Almost every time the subject of marijuana comes up in polite company, someone who doesn’t know what they’re talking about will compare pot to booze.
You shouldn’t smoke too much or you’ll get cancer. You’re just as dangerous on the road as any drunk. Be careful or you’ll get hooked. None of this is true, yet a large portion of the population still believes it.
But is it really possible for marijuana to kill someone or cause serious health problems?
The short answer is no, but the complicated answer is, well, more complicated than that.
First off, there’s no question weed is one of the safest substances available. Even many over-the-counter products can cause organ damage or other severe complications. Marijuana doesn’t do any of that.
One study – one – found a correlation between cannabis use and lung cancer, but no one has successfully reproduced that finding, and other studies reached different conclusions.
In fact, pot is probably safer than caffeine. A major caffeine bender could potentially kill you, while pot has never killed anyone.
That fact is the centerpiece of arguments by weed aficionados that cannabis simply isn’t dangerous. But what exactly do we know about marijuana overdoses?
For one thing, no matter how safe marijuana may be overall, overdose is still possible. New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd proved this with a recent piece about her experience eating too much marijuana chocolate.
And there have been two deaths in Colorado blamed at least in part on cannabis edibles. More kids have been showing up at area hospitals after suffering overdoses from mistakenly eating weed food, too.
But those examples are few and far between, and the fact remains that THC can’t kill you, no matter how much you ingest. We know this because scientists have tried to kill mice with the drug – and failed. At some point, they had to stop giving the mice marijuana because the mice couldn’t consume any more. The scientists couldn’t kill them no matter how hard they tried.
The resulting conclusion was that while it’s impossible at this point to know whether marijuana could kill in theory, it has never done so in practice.
Researchers use the “LD-50,” a measurement tool, to gauge the dosage at which half of animal test subjects die from overdose on any given medication.
The LD-50 for aspirin, for example, is 200 milligrams per kilogram of body weight. That means about 50 percent of people who weigh 150 pounds would have to consume at least 13,608 milligrams, or 13.6 grams. That’s just 28 extra-strength pills.
The LD-50 for cannabis, on the other hand, is astronomically high. It would take tens of thousands of joints in order to die from the stuff. And you would have to smoke it very fast: 1,500 pounds in 15 minutes. Try doing that sometime.
So why do so many people think marijuana is as dangerous as alcohol? It’s entirely a matter of perception: Alcohol is the only experience most people have to go by, so it makes sense they would give the two equal weight.
A coroner in Scotland claimed earlier this year that he uncovered marijuana as the cause of death in a young woman who had smoked half a joint before dying in her sleep. Almost no one in the medical community took this claim seriously.
That’s because there’s never been another death pinned on weed in the 5,000 years people have been toking it. With a record like that, pot is really one of the safest drugs on any market, safer than booze, safer than over-the-counter pain relievers, safer even than coffee.