Cannabis is considered a dangerous drug in most countries, including Israel. Therefore, growing and consuming cannabis is illegal, and the government invests many resources and efforts in penalizing consumers and growers as well as publicizing the dangerous of smoking marijuana.
In recent years, more and more researches showed the medical properties of cannabis and its potential as a treatment in various diseases and symptoms including epilepsy, Alzheimer, glaucoma, mental conditions such as depression, anxiety and post traumatic stress disorder, and various types of cancer. Also, many of the myths concerning cannabis consumption were refuted, such as the one claiming marijuana is a getaway to drug addiction.
We're not here to claim that cannabis is a miracle medicine and that it can solve all the sicknesses in the world; however, it is possibly less dangerous than what we were often told, and we can probably find riskier "drugs" in our home kitchen and medicine cabinet.
Cannabis vs. Alcohol
The most obvious comparison is between cannabis and alcohol; both are fairly popular psychoactive substances, commonly used in social circumstances. But while alcohol is legal with age limitation, recreational use of cannabis is usually illegal.
Comparing the body of research about alcohol and its potential health risks, the research about cannabis is relatively new. But while alcohol is related to 88,000 deaths a year (according to the CDC), including alcohol overdose, deaths from alcohol-related diseases, accidents and homicides, cannabis was related to zero deaths.
One of the main differences between cannabis and alcohol is that cannabis doesn't encourage risky behavior. For that reason, you won't hear about many violent acts or accidents caused under the influence of marijuana. Driving stoned is also less dangerous than drunk driving.
Alcohol abuse can damage the liver and increase the risk of liver cancer and other types of cancer including stomach, lungs, pancreas and prostate cancer. So far, the connection between smoking marijuana and cancer wasn't proofed. According to several researches marijuana even reduces the risks of cancer. (Source: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/05/25/AR2006052501729.html).
Cannabis vs. Nicotine
The health risks related to smoking cigarettes is not debatable. According to the CDC, cigarettes smoke is responsible to 80%-90% of the lung cancer cases in the US; Over 7,000 non-smokers die from lung cancer every year due to second-hand smoking.
Smoking cigarettes also increases the risks of cardiovascular diseases, lung diseases, insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes. The cannabinoids decrease the carcinogenic effect of the smoke, and are considered a potential treatment for insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes.
The group of pain medications includes both over the counter drugs, such as aspirin, and narcotic prescription drugs (opioids), such as codeine, Vicodin and others. The second group is commonly prescribed to relief pain following operations or accidents, to treat chronic pain in cancer patients, after spinal disc herniation and other situations.
In recent years, opioids addiction, which includes both legal pain medications and street drugs such as heroin, became a lethal plague, killing over 50,000 people a year. Although in 2015 alone 20,000 people died of overdose of pain medications, these drugs were FDA approved. On top of being addictive, these pain medications come with a long list of negative side effects.
Ritalin and stimulants
Ritalin is the brand name of methylphenidate, a stimulant medication of the central nervous system, commonly prescribed to children and adults who are diagnosed with ADHD. Ritalin increases the level of dopamine and noradrenaline in the brain, neurotransmitter related to mood, focus and learning abilities. Ritalin's effect on the brain is similar to cocaine, and it is commonly used as recreation drug.
Ritalin has many side effects including anxiety, irritation, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, headaches, blurred vision, increased blood and heart rate, sweating, skin rashes and more. Overdose of Ritalin can even worsen the symptoms of ADD.
Caffeine is the most commonly used psychoactive stimulant drug in the world, found in coffee drinks, tea, chocolate, energy drinks and even in some medications. Moderate consumption of caffeine has several health benefits – it can increase the risk of liver cancer, mouth and throat cancer, protect from type 2 diabetes, Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer, heart and vascular diseases, and improve cognitive skills. However, high consumption of caffeine may have several negative side effects.
Death from caffeine overdose is very rare, but it gets less rare with the growing popularity of energy drinks. Some researchers claim that many heart attacks are actually caffeine overdoses.
The effect of caffeine on the brain is similar to other drugs, and as you consume more caffeine, you'll need to increase its amount and frequency to feel its effect. Caffeine addiction may be more socially accepted and less harmful than other drug addictions, but the withdrawal process includes unpleasant side effects such as headaches, dizziness, irritation and others.
Is Sugar a Dangerous Drug?
Sugar is legal, commonly used at all ages and doesn't carry any social stigmas. However, recent researches show that sugar is addictive and harmful as much as illegal drugs. Sugar and drugs have the same effect on the brain. Like alcohol, cocaine and heroin, sugar releases opioids and dopamine, the neurotransmitter that plays a central part in the reward system, which is related to addiction and dependency. When a certain activity causes dopamine release, it creates a sense of pleasure, which encourages the person to repeat the activity to re-experience the pleasure. Frequent repetition of the activity causes the brain to release less dopamine, and the only way to experience pleasure is by increasing the amount and the frequency of the activity.
But sugar is not only addictive, and it has many health risks to the entire body. Sugar consumption can cause mood disorder, damage the teeth, fasten skin aging, increase the risk of type 2 diabetes, increase body weight and more.
Sugar substitutes are not healthier or less harmful. Researches even found correlation between drinking diet soda and weight gain, high BMI (body mass index) and obesity. Cannabis consumption on the other hand reduces the risk for metabolic syndrome, a series of symptoms that include high blood pressure, high sugar blood levels, waist fat and high cholesterol levels. And despite the popular image of lazy pot-heads slouch on the sofa craving for pizza, regular users of cannabis have lower BMI, lower cholesterol levels and reduced risk for obesity.