StopPot2016 Propaganda: Alcohol Is Safer than Cannabis

By David Jenison

StopPot2016 Propaganda: Alcohol Is Safer than Cannabis

In an interview with Reason TV, Roger Morgan declared, “I have probably studied more research than most people on earth about marijuana.” Have you now? PRØHBTD previously covered the Reefer Madman behind StopPot2016 by highlighting 21 of his more crazy-ass claims, but some of the “research” required a closer look to demonstrate how twisted their propaganda actually is. For example, he said drinking alcohol is safer than smoking cannabis, and the following is a closer look at this claim.

StopPot2016: “Marijuana is not safer than alcohol. There are 450,000 hospital emergency room (ER) visits for marijuana in the US each year, higher than for alcohol, and this alone is a huge public health cost.”

This claim is flat-out wrong on multiple levels. At the most basic level, he simply didn’t understand how to read the government data upon which he based his claim.

Morgan cited the government’s Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN), an annual report that lists the substances present in a drug-related medical emergency. The assumption is that Morgan looked at the raw numbers—456,000 mentions of cannabis and 349,000 mentions of alcohol (in the first set of listed numbers)—to conclude that alcohol accounted for fewer ER visits. This is 1) a misconception about significance, 2) a misunderstanding of the categories and 3) a total misreading of the numbers.

First, the raw numbers do not reflect their significance since the report does not identify the cause of the medical emergency. For example, a person might smoke a joint and then shoot a fat sack of heroin, and if the person overdoses, the medical report will list cannabis even if it had absolutely nothing to do with the overdose. Dr. Sunil Aggarwal explains it this way: “The [DAWN] data includes all possible places where cannabis might have been referenced in an emergency visit of any kind. It might just be, ‘I don't know what happened to me today, but here are the things that I did in the last couple of days.’ It shows up in the medical record that way. Not all of those emergencies are directly related to cannabis intake.”

StopPot2016 characterizes the DAWN number quite differently, claiming, “The US has approximately 450,000 hospital ER visits for psychosis, paranoia or other symptoms caused by marijuana.” The DAWN report lists the number of cannabis mentions, but not how any drug led to the medical emergency, which means he completely made up the second half of the statement.

Second, StopPot2016 does not seem to understand the categories. The DAWN report only includes “alcohol when used in combination with other drugs; and alcohol alone, in patients aged 20 or younger.” In other words, the alcohol data represented here is just a fraction of the alcohol-related ER visits that occur nationwide each year. Furthermore, the DAWN report does not include people who died outside a hospital from drinking too much alcohol. While fatal cannabis overdoses don’t exist (even Morgan admits that), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention CDC stated in 2016 that excessive alcohol is “responsible for 1 in 10 deaths among working-age adults aged 20-64 years” and an average of 88,000 deaths per year. Likewise, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) says “alcohol [is] the fourth leading preventable cause of death in the United States.”

Finally, just including the alcohol mentions that involve drugs or underage drinking, the numbers are still significantly higher than cannabis. The Illicit Drugs chart in the DAWN report notes 454,000 cannabis and 349,000 alcohol mentions. In attempting to guess how Morgan screwed this up, we think he looked at this chart and assumed it included all of the alcohol mentions, but it does not. There is a second chart for non-medical use of prescription drugs, which includes an additional 346,000 alcohol mentions, bringing the tally to 607,000. Then you have to include another 118,000 ER visits for underage drinkers who only consumed alcohol, which brings the DAWN report total to 725,000 alcohol mentions. This is significantly higher than the 454,000 cannabis mentions, and it does not even include adults who had a medical emergency associated with alcohol alone.

In 2013, the CDC issued a report that said alcohol-related ER visits are spiking. Between 2001-2002 and 2009-2010, the rate of ER visits directly related to alcohol jumped 38 percent. Based on the current rate, approximately one out of every 1,000 men experiences an alcohol-related medical emergency each year. In other words, when Roger Morgan and StopPot2016 claim that alcohol is safer than cannabis, they are quantifiably wrong, and the real question is whether or not their propaganda is intentionally dishonest.  

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