Marijuana vs. alcohol: Pediatrician weighs risks

Marijuana vs. alcohol: Pediatrician weighs risks

An Indiana pediatrician details the risks of alcohol versus marijuana and concludes that pot, while potentially harmful, is less dangerous than alcohol.

Dr. Aaron E. Carroll, a professor of pediatrics at Indiana University, said he frequently faces questions from his kids and their friends about which substance he’d rather they consume. Neither, he writes in a piece for The New York Times. But he acknowledges it’s not a realistic answer so he offers a comprehensive review of the risks posed by both.

For starters, marijuana is illegal. (Oregon’s new marijuana law doesn’t apply to minors. Beginning July 1, only people 21 and older may legally possess and cultivate the drug.) It’s associated with impaired memory, lower academic achievement and psychosis. 

Carroll goes onto explain: But these are all associations, not known causal pathways. It may be, for instance, that people predisposed to psychosis are more likely to use pot. We don’t know. Moreover, all of these potential dangers seem scary only when viewed in isolation. Put them next to alcohol, and everything looks different.

Meanwhile, the stats on alcohol use are grim. It has a strong association with violent crime — alcohol use is a “factor in 40 percent of all violent crimes in the United States, including 37 percent of rapes and 27 percent of aggravated assaults.”

Alcohol has higher rates of association with delinquency, binge consumption, addiction and death.

He writes:

…(W)hen my oldest child heads off to college in the not-too-distant future, this is what I will think of: Every year more than 1,800 college students die from alcohol-related accidents. About 600,000 are injured while under alcohol’s influence, almost 700,000 are assaulted, and almost 100,000 are sexually assaulted. About 400,000 have unprotected sex, and 100,000 are too drunk to know if they consented. The numbers for pot aren’t even in the same league.

Ultimately, Carroll concludes:

When someone asks me whether I’d rather my children use pot or alcohol, after sifting through all the studies and all the data, I still say “neither.” Usually, I say it more than once. But if I’m forced to make a choice, the answer is “marijuana.”

— Noelle Crombie

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