortunately, this risk is even greater for alcohol and tobacco, according to the source. So we must search elsewhere.

What about emergency department (ED) visits? This is a good proxy for harm (real or perceived) of non-fatal exposure to marijuana. According to the Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN), in 2003, marijuana was involved in 79,663, or nearly 13 percent, of all drug-related ED visits. That sounds significant, except that with 25,231,000 admitted users of marijuana in 2003, 99.7% did not go have an emergency hospital visit (and this assumes each visit was a different person). This is comparable to the 99.9% for alcohol, especially considering that you have to be breaking the law to use marijuana, and are thus probably more risk-tolerant.

So physical danger to one's self is a weak crutch to use in our quest for justifying keeping marijuana illegal.

But what if it is a gateway drug? Tune if for the next episode.

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