From alcohol prohibition in the 1920s to cigarette advertising restrictions of the 1990's, American society has always enjoyed an evolving and tumultuous relationship with socially acceptable substances. Now that marijuana is joining the ranks of legal drugs in so many states, consumers and regulators alike are comparing it to other available substances.
Alcohol was demonized after its effects were linked to behavioral and medical problems but it's currently a legal, regulated substance that dominates a multi-billion dollar industry. Cigarettes, meanwhile, were widespread in workplaces, homes and public spaces for decades. After their fatal health risks were finally exposed, smoking laws tightened, advertising was regulated, and cigarette sales decreased.
Because the federal government has classified marijuana as an illegal drug for so long -- and because alcohol and tobacco sales are actually regulated by federal agencies -- scientific studies of its benefits and risks have been far less common or comprehensive. Dozens of states now treat marijuana more like alcohol or tobacco so Americans are confronting outdated stereotypes about the substance and attempting to understand its effects more clearly.
Alcohol and tobacco can both directly lead to death, but alcohol's risks are often more immediate. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 2,200 Americans die each year from alcohol poisoning. Most are white men between the ages of 35 and 64, but high-profile deaths on college campuses reawaken a sense of urgency and highlight the dangers of binge drinking.
Tobacco, meanwhile, is the number one cause of preventable death in the United States. Tobacco products contain nicotine and other harmful chemicals. They also deprive the blood and lungs of oxygen over time, so fatal risks of this long-term use include lung cancer and heart disease.
We still can't definitively compare these substances to marijuana, because the long-term effects of marijuana use haven't been documented nearly as thoroughly. However, we do know marijuana is different in two important ways: it doesn't lead to death, and it has been shown to have some medical benefits. Alcohol has also been shown to have limited medical benefits but these effects have been more negligible compared to the scientifically documented side effects of marijuana use.
Medicinal marijuana is effective at relieving nausea, anxiety, pain, and other debilitating symptoms. It can be used to increase the appetite in those who are going through cancer treatments, palliative care, or the elderly. As a more natural alternative to strong pharmaceuticals, some children have used it in special cases to treat epilepsy, cancer treatment side effects, hyperactivity, and other conditions. While most marijuana users smoke it, it can also be vaporized or cooked into food products thereby eliminating the health risks of inhaling smoke.
If you use substances of any kind, educate yourself on your substance of choice as well as on alternatives which can net you similar rewards. If you're interested in learning more about how to move beyond substance use without deprivation, call Saint Jude Retreats now. If you're interested in making a change to your substance use habit, our program can help.