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Why is alcohol legal and marijuana illegal if they have very similar effects on the body?

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Answered 2016-09-06 13:37:09

Alcohol and marijuana do NOT have "very similar effects on the body" although they are often used for roughly the same purposes, i.e. escape from reality and/or to boost the mood. They do it by quite different physiological means however.

Alcohol is a CNS depressant and reduces inhibitions - to the point of totally destroying normal judgment, resulting in all sorts of risky - even fatal - behavior. The abuse of alcohol can damage the brain and the liver and extremely high consumption over a very short period of time can cause death by alcohol poisoning. Sufficient alcohol consumption has been known to result in total loss of memory of actions during the later part of the intoxicated period (being "blackout drunk"). Alcohol has been linked to different types of cancer such as esophagus, pharynx, mouth, liver and colon. Illegal alcohol often contains such contaminants as heavy metals (from the solder used in the still), methanol (make you go blind), an ethylene glycol (aka antifreeze - makes it sweeter but poisons you).

THC (active ingredient in marijuana) affects almost every organ in your body, and your nervous system and immune system. While alcohol can slow your heartbeat, THC may increase it - which can cause heart attacks in people who already have heart problems. It can increase bleeding, lower blood pressure, and affect blood sugar - which is one of the reasons it can stimulate appetite (giving people the "munchies"). Besides the expected high that makes one feel happy, relaxed, or detached from reality, consuming THC may also result in

  • A distorted sense of time
  • Random thinking - could be funny but could be debilitating if you need to concentrate on something important
  • Paranoia (which seriously kills the happy, relaxed feeling)
  • Anxiety (instead of feeling chill)
  • Depression (way more common than you would think)
  • Short-term forgetfulness
There is currently no conclusive evidence that pot causes cancer, but smoking it, like inhaling ANY kind of smoke (campfires, cigarettes, incense) does tend to irritate the membranes of the lungs and cause a cough. More serious lung damage from marijuana is typically a result of all the other stuff that is mixed with it. Since it is not subject to quality control or safety testing it may be contaminated with pesticides, fungicides, herbicides or any other chemical sprayed on the plant or contaminating the soil it is grown in. When sold on the street it is usually "cut" with other plant material to add bulk and increase the profit. Depending on what the plant is, it could be anywhere from harmless to something that could make you sick. You would expect less of this from store-bought pot in states that have declared it legal.

Both alcohol and THC slow reaction times so driving under the influence of either one is dangerous.

Both alcohol and THC have been known to cause withdrawal symptoms in people who have been consuming them in significant quantities for a prolonged time - but the symptoms are quite different.

Alcohol withdrawal symptoms may include:

  • shaking (the shakes)
  • headache
  • sweating
  • anxiety
  • nausea or vomiting
  • confusion
  • hallucinations (pink elephants, spiders, etc. sometimes with awareness of reality, sometimes completely detached from reality)
  • in extreme cases - seizures,high blood pressure and fever which can persist anywhere from 4 to 12 days - and even death

THC withdrawal symptoms may include:

  • cravings
  • irritability
  • sleeplessness
  • less appetite

Having disposed of the fallacy that their effects on on the body are very similar, it is time to address the question of why they are regulated differently.

Both alcohol and THC (from pot) have negative and dangerous effects, but the USA threw in the towel on banning alcohol (and repealed the 18th Amendment) while later installing laws against pot.

Some of the reasons for making it illegal include:

  • By the late 1800's hashish parlors and opium dens tended to be associated - so they were considered part of the same culture and their negative effects lumped together as abused narcotics.
  • When the Pure Food and Drug Act was passed, pot was included as a "dangerous drug" and thus regulated with all other drugs. Alcohol has never been classified as a drug.
  • In the early 1900's Cannabis was labeled as a "habit forming drug" - whether that is true or not is still debated with reasonable arguments on both sides. Note - it was classified as a drug and regulated as such rather than banned. Also "habit forming" is not the same as "physically addictive".
  • Interestingly, in the early 1900's California classified it as a poison and regulated it as such (this may have been the result of a legislative mistake in terminology)
  • During prohibition, cannabis was more popular with immigrants (such as Mexican field hands) than alcohol because it was more culturally familiar - and cheaper - and thus became associated with racism. Alcohol was illegal - cannabis was not - so due to a combination of "how come they get to get high and we don't" from alcohol drinkers and racial prejudice, there was political motivation to outlaw cannabis for recreational use.
  • It was NOT because it competed with traditional wood pulp paper. It has been suggested that Randolph Hearst demonized it (and promoted making it illegal) because hemp paper for newsprint was cheaper than traditional newsprint paper - but this actually would have been a reason for Hearst to be in favor of hemp since it would have saved him money. Most likely it was just an easy way to sell papers by latching onto a story and sensationalizing it. Nevertheless, his yellow journalism had an impact on attitudes about cannabis.
  • It is NOT because help is a competitor with man-made fibers such as nylon. It has also been suggested that DuPont wanted hemp squelched because hemp fiber was much cheaper than the nylon fibers the company was producing. This is actually unlikely because nylon was developed as a much cheaper alternative to silk and DuPont was struggling to meet the demand for nylon for that purpose (such as for women's stockings) to the point that the use of hemp fiber had no impact on nylon sales.
Taken together, it would appear that alcohol and cannabis are regulated differently because they were classified differently early on and because they were perceived by the public to be of different nature. There were also significant differences in the cultures where alcohol was the intoxicant of choice and cultures where cannabis was the intoxicant of choice. These differences in classification, perception, and culture resulted in the current differences in how they are regulated.


Also, Alcoholic Beverages, mostly wine, are used in many religions (Christianity, Judaism etc.) and banning them will cause some serious religious opposition. Marijuana is only used in a few Native American ceremonies (sometimes that "peace pipe" had a little bit of something to make all concerned feel extra peaceful). Also marijuana or ganja (I'm Jamaican) was use in religions such as Rastafarians and such so I'm not sure why banning ganja is approved when alcohol is man-made and ganja is a natural herb.

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