Science once again catching up with what many already knew – but this is progress: A new scientific study has investigated the toxicity of various drugs and found Marijuana the clear winner. It’s been found significantly less toxic than all the other substances on the list – including not only illegal drugs but the LEGAL alcohol and tobacco. Here’s our full report.
Claims on marijuana’s medicinal values have been widely debated despite support from medical research and study. Federal legislation that govern marijuana use aim to restrict rather than regulate – and this has posed a problem to people seeking the medicinal and recreational effects of the herb, very far from intentions of abusing its effects. What is it about marijuana that scares the government – and the public – so much?
Marijuana Use in the United States
Marijuana, colloquially referred to as weed or pot, is made up of dried leaves and flowers of the hemp plant Cannabis sativa. Statistics released by the National Institute of Drug Abuse reveal that in respondents aged 18 to 25, more than half (exactly 51.90 percent) have used marijuana. Percentages are lower in the other two age groups, with 16.40 percent of respondents aged 12 to 17 and 45.70 percent of respondents aged 26 and older reporting marijuana use. 
Laws in more than half the number of states in the US prohibit marijuana use, whether recreationally or medically. Currently (2015), only 21 states plus the District of Columbia have passed medical marijuana laws (MMLs) that recognize and permit the medicinal use of the herb. 
Numerous studies have reported the positive medicinal effects of marijuana on pain, sleep, and overall comfort. A survey conducted by Trip, et. al. (2014) revealed that marijuana use was effective in improving mood, pain, muscle spasms, and sleep quality in patient with prostatitis and chronic pelvic pain syndrome.  The data collected from a more recent study in 2015 by Degenhardt, et. al. revealed that marijuana use in conjunction with prescribed opioids were able to induce effective pain relief in respondents experiencing chronic non-cancer pain.  These studies further support the popularity of marijuana use among people experiencing acute and chronic pain.
On the other hand, there have also been studies on the adverse effects of marijuana. One of these was published in mid-2014, focusing the negative health effects of smoking marijuana, particularly on the increased risk for lung cancer. Of course, the study was only able to reveal how it was smoke (not cannabis itself) that damages lung tissue. This problem could easily be solved by changing the method in which marijuana is administered.
Risk Assessment of Marijuana and Other Substances
But is marijuana use as dangerous as the law makes it out to be? The intoxicating effects of marijuana, although different, are not thought more severe than that of mild to moderate alcohol intake – a substance that is not illegal anywhere in the United States, or most countries all over the world. A study published in January 2015 by Lechenmeier and Rehm  assessed the comparative risk between different “mind-altering” substances, specifically alcohol, tobacco, cannabis, and other illicit drugs like heroin. Surprisingly, the study revealed that cannabis was the least risky substance, belonging to the other end of the spectrum. Do you know what substance was revealed the riskiest? Alcohol.
How is this possible? The study used an approach called the Margin of Exposure (MOE) which is drastically different from other studies that simply attempted to find a causational relationship between two factors – (1) substance use/abuse and (2) mortality. MOE is different; it’s a ratio between the estimated (average) human intake and the benchmark dose (or toxicological threshold). Basically, it’s a ratio between how much humans typically intake and the dose at which the substance becomes dangerous – which is a better judge of how risky a substance can be. The higher the MOE is, the higher its spot on the list.
The results of the study were conclusive: The highest spot belonged to alcohol, while the succeeding spots were filled by heroin, cocaine, nicotine, MDMA, methamphetamine, methadone, amphetamine, diazepam, and THC (or marijuana). With marijuana in the lowest spot (over 100 times less toxic than alcohol), it can be surmised that its effects on health and society have been largely overestimated. If there was a plant that couldn’t be more misunderstood – or was it perhaps intentionally maligned – it has to be marijuana.
It’s important to note that the study measured toxic effects and does not consider any social effects of the use of the drug. However, this result is a clear indication that policies on marijuana are outdated and need re-evaluation – which is something that is gradually happening. It’s good news for the herb and for the use of herbs in general. 😉
References: National Institute of Drug Abuse (2014). Marijuana. http://www.drugabuse.gov/drugs-abuse/marijuana  Pacula, R., et. al. (2015). Assessing the Effects of Medical Marijuana Laws on Marijuana Use: The Devil is in the Details. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4315233/  Tripp, D., et. al. (2014). A survey of cannabis use and self-reported benefit in men with chronic prostatitis/chronic pelvic pain syndrome. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4277530/  Degenhardt, L., et. al. (2015). Experience on adjunctive cannabis use for chronic non-cancer pain: Findings form the Pain and Opioids IN Treatment (POINT) study. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25533893  Underner, M., et. al. (2014). Cannabis smoking and lung cancer. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25012035  Lachenmeier, D. & Rehm, J. (2015). Comparative risk assessment of alcohol, tobacco, cannabis and other illicit drugs using the margin of exposure approach. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4311234/