In a new study, researchers explored how the public feels about the safety of cannabis and alcohol. They also wanted to know how the changing policies on cannabis may potentially influence public use of other substances, including alcohol and opioids.
Researchers at RTI International, a non-profit organization based in North Carolina, surveyed more than 1,900 adults in Oregon prior to the legalization of cannabis in the state.
According to the findings, published in the journal Preventive Medicine, more than half (52.5 percent) of the participants consider alcohol to be more harmful than cannabis while very few (7.5 percent) believe cannabis is more harmful to a person’s health. Younger people are much more likely to consider alcohol to be more harmful than cannabis to a person’s health.
In addition, nearly six in 10 Democrats (57.9 percent), Independents (56.3 percent), and people with no political affiliation (61.5 percent) considered alcohol more harmful than cannabis, compared with less than one-third of Republicans (30.7 percent). Most people who reported using both cannabis and alcohol considered alcohol more harmful than cannabis (67.7 percent), as did about half of those who used neither substance (48.2 percent).
“This study is the first to measure perceptions of the relative harmfulness of marijuana and alcohol,” said Jane Allen, a research public health analyst in RTI’s Center for Health Policy Science and Tobacco Research and study author.
“The findings surprised me somewhat, because there is widespread acceptance of alcohol for adult recreational use, and in contrast, marijuana is classified at the federal level as a Schedule I drug. There seems to be a disconnect between the social and legal status of the substances and people’s perceptions of harmfulness.”
Furthermore, the researchers found that legalizing recreational cannabis will likely affect use of other substances, such as opioids and alcohol, and that harmfulness of the latter drugs may play a role. For example, previous research has shown that greater availability of cannabis may likely reduce reliance on opioids and other pain medications.
Still, the relationship between cannabis and alcohol appears to be somewhat complex: Cannabis functions as a substitute for alcohol in some contexts and as a complement in others. For this reason, it is unclear whether the legalization of cannabis for recreational use will increase or decrease the significant social costs associated with alcohol.
Cannabis has been legalized for medical and recreational use in nine states and Washington, D.C., and for medical use in 20 other states.
Source: RTI International