With the United States headed closer and closer toward federal legalization of pot, it’s not too surprising that many Americans may feel there are far worse dangers abounding than weed. In a poll conducted by the Wall Street Journal and NBC News, 1,000 Americans were asked their thoughts on which, out of four substances, is the most harmful. The results of the poll point overwhelmingly towards a majority opinion of marijuana being less harmful that tobacco, alcohol and sugar.
Based on the results of the poll, tobacco is seen as the most harmful, with a showing of 49 percent. Alcohol came next with 24 percent viewing it as the most harmful. After that, followed sugar at 15 percent. Marijuana? Only 8 percent of those 1000 polled feel the drug is the most harmful out of all four. The questions arise: “Does this poll hold water? Is marijuana actually less harmful than even sugar?”
Of course, tobacco has long been known as a major cause of a variety of devastating illnesses, such as lung cancer, emphysema, and heart disease. Even second-hand smoke from cigarettes has been known to cause deadly diseases. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) tobacco kills up to half its users, with 6 million related deaths per year.
Then there is alcohol. The short-term effects of inebriation from alcohol can include life threatening car accidents, other drunken related injuries and even deaths from overdose (alcohol poisoning). The long-term effects of alcohol include liver and brain damage. According to the WHO alcohol causes over 2 million deaths every year, and it is the “… third largest risk factor for premature [death], disability and loss of health …”
What about sugar? While the WHO is not as adamant about the negative effects of sugar vs. alcohol and tobacco, sugar can turn into fat cells once ingested. Large amounts of sugar can lead to weight issues such as obesity and even be a factor in causing diabetes. It is no secret why parents are particularly concerned about children having too much sugar, as childhood obesity is a major problem around the world. In 2010, it was estimated by the WHO that, globally, there were 42 million overweight children under the age of five.
Now, on to marijuana. Do the people of the recent WSJ/NBC poll actually hold validity in their opinion of marijuana as a less harmful substance than even sugar? According to the WHO, the use of cannabis can impair motor function on both a short and long-term basis, cause bronchitis, exacerbate schizophrenia, and create complications during pregnancy. Moreover, just like tobacco and alcohol, marijuana is linked to dependency and chronic usage.
However, the use of cannabis is not seemingly linked directly to death through high dosage or cancer through even prolonged use. And unlike sugar, usage of cannabis will not lead (directly) to obesity or diabetes. Perhaps it’s these factors, separating the infamous weed from tobacco, alcohol and sugar, which may have swayed the poll numbers. It may not be accurate to say marijuana is viewed as a healthy option by Americans, yet, it just may be considered the lesser of four evils.
By Josh Taub