Despite being illegal in most states, marijuana is among the least dangerous of all commonly used substances. Here are some not-so-benign drugs that that marijuana might be able to replace.

1. Ambien (zolpidem)

Talk to a doctor about zolpidem, and they might caution you against staying awake after taking the sleep medication. Why? First, because if you actually need a drug as powerful as zolpidem to fall asleep, you should probably, you know, use it to get some shuteye. The more interesting reason? Zolpidem, they’ll tell you, has “hypnagogic” effects on the patient. In laymen’s terms, it hypnotizes its users, or puts them in a hypnotic state in which they are far more open to suggestion -- whether that suggestion should arise from a third party or from the patient’s subconscious -- and will generally act against their ordinary nature without remembering much, if anything, after the fact. Hence its penchant for abuse as a date-rape drug, or, under different circumstances, for a uniquely enjoyable experience (i.e. if one wants to, say, act without the annoyance of an overbearing consciousness, zolpidem can make that happen). Ambien -- or scramblien, as some abusers have affectionately labeled the substance for its perceived mental “scrambling” effects -- might lead to: driving (bad idea that becomes subjectively solid when the inhibitory mechanisms of the conscious brain are themselves inhibited); stealing approximately half -- who can keep track -- of a town’s street signs; attempting to bribe a supermarket worker so that he’ll sell you beer after hours; or stealing said beer after he/she refuses to sell it to you. Oh, right, you might also sleep-drive and wind up in jail -- or worse. Earlier this year, the FDA recommended zolpidem doses be lowered to avoid next-day impairment. There are also convincing studies linking zolpidem use to significantly heightened death rates. Where does weed fit into this picture? Marijuana is a much, much simpler, less risky sleep- and lethargy-inducing agent. All that shit I mentioned above? Marijuana -- by itself -- won’t cause a damn bit of it.

2. Oxycontin

Like zolp, oxycontin has a legitimate medical use, namely pain relief. It also causes or contributes to thousands of accidental deaths every year. Over half of 78,000 deaths caused by illegal drugs in 2010 occurred due to the illegal abuse of painkillers like OxyContin and Vicodin. Moreover, four out of five recent heroin initiates used prescription painkillers illegally (i.e. for purposes other than immediate pain relief) prior to beginning heroin use, and people aged 12 to 49 were 19 times more likely to start using heroin if they had previously taken painkillers for nonmedical purposes. Never mind the fact that the line between “medical” and “nonmedical” uses quickly becomes indiscernible when dealing with long term pain patients who, when forced to wean off oxy and other substances, turn to a cheaper and alternative -- specifically, heroin. Why weed? Cannabis possesses potent analgesic properties entirely distinct from prescription painkillers. Rather than reduce the levels of pain experienced, marijuana distracts smokers from their pain, thereby augmenting patients’ emotional coping faculties. Oh, and it doesn’t kill you or lead to a debilitating addiction.

3. Tobacco

If oral fixation, as opposed to nicotine addiction, is behind your cigarette smoking, you might try transitioning to weed (or using an e-cig). A recent study corroborates previous studies showing that light to moderate weed toking does not increase your chances of developing lung or upper-respiratory cancers. The effects of “heavy” smoking, meanwhile, are still uncertain. The same study also emphasizes that smoking tobacco carries substantially greater health risks than inhaling God’s burning bush. If you prefer to dip or chew your tobacco, (a) gross, why are spitting that shit everywhere, (b) you could at least snus it, and (c) try some edibles or lozenges. Obviously eating a tasty green snack doesn’t provide quite the same sensation as having some toxic goop stuck in your bottom lip, but you probably won’t give too many fucks about that after the edible kicks in proper. Addicted to the nicotine in addition to the oral action? Nicotine gum or the aforementioned e-cig can help you. Alternatively -- and let me clarify before dispensing any more advice that I am not a doctor, so you should take this counsel with a grain of salt -- you might try rolling spliffs and slowly lowering the tobacco content of each until you’re down to pure green stuff.

4. Xanax, Klonopin

Xanax and Klonopin produce oblivion. No, that’s not the most scientific language, but it’s more or less true. Want to be brain dead and not remember shit about the day or night you’ve effectively wasted? That said, these drugs do treat the symptoms of anxiety via the aforementioned oblivion. Marijuana has a more complicated role in the story of anxiety treatment. Some cannabis users report markedly decreased anxiety, and some report the opposite. Why the difference? Drugs like Xanax and Klonopin represent the fruit of modern medicine’s modus operandi. The current approach to drug production by large pharmaceutical companies revolves around deriving and creating individual chemicals to treat symptoms or conditions, ergo the proliferation of everything from Xanax, to Zoloft, to Adderall. The minute focus of this approach and of the drugs it produces has its benefits and its detriments. Medical marijuana runs antithetical to this paradigm, i.e. it contains a huge complex of cannabinoids and other chemicals whose exact effects are difficult to determine because they, the chemicals, are not isolated from one another. You don’t smoke your THC pipe and then hit your CBD pipe. You get what you get. However, recent studies have begun to lift some of the fog lingering over weed’s sometimes contradictory effects on consumers. While its impossible to speak with absolute certainty on the subject, the research suggests that THC as an individual chemical can, at least for those prone to mental health issues, raise anxiety levels, while CBD does the opposite and actually relieves anxiety. THC seems to increase users’ awareness of and rate of reaction to mundane stimuli as opposed to novel stimuli. For people who already have difficulties coping with quotidian stimuli, reactions to normal aspects of the environment could lead to anything up to and including hallucinations. In other words, if you’re the kind of person who perceives every creak of a floorboard as a potential home invader, high levels of THC might not be for you. Hence why strains containing a good mix of cannabinoids can, for some people, be a better, more attractive option than strains ridiculously high in THC and low in CBD and other important chemicals. Back to the original point of this article: a well balanced strain, or perhaps even one particularly high in CBD and moderate in THC, should work well as an anxiolytic medication. Again, not a doctor, don’t sue me.

5. Alcohol 

We realize that marijuana and alcohol are often consumed for very different reasons and in pursuit of very different effects. That said, if you drink a bit too much too often, laying off the hooch -- I honestly thought that word was dead before watching Orange is the New Black, but anyway -- is a solid life decision. From causing liver damage, cancer, permanent brain damage, sleep problems and myriad other issues, alcohol is just kind of a shitty-but-fun substance. Here’s a thing we wrote recently about just that.