In the UK General Election 2015, it wasn’t such a bad night for another political hopeful – the ‘Cannabis Is Safer Than Alcohol’ (CISTA) party. Quite a high in fact – they beat the BNP by more than 505 per cent!
Never heard of them? According to their manifesto, CISTA believe in bringing in regulated, drug policy reform to the UK .
Despite gaining zero seats and zero percentage of the vote, nevertheless, their 32 candidates across the country including, 9 in London, 8 in Scotland and 4 in Northern Ireland took a total of 8,420 votes, beating the 1,667 votes collected by the BNP.
More likely to die from alcohol
But for many, the debate over whether cannabis is safer than alcohol raises difficult questions as research continues to compare the short term to long term effects and the often different contexts between the two types of recreational substances.
In January 2015, a new German study published in the ‘Scientific Reports’ journal found that you are 114 times more likely to die from overdosing on alcohol than you are from cannabis. While alcohol, nicotine, cocaine and heroin were classified as ”high risk” the active cannabis ingredient, THC, was not considered as harmful.
The findings were followed one month later by the results of a six year study carried out at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience at King’s College London.
One in four new cases of psychotic behaviour
The research concluded that smoking extra-strong varieties of cannabis, notably “skunk”, was responsible for one in four new cases of psychotic behaviour, such as schizophrenia and suggests that more than 300,000 people who have smoked skunk will experience psychotic episodes in their lifetime.
Skunk contains around 15 per cent of THC – the main psychoactive compound – compared with just four per cent in traditional “hash” cannabis. It is increasingly recognised that the strength of cannabis and the frequency of use are central to a potential mental health risk.
Meanwhile, another long term study published in the journal, European Psychiatry, found that alcoholism and alcoholic dependency can reduces a person’s lifespan, on average, by more than seven years.
The study revealed that alcoholism can not only cause severe harm to physical health, but also results in problems affecting mental functioning. Individuals suffering alcohol addiction needed more intensive psychotherapeutic care and at an earlier stage than those who were not addicted to alcohol.
A key problem was that most patients with addiction problems are only admitted to hospital when they are in need of serious medical attention to treat their immediate symptoms but the underlying cause of their alcohol dependency is not examined.
Reframing the question
The findings for those patients with alcohol addiction are not so different for those with cannabis addiction. Both may have underlying issues that have led them from recreational use to dependency. So the question over whether one is more ‘safe’ than the other, which can often involve those who use cannabis for medical ‘pain-relief’ purposes may need to be reframed.
Both alcohol and cannabis always have the potential to not be safe – with serious consequences to physical and mental health that are still at the centre of a nationwide political debate.
But which one will ultimately get the vote?