Give me death or give me… morbidity?

by Responsible Choice · 4 comments

On what basis should drugs be classified and regulated? What effects of drug use are considered by most to be acceptable, and conversely unacceptable?

These are the questions that arise when one considers the policy of prohibition that is the War on Drugs, of which the Australian government is a participant and combatant.

It was also a question that arose recently when I was confronted by someone who was adamant that cannabis was exceptionally dangerous, but in a particular context.

To elaborate, I was presented with two perspectives; my own and that of my ‘conversation partner’. My view was, and is, that whether a drug can kill you by fatal overdose should be the foundational criteria to be considered with respect to drug policy and its professed goal of protecting and preserving public health. For my fellow converser, the immediate and potential side effects of a drug’s use were the paramount factors they felt should be up for consideration with respect to any legislative processes.

You can describe this situation as essentially involving two parties: the mortality party and the morbidity party. Which party would actually throw the best party is perhaps an interesting question best left for another time.

Now the thing with the mortality perspective is that we are quite simply talking life and death, mortality in the sense that the taking of a particular substance can be lethally poisonous and cause death (and has been shown to do so both historically and regularly). For me personally, as a parent and primary educator, whether a drug can kill you just by taking it is of incredible importance.

It is everything.

That’s because in this juxtaposition of cannabis and alcohol one of the substances, taken on its own without contraindicated substances, is lethal to the human organism, the other isn’t. To my way of thinking that means it should be the primary criteria to be considered when approaching any substance from a harm minimisation position. For example:

– Can the substance be fatal to the user; yes or no.

– If yes, access to said substance is tightly controlled, education is fact based and practical, health care experts and scientific professionals are consulted to develop guidelines and programs for safe access and use.

– If no then said substance may or may not need tight controls, education is still paramount, and health care and scientific professionals are still consulted regarding guidelines and programs promoting safe access and use.

As I mentioned, for some the question of morbidity is more of a concern, in that, although a substance may or may not be capable of inducing a fatal overdose in the user, the long term effects and conditions arising from its use are more problematic than its potential for overdose fatalities. In my mind tobacco may be classed as such a substance.

Tobacco in Australia explains

Nicotine poisoning causes nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, diarrhoea, headaches, sweating and pallor. In more extreme cases it can lead to dizziness, weakness and confusion, followed by convulsions, a drop in blood pressure, and coma. Death may occur through respiratory failure. Although highly toxic, death due to ingested tobacco is extremely rare due to the unpleasant flavour of tobacco, the vomit response and early metabolism of the nicotine.

Drug and Alcohol Services South Australia relates that

Tobacco smoking is the largest cause of preventable death and disease in Australia, contributing to the death of around 15 000 people each year. More people die from smoking-related diseases than from illicit drugs, alcohol and road accidents combined.

Smoking affects both the inside and outside of the body; some of these effects are immediate and others can occur later in a smoker’s life. Some of the consequences of smoking are:

  • Blindness
  • Infertility and impotence
  • Stroke
  • Cardiovascular disease and other diseases of the arteries
  • Gangrene, often resulting in the loss of limbs
  • Various cancers, especially lung cancer

and the list goes on…

Given that, I don’t believe that morbidity is a significant balancing element that can be applied to the cannabis vs. alcohol comparison, one that will suddenly even out the scales leaving cannabis on par with alcohol as the second most harmful LEGAL drug available today. And I said as much.

It’s not even that I am coming from the perspective of

Well, it’s just another vice to add to the ones we already have. How much harm can it do?”

Far from it.

There are health issues, mental and physical, that can arise from cannabis use. The extent, nature and severity of these potential issues will vary from individual to individual. The point is they are miniscule when placed in comparison with alcohol. Although many people may be aware of the potential for death when using alcohol, living in a society where that is, as someone recently put it, “Worn like a badge of honour”, as if this death-defying feat is an honourable pursuit, acts to numb one’s sense of alarm and common sense. This situation can reach the point where if you don’t drink in social settings it can be quite uncomfortable.

Further to that, the reason it is important that the effects of cannabis use are so minor when compared to alcohol is due to the fact that introducing legalised cannabis on to the Australian recreational drug-user market will impact upon alcohol sales.


From a harm-minimisation perspective this cannot be overlooked. Alcohol consumption can, and regularly does, lead to death; but if we put a teenager in a room with a pound of buds and any type of cannabis administration medium (bong, joint, vapouriser or edibles) they will not fatally overdose. They cannot. Cannabinoids are not poisonous to the body, in fact they are Endogenous, meaning the body actually produces them naturally.  A cannabis overdose, for want of a better word, is comprised of essentially going to sleep.

Except you wake up.

Unlike alcohol overdose.

Unlike nicotine overdose.

Unfortunately in our society, due to the fact cannabis is primarily smoked, it is given the same status as tobacco in the minds of the public. Unfortunately the similarities between the two pretty much end at combustion. Cannabis is NOT tobacco, any attempts to continue an association with tobacco’s effects are inherently flawed and only further contribute to the gross disinformation the public has received over the last 50+ years.

That said, all of the above info might be useful for a cold, logical, intellectual understanding of these perspectives, but both are missing a key ingredient.


That’s right. Love.

The feelings that are experienced by the families and friends of the THOUSANDS of people who die each year as a direct result of alcohol consumption can be often overlooked when delving into this comparison. This should not be the case.

Cannabis users may potentially experience difficulties in areas of their lives, many of which may be as a direct result of encounters with law enforcement and our legal system, however the likelihood of their families having to bury them as a direct result of smoking a bowl is almost non existent. In fact it has never happened, and is almost not worthy of note when placed in the dwarfing shadow of alcohol and the related death, disease and societal cost associated with its use in Australia, and around the globe.

Let’s bury the idea that alcohol is safe and cannabis is not. We’ve buried too many of our loved ones based upon that idea already.

Please comment below, and let us know what you think!

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Jun December 27, 2011 at 10:53 pm

I am hoping that the generational change of the government happens sooner rather than later so that the conservative thinking politicians(currently all of it I guess) who support alcohol will become THE past. What do the politicians really want their kids to become? An alcoholic? or a cannabis supporter/activist ? Just a note to them. Most cannabis supporters are against alcohol and ciggies. You judge! Oh and cannabis will extend your life expectancy too!


Responsible Choice December 28, 2011 at 12:51 am

Thanks for commenting Jun!

It’s funny that you mention an increase in life expectancy due to cannabis use. Whilst I haven’t come across anything that concerns that it certainly sounds feasible. At the very least, cannabis increases quality of life without any detrimental health effects. The same cannot be said for alcohol.



Philip Blom December 28, 2011 at 6:20 pm

What can be added here is the finding that cannabis isn’t as addictive as alcohol. That does not say that alcohol and especially wine, doesn’t give quality to life. In fact, the most frequently used measure of sufficient provision in the Bible is wine, grain and oil.


Responsible Choice December 28, 2011 at 10:19 pm

Good point Phil.

Here is a link re addiction ( There is no question alcohol can add to quality of life, unfortunately its use also adds significantly to the likelihood of the development of cancer and numerous other morbid conditions. Cannabis does so without serious side effects, and I’ve read many mentions of hemp oil’s use in biblical times as well!



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