Add Republican Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin to the growing number of prohibitionists taking umbrage with President Obama’s acknowledgment that booze poses greater harms than pot.
“I think it’s a big jump between someone having a beer and smoking marijuana,” Walker said, adding that somebody can have “a drink or two” at “a wedding reception,” but that “Most folks with marijuana wouldn’t be sitting around a wedding reception smoking marijuana” -- whatever on earth that means.
In truth, however, Gov. Walker is correct. Alcohol and marijuana are fundamentally different substances, but not for the reasons he implies.
Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant that acts primarily upon the brain’s opioid receptors. Heroin also acts on this same receptor system. That is why the over-consumption of alcohol may cause respiratory failure, coma, and death.
Alcohol possesses a ratio of fatal dose to effective dose of 10 to 1 in males and 9 to 1 in females. That means that ten times the effective (intoxicating) dose of alcohol in men (and nine times to effective dose in women) is estimated to potentially cause lethal overdose in 50 percent of the population who consume it at such a dose.
It is also associated with a litany of adverse effects on the body and on behavior. For instance, a recent study links alcohol consumption, but not cannabis use, with increased odds of intimate partner violence. The results hardly came as a surprise. Victim survey data analyzed by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism reports that just over a quarter of all violent crimes -- and specifically, some three out of every four incidents of intimate partner violence -- are committed by an offender who had recently been drinking.
The toxic effects of alcohol on the body can cause inflammation, scarring, and cirrhosis of the liver. Excessive consumption of alcohol is also estimated to account for one out of every 15 cancer deaths in the United States. In women, about 15 percent of breast cancer deaths are linked to alcohol. By contrast, subjects who regularly inhale cannabis smoke possess no greater risk of contracting cancer than do those who consume it occasionally or not at all, according to a 2013 UCLA analysis of six case-control studies, conducted between 1999 and 2012, involving over 5,000 subjects.
According to the prestigious Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), alcohol consumption is the third leading cause of preventable death in the United States. Globally, the World Health Organization recently reported booze is responsible for a staggering four percent of all deaths worldwide, more than AIDS, tuberculosis or violence. No similar statistics have ever been compiled for cannabis.
In fact, the biologically active compounds in marijuana -- known as cannabinoids -- are acknowledged by experts to be relatively non-toxic and incapable of causing lethal overdose. They act on endogenous cannabinoid receptors which regulate the body’s maintenance of homeostasis (internal equilibrium), impacting our appetite, our response to pain, our mood, and our immune response, among other vital functions. Unlike alcohol, cannabinoids are believed to possess both neuroprotective and anti-cancer properties. And perhaps most importantly of all, toking up at a wedding reception won’t leave you with a hangover the next morning.