National Institute on Drug Abuse Shows They Know Nothing About Marijuana

On Monday, Politifact published the results of its research into the accuracy of MPP’s statement in a recent ad that marijuana is objectively safer than alcohol.

As expected, the statements in the ad were true (despite PolitifactPolitifact giving a strange conclusion as to why it was only mostly true). What was unexpected, however, was the response from the National Institute on Drug Abuse:

“Claiming that marijuana is less toxic than alcohol cannot be substantiated since each possess their own unique set of risks and consequences for a given individual,” wrote the institute. NIDA, part of the National Institutes of Health, funds government-backed scientific research and has a stated mission “to lead the nation in bringing the power of science to bear on drug abuse and addiction.”

MPP’s Mason Tvert had this to say:

“Our federal government has been exaggerating the harms of marijuana for decades, but at this point it has gone off the deep end,” Tvert told The Huffington Post. “NIDA’s statement that marijuana can be just as toxic as alcohol would be on par with the FDA announcing sushi is as fattening as fried chicken.”

“This is gross negligence on the agency’s part and should be addressed immediately by the White House,” Tvert continued. “It is one thing for our federal officials to convey their opposition to marijuana policy reform. It is an entirely different and more disturbing situation when they are conveying opposition to scientific evidence.”

12 thoughts on “National Institute on Drug Abuse Shows They Know Nothing About Marijuana”

  1. Claiming that marijuana is less toxic than alcohol cannot be substantiated since each possess their own unique set of risks and consequences for a given individual

    Sucker please. Check the LD 50 and get back to me.

  2. Washinton and Colorado are test grounds for everything cannabis. Check back in 5 years and my guess the headlines will read: Alcohol sales at a 5 year low. Domestic violence is down. Traffic accidents are at a record low. Newspapers will read that fewer people are vomiting on themselves and more people are able to recite their ABC’s while using cannabis vs alcohol. And yes, it’s true, people can actually walk a straight line, watch movies, read books and converse without slurring your speech while using cannabis too. Violent crimes will be down, DATE RAPES will be down, driving on the wrong side of the freeway will be down, Fewer college kids will die at school from alcohol poisoning. Senseless stupidity will decline, the sales of ice cream will soar. Yes, we should be very careful allowing legal cannabis to spread beyond those two states. Look out for those unintended consequences.

  3. The DEA is the last “authority” one should look to for any legitimate facts. They wouldn’t know the truth if they fell across it. If the GOP wants to defund something, they should defund this useless waste of money!

  4. Those that insist on quoting the old “reefer madness” crap know the truth. But they are bought and paid for by the corporations that are making money by keeping it illeagal. These are the pharmaceudical corporations, the liquor industry and the corporate prisons. Our poiiticians are pocket size so they can fit into the corporate pockets. Does anybody believe that they represent us?

  5. “…since each possess their own unique set of risks and consequences”

    Pretty crummy policy, pretty crummy grammar. I guess sitting in an office all day just plain numbs the brain.

  6. There is no lethal dose of marijuana! Alcohol kills daily, in a variety of ways.

    Bottom line is alcohol is a poison that inebriates in non-lethal doses.

    Marijuana is not a poison by any means.

  7. The 1970 Controlled Substances requires them not to say anything positive about any drug that is schedule 1 which leads to them saying these ridiculous things! And like the other guy said, “Go check the LD50 for marijuana!

  8. NIDA says: “Claiming that marijuana is less toxic than alcohol cannot be substantiated since each possess their own unique set of risks and consequences for a given individual,”

    Let’s see, Alcohol = you might die (happens thousands of times each year); Marijuana = no recorded instance of death. I’d say that’s a pretty unique set of risks and circumstances, each clearly unique to the substance. No documented case ever of death by marijuana overdose measured against thousands of alcohol and alcohol abuse-related deaths a year. No, I see no substantiation there. NIDA is right. *facepalm*

  9. I just sent the following email to Politifact with the title “Marijuana vs. Alcohol Toxicity”:

    Dear Truth-O-Meter,

    I love Politifact and rarely disagree with your conclusions–and never enough to contact you about it, until now, but you really should revisit this issue to get rid of the “mostly” in the rating. FYI, I do not use either drug but got interested in drug policy in grad school, ca. 1971, before going on to a career as a CIA economic analyst (1972-2003).

    I note that none of your sources cited any data to contradict the assertion that marijuana is less toxic:

    Dr. Teitelbaum says both can cause harm (no dispute about that) and gives his opinion that there is no “clear answer”.

    Dr. Lewis-Younger points out the importance of dosage and mentions that it’s possible to fatally overdose on water but doesn’t mention that it is not possible with marijuana. No dispute about that either in the literature. The fatal does is not even known because the estimates are extrapolations from animal studies but the lowest figure I am aware of is 900 joints at one sitting (and the highest is 40,000).

    The Drug Free America Foundation is not a good source on this, because it is almost fanatically opposed to all of the illegal drugs, and not very concerned about the legal ones, despite the “drug free” in its name. But even their director only makes the qualitative statement that “these are two drugs that are both addictive and impairing and they both create unsafe situations.”

    NIDA says the “less toxic” claim “cannot be substantiated” but the only specific harms it mentions for either drug relate to alcohol: “Intoxication can impair brain function and motor skills and heavy use can increase risk of certain cancers, stroke, and liver disease.” (all things that sound pretty toxic to me).
    I also note that NIDA, by definition is focused on “abuse” and that it defines any use of marijuana as “abuse”.

    You quote CDC’s numbers about alcohol deaths and ER visits, but then cast some doubt on them with Dr. Lewis-Younger’s comment that alcohol is the most widely used of all drugs. Putting the deaths and ER numbers on a per-user basis would show pretty clearly that marijuana is “less toxic”; in fact it is generally accepted that there are no known deaths from marijuana, although it would be more correct to say that the number of deaths is too small to be detected in epidemiological studies. (Auto accident deaths are an exception–these do occur, but even here the evidence is very strong that marijuana impairs driving ability much less than alcohol, and doesn’t cause aggressive behavior, as alcohol does. (See “Cannabis Intoxication and Fatal Road Crashes in France”, British Medical Journal, December, 2005, which studied about 10,600 fatal accidents in which the drivers were tested for both drugs.)

    You cite Dr. Gable’s calculations of drug “safety ratios” and correctly note that his number for alcohol is only 10, but you suggest that his number for marijuana is in the 100 to 1000 range; my recollection is that he put it at over 1000.

    Dr. Salloum apparently agrees with the “less toxic” statement: “People could argue it (marijuana) is a weaker chemical in terms of toxicity, but it does have its consequences. It doesn’t mean marijuana is harmless.” And “harmlessness” is not the issue you are addressing; to my knowledge, no one has made the assertion that marijuana is harmless.

    You correctly point out that the dangers of marijuana use are greater for people who start using before age 18 but that is almost certainly true for any drug, and I don’t think there is enough data to make comparative judgments. If the “less toxic” statement referred only to teens, I would say “probably true but not certain” but surely the issue here is the toxicity for adults. We all agree that kids shouldn’t be using drugs of any kind.

    For some reason you bring in “synthetic marijuana”–a totally different drug. It does appear to be more dangerous than the real thing but that is irrelevant to the issue at hand. It would be like mentioning the dangers of methanol in your discussion of alcohol (ethanol).

    Please keep up your excellent work, even if I can only give you a B- in this instance.

    Dick Kennedy

  10. @MaineGeezer -

    “Nobody really knows what a fatal dose of MJ would be, as it’s physically impossible to consume that much, whatever the amount is.”

    You need to have a bail fall on you to die from too much weed. The fatal dose is something between 20,000 and 40,000 times what is normally used.

  11. “Claiming that marijuana is less toxic than alcohol cannot be substantiated since each possess their own unique set of risks and consequences for a given individual,” wrote the institute. – See more at: http://blog.mpp.org/research/national-institute-on-drug-abuse-shows-they-know-nothing-about-marijuana/08212013/#sthash.3I9p2q1j.dpuf

    Sorry, must comment. Everything in life has it’s risks and rewards. There is fundamentally nothing that links marijuana with alcohol. It makes for a great ad campaign, assuming one believes the marijuana for recreation vs. alcohol for recreation ideal. Toxicity is not the issue as I’m told the CDC doesn’t even document marijuana fatalities. There aren’t any! They do document alcohol fatalities however.

    Most of us know NIDA knows next to nothing about cannabis. What we don’t communicate among each other is the fact for a government agency entrusted with our faith and our taxes that they and several other federal bureaus are so ignorant. 9/11 was in part caused by such ignorance. What else do you think such ignorance has contributed to?

    Sanity regarding marijuana begins acknowledging it’s a medicinal plant. A safe one. From there we can discuss getting high – not as in intoxicated. For some getting high is a form of religion, for others a way to care for themselves and for others it a safer way to escape for a few moments, from a tough day!

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