One of the most viral pieces of marijuana-rooted journalism on the Internet in the last week wasn’t written by a newspaper veteran or hot-shot blogger. The column, rather, was penned by a professor of pediatrics at Indiana University School of Medicine, and it ran in The New York Times.
In Aaron E. Carroll’s column “Alcohol or Marijuana? A Pediatrician Faces the Question,” the doctor-educator addresses a question he’s hearing more and more often lately: “Which would I rather my children use — alcohol or marijuana?”
Carroll’s immediate answer is “neither.”
“But no parent accepts that,” he writes. “It’s assumed, and not incorrectly, that the vast majority of adolescents will try one or the other, especially when they go to college. So they press me further.”
The column is a fascinating, soul-searching exploration that is as realistic as it is frank. Carroll presents the knowns and unknowns of marijuana — and there are plenty of them. But then he puts the legitimate research in perspective by directly comparing it to the many more knowns of alcohol use.
“All of these potential dangers seem scary only when viewed in isolation,” he writes. “Put them next to alcohol, and everything looks different.”
For example, he writes:
“Binge drinking accounted for about half of the more than 80,000 alcohol-related deaths in the United States in 2010, according to a 2012 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention … Marijuana, on the other hand, kills almost no one. The number of deaths attributed to marijuana use is pretty much zero. A study that tracked more than 45,000 Swedes for 15 years found no increase in mortality in those who used marijuana, after controlling for other factors. Another study published in the American Journal of Public Health followed more than 65,000 people in the United States and found that marijuana use had no effect at all on mortality in healthy men and women.”
Carroll goes on to address the difference between driving stoned and driving drunk, the difference between violence attributed to alcohol and violence attributed to cannabis, the difference between marijuana’s addiction rating and alcohol’s addiction rating. And even though all of those comparisons come out in favor of marijuana, Carroll proactively responds to the anti-legalization crowd.
“None of these arguments I’ve presented are ‘pro pot’ in the sense that I’m saying that adolescents should go use marijuana without worrying about consequences,” he wrote. “There’s little question that marijuana carries with it risks to people who use it, as well as to the nation. The number of people who will be hurt from it, will hurt others because of it, begin to abuse it, and suffer negative consequences from it are certainly greater than zero. But looking only at those dangers, and refusing to grapple with them in the context of our society’s implicit consent for alcohol use in young adults, is irrational.”
At the column’s end, Carroll gives his final answer to the question he posed at the story’s start.
“When someone asks me whether I’d rather my children use pot or alcohol, after sifting through all the studies and all the data, I still say ‘neither.’ Usually, I say it more than once. But if I’m forced to make a choice, the answer is ‘marijuana.'”