A new study published in Scientific Reports, an online open access journal from the publishers of Nature, indicates that cannabis is 114 times less deadly than alcohol.
Despite the new research demonstrating that weed – which was upgraded to a Class B status in the UK in 2009 from the more “detrimental” Class C – is less harmful than alcohol, hard drink still remains less controlled compared to soft and hard drugs.
According to Talk To Frank, a confidential drug abuse helpline in the UK, cannabis is the most used drug in the UK after alcohol and tobacco, with 1 in 5 young adults aged 16-24 admitting using it.
The new research, conducted by Dirk W Lachenmeier and Jürgen Rehm, shows that “the risk of cannabis may have been overestimated in the past”.
“Many governments in Europe have favoured more restrictive policies with respect to illicit drugs than for alcohol or tobacco, on the grounds that they regard both illicit drug abuse and related problems as a significantly larger problem for society”.
However, according to a government report, cannabis usage among young adults aged 16-24 in 2013/14 was at 15.1%, only 1.6% higher compared to the previous year (13.5.%): it was the lowest usage rate since measurement began back in 1996.
Alcohol usage is also declining amongst young adults but, in spite of the decreasing amount of binge drinking young Brits undergo weekly – 29% in 2005 to 18% in 2013 according to the Office for National Statistics – the rate remains higher compared to the amount of soft drug abuse.
In January 2012, the US state of Colorado amended its laws, legalising the use of cannabis to adults over 21, so the usage of weed is now regulated and taxed, and become a consistent financial benefit to the state.
Regulations also include the requirement for licensed suppliers to send a sample of their product to a testing facility where the potency and purity is tested: analysis decreases the likeliness of smoking anything from the black market, which could be more potent and harmful to the mind and body.
Despite the results of the research showing the less harmful nature of cannabis, smoking it can still cause damage to the brain and lungs.
In a statement to Washington University, psychiatrist Dr Patricia Cavazos Rehg said: “It’s a concern [smoking] because frequent marijuana use can affect brain structures and interfere with cognitive function and academic performance”.
However, the effects of cannabis on the brain seem to be balanced out making it seem not as bad as some researches may suggest.
A study co-led by Dr Sina Aslan and other doctors from the University of Texas in Dallas showed that although cannabis is proven to shrink the brain, it also increases the connectivity between neurons (brain cells) which seem to make good for the “grey matter loss”.
“The results suggest increases in connectivity, both structural and functional that may be compensating for grey matter losses. Eventually, however, the structural connectivity of brain starts degrading with prolonged marijuana use,” the study said.
Featured image by Charlón on Flickr