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article imageBooze or Marijuana — What's best for the kids? A doctor replies

By Stephen Morgan     Mar 21, 2015 in Lifestyle
Booze or pot? What would you prefer your kids to take? Neither, you might say. But, faced with the reality that drugs and alcohol are a part of many kid's lives, what should you choose, if you had to? A doctor gives his opinion.
The debate over the pros and cons of marijuana and whether its potentially, positive effects or possible negative consequences outweigh the other, continues to rage. But what about the pros and cons of alcohol set against those of pot?
I know when I was growing up, my parents told me to stick to the good old beer and don't ever mess with the weed. But were they wrong? Is such advice just based on, "better the devil you know, than the devil you don't"? Could you be giving your kids the wrong warning (or doing the same for yourself) ?
Writing in the New York Times, Aaron E. Carroll is professor of paediatrics at Indiana University, put himself on the spot and made a choice which he wished he hadn't to make.
In the article, Professor Aaron says that he would advice youth to use neither, but dealing with the realities of everyday life and the statistics accumulated over both substances, he comes down in favor of pot.
A youngster smokes marijuana during the World Day for the Legalization of Marijuana on May 3  2014 i...
A youngster smokes marijuana during the World Day for the Legalization of Marijuana on May 3, 2014 in Montevideo
Miguel Rojo, AFP/File
But in making his arguments he doesn't dodge the point that there are "potential downsides" to pot use, recognizing that it may have adverse psychological effects, cause lung disease and lead to poorer academic results and reduced performance in work or other other areas of life.
But he says "these potential dangers seem scary only when viewed in isolation. Put them next to alcohol, and everything looks different."
Well, let's see! We'll quote from the text.
CRIME: "People who are high are not committing violence," according to Professor Aaron,
Marijuana: Most crime associated with pot is illegal distribution.
Alcohol: Alcohol use plays a role in 40 percent of all violent crimes in the United States, including 37 percent of rapes and 27 percent of aggravated assaults, says The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence
Five inmates sue alcohol manufacturers blaming the companies for crimes.
Five inmates sue alcohol manufacturers blaming the companies for crimes.
Screen Capture
DEATHS: "Marijuana.... kills almost no one." Aaron says.
Marijuana: A study in the American Journal of Public Health followed more than 65,000 people in the United States and found that marijuana use had no effect at all on mortality in healthy men and women.
Alcohol: Binge drinking accounted for about half of the more than 80,000 alcohol-related deaths in the United States in 2010.
VIOLENCE: "The numbers for pot aren’t even in the same league," says the Professor.
Marijuana: A 2014 study looking at marijuana use and intimate partner violence in the first nine years of marriage found that those who used marijuana had lower rates of such violence. Indeed, the men who used marijuana the most were the least likely to commit violence against a partner.
Alcohol: Every year about 600,000 college students are injured while under alcohol’s influence, almost 700,000 are assaulted, and almost 100,000 are sexually assaulted.
Video wants you to watch a guy drink beer from a toilet.
Video wants you to watch a guy drink beer from a toilet.
Marijuana: A recent study found that, after controlling for various factors, a detectable amount of THC, the active ingredient in pot, in the blood did not increase the risk of accidents at all. But, one study did show that marijuana use increased the odds of being in a fatal crash by 83 percent.
Alcohol: Having a blood alcohol level of at least 0.05 percent... increased the odds of being in a crash by 575 percent.
A bottle of beer with a car in the background
A bottle of beer with a car in the background
DEPENDENCY: Aaron notes that dependency should be seen against the fact that an estimated 50 percent of Americans age 18 to 20 have tried pot at some point in their lives; more than a third of them have used it in the last year.
Marijuana: 9 percent of pot users eventually become hooked
Alcohol: 20% of drinkers become alcohol abusers and alcoholics
Well what do you think? How does it add up?
In another interesting article in Live Science, Ruben Baler, a health scientist at the National Institute on Drug Abuse makes some similar points as Professor Aaron.
In particular, that it is difficult to pin down any conclusive evidence for the suggested dangers of marijuana, while the effects of alcohol from death through poisoning or from liver cancer and cirrhosis are definite and inescapable medical facts.
Moreover, Baler points out that the possible benefits of drinking alcohol moderately are relatively minor, while enormous research is taking place on what increasingly appears to be numerous health benefits from marijuana, including treating life-threatening diseases.
However, in the Live Science article, Mr Baler also does make a telling point with regard to the dangers of pot use by the young.
"For marijuana," he says, "much of the concern is with young people who use the drug, because the drug interferes with the development of the brain while it is still maturing."
Smoking marijuana, he continues, interferes with connections being made in the brain "at a time when the brain should be at a clear state of mind, and accumulating, memory and data and good experiences that should be laying out the foundation for the future."
"How much you're impaired depends on the person, and how much you smoke," he says, and this makes it difficult to generalize the extent of the effects.
But he warns,
"You're cumulatively impairing your cognitive function. What's going to be the ultimate result, nobody can say."
Professor Aaron makes many other interesting points in the NYT article. He might feel that putting forward his points in the blunt way above, exaggerates his views.
Therefore, it is important to note that, in the conclusion to his article, Professor Aaron stresses,
"None of these arguments I’ve presented are “pro pot” in the sense that I’m saying that adolescents should go use marijuana without worrying about consequences. There’s little question that marijuana carries with it risks to people who use it, as well as to the nation. The number of people who will be hurt from it, will hurt others because of it, begin to abuse it, and suffer negative consequences from it are certainly greater than zero. But looking only at those dangers, and refusing to grapple with them in the context of our society’s implicit consent for alcohol use in young adults, is irrational."
When someone asks me whether I’d rather my children use pot or alcohol, after sifting through all the studies and all the data, I still say “neither.” Usually, I say it more than once. But if I’m forced to make a choice, the answer is “marijuana.”
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