This week on ISMOKE we are comparing two of the most popular drugs that are consumed recreationally by the British public, alcohol and cannabis, and comparing the effects that these substances have on the consumer, society and on British culture in general.
In 2015, there were 8,758 alcohol-related deaths in the UK, an age-standardised rate of 14.2 deaths per 100,000 population.
Also in 2015, there were 1.1 million estimated hospital admissions where an alcohol-related disease, injury or condition was the primary reason for admission or a secondary diagnosis. Men accounted for two-thirds of those admissions.
The most common condition suffered by Alcohol users is liver disease and secondly Cirrhosis of the liver which when included in the cost of treating all other Alcoholic induced or exacerbated conditions to £ 3.5 Billion annually.
There is a commonly held belief that Alcohol kills brain cells – this is, in fact, a myth (all be it a rather persistent one.) Even in alcoholics, continuous alcohol use doesn’t result in the death of brain cells.
Alcohol is a neuro-depressant, which means it acts by slowing down the functions of the central nervous system including the brain. So what is happening is that consumption damages the ends of neurones, this results in problems in conveying messages between the neurones. The cell itself isn’t damaged, but the way that it communicates with others is negatively altered.
In contrast, the US holds a patent on cannabis as a neuroprotectant.
As discussed previously in this magazine, cannabis can be used by some medical users as a rather effective antidepressant equal to or better than the traditional regiment of SSRI/SNRI’s and without the associated 50% increase in violent and suicidal thoughts and actions. In contrast, alcohol is also known to act as a depressant.
Alcohol is considered to be a social drug, because it is socially accepted by the population as a whole. There are special drug consumption rooms (pubs, bars and clubs) in every town and city for its use. Food outlets stay open to feed inebriated users and taxis to transport them home afterwards.
There are whole stores dedicated to this drug, as well as sections in shops dedicated to all the different varieties and flavours to take home and consume in the comfort of your own home without fear of arrest or persecution.
If a similarly applicable infrastructure were in place for the consumption of cannabis, then it would no doubt also be widely accepted as a social drug, and may eventually be welcomed in the same way that the British public embrace alcohol. It only isn’t now because of 80 years of sustained propaganda and decades of reefer madness stereotypes in movies and on TV – just look at the change in opinion in the US, where over 60% of Americans now think that cannabis should be legalised.
If Alcohol was discovered today, not only would it be banned under the psychoactive substances bill, (signed into power in January 2015 by David Cameron’s Conservative government), but it wouldn’t even clear the first of the endless hurdles of public perception.
There would be never ending scare stories in the papers of how millions of people are consuming “liquid apathy” a drug that makes them so intoxicated they often cannot remember how they got home or even what they did the previous evening or who with; stories about drunken one punch murderers; drunken drivers disregarding for human life; alcohol-fuelled sex crimes and violence.
Daily headlines would likely be printed, instilling the desired level of fear through campaigns of “Bear-madness” and “one drink and you’re hooked” you know, those tales of addiction and loss, Sound familiar?
Alcohol also takes a massive financial toll on society, Having to police nightly the negative consequences that Alcohol has on society is a losing battle.
Our police have to attempt to corral the masses in town and city centres up and down the country when every Friday and Saturday nights (Sundays too, when there is a bank holiday). Nights when millions of otherwise law-abiding British citizens openly flaunt the law by being excessively intoxicated in public and often acting in ways that could – should – be considered anti-social behaviour. However, they remain free from incarceration because the officers overseeing this particular form of harm reduction will often be an alcohol user themselves and so can empathise with their usage and their subsequent intoxication and will show discretion.
In 2016 alcohol related crime, loss of output and ill health cost the UK up to £52bn.
Alcohol also makes up 10% of the UK burden of disease and death, making alcohol one of the three biggest lifestyle risk factors for disease and death after smoking and obesity.
Ironically a lot of these detrimental health issues that are created by Alcohols consumption could be negated by nationally introducing “Alcosynth” a synthetic Alcohol developed by ISMOKE favourite Dr David Nutt.
This synthetic Alcohol doesn’t give the consumer a hangover and isn’t as destructive to the liver, but is banned under the government’s latest misguided and draconian prohibitive legislation the Psychoactive Drugs Bill.
Now I am not advocating Alcohol prohibition we are all well aware of the atrocities that resulted from the banning of Alcohol in the US in 1920’s.
Alcohol prohibition was driven primarily by the Temperance Movement which stressed the reduction, limiting and banning of alcoholic beverages. The Temperance Movement built a strong following in the late eighteenth/early nineteenth century because of the worsening epidemic of alcoholism.
Drinking Alcohol was considered a contributing factor to spousal abuse, family neglect and chronic unemployment, and prohibition was seen as the best possible solution to the nation’s increasing poverty, crime, violence, and other ills.
It wasn’t at all, much in the same way as it isn’t the solution today for the same reason, Prohibition doesn’t work, Education does!
Alcohol prohibition was repealed back in December, 1933 after over a decade of murder, political corruption, increased consumption, mass poisonings from inpure alcohol, crippling alcoholism and other health issues.
Side note: In regard to alcohol addiction/dependence it is worth noting that Bill (William) Wilson the co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous believed that LSD could be used to treat Alcoholism after using the drug to “cure” his own deep long standing depression.
Now onto cannabis which it is sad to say is still currently illegal here in the UK.
It is often argued that cannabis remains illegal because of the most widely spread and incorrectly attributed harms of cannabis consumption, the British public’s practice of mixing their cannabis with tobacco, which can lead to severe health risks.
Cannabis remains illegal in the UK despite successive generations adding to the innumerable personal testimonies, anecdotal evidence and countless academic studies showing cannabis to be relatively one of the safest and most benign substances on the planet in its effects on the consumer and society!
It, however, remains in the highest possible drug scheduling in the UK – schedule 1 – which means it is classified as having no ACCEPTED medicinal value. (We all know it has hundreds of medicinal applications and that this is one of the biggest cons in British history, but that is a subject I will cover in another ISMOKE article)
Cannabis is also grouped in class B, the second highest classification in terms of potential penalties for possession, production, distribution.
It is grouped together with other such drugs as Amphetamine, Ketamine and codeine all of which in some way run the risk of accidental overdose, unlike Cannabis which as you should all know by now has never killed anyone.
It is also worth noting that these drugs are scheduled in a lower classification even though they also have ACCEPTED therapeutic applications despite their high potential for misuse, dependence and accidental overdose, these are also risks associated with Alcohol abuse and excessive consumption.
Cannabis has also been found to be a rather effective and safe “exit drug” for users suffering from substance dependence and withdrawal from Opioids and Alcohol.
In fact, the taxation raised from legal sales of recreational Cannabis in Colorado is paying for substance abuse schemes to help those with drug dependence issues avoid prison and drug educational schemes.
This is something which could easily be replicated in Britain today.
While every week brings with it welcomed news of another country’s decision to end cannabis prohibition, we here in the UK have to be content with the little victories we can get.It helps that many of the country’s police forces are now slowly decreasing the number of raids and arrests, the CPS (Crown Prosecution service) is also decreasing prosecutions for personal grows and possession. However, they’re still wasting a lot of resources and invaluable time targeting the mass consumers in an attempt to deal with the criminal element which would be negated anyway by legalisation!
It helps that many of the country’s police forces are now slowly decreasing the number of raids and arrests, the CPS (Crown Prosecution service) is also decreasing prosecutions for personal grows and possession. However, they’re still wasting a lot of resources and invaluable time targeting the mass consumers in an attempt to deal with the criminal element which would be negated anyway by legalisation!
Durham, Avon and Somerset, Derbyshire and Dorset PCC’s are effectively allowing de facto decriminalisation through drugs policies that deprioritise the small scale cultivation of Cannabis and consumption for personal use, but this still fails to provide cannabis to the consumers. This means that consumers are still forced to acquire their cannabis through illegal means via dealers – usually a person motivated entirely by profit and someone who doesn’t care about providing contamination-free, Well grown, quality cannabis! Not everyone has the time, space or even the ability to grow.
Decriminalisation is a good start, and not locking peaceful Cannabis consumers up is a great start, but it’s still not good enough. The stigma remains – weed prohibition has caused far more damage than cannabis itself ever could. And at a time of continuous severe budget cuts and ever-deepening austerity, to continue to waste money on cannabis prohibition is negligence at best and criminal at worst!
We need a national retail distribution system regulated by a governing body for commercial sale just as they now do with alcohol, having realised prohibition was causing more harm than good.
There needs to remain the right to grow your own cannabis, free from governmental intervention and excessive regulation.
Homebrewing, for example, doesn’t require regulation. Nor does it detract from the alcohol industries market share. So to argue that growing your own weed would cause issues within a legal cannabis marketplace is absurd.
Unlike brewing your own alcohol, growing your own cannabis will provide a purer, safer end product as the grower can control the whole process and tweak it to their environment and specifications.
It is also worth noting that alcohol sales in Colorado have been found to be increasing in tandem with cannabis sales, suggesting that the industries can, in fact, coexist.
Although both substances are used recreationally and are considered by their user to be a social substance, it is clear that alcohol has by far the most detrimental effects on society.
So I guess it’s fair to say that although all drugs are created equal, some are just more equal than others.
Keep fighting to legalise it!