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  1. ITV Report

Alcohol 'hundreds of times more deadly than cannabis', study finds

Cannabis is hundreds of times less deadly than alcohol at both a personal and population-wide level, a study has found.

Cannabis is less deadly than alcohol, study suggests Credit: PA

Scientists examined drugs ranging from alcohol and tobacco to ecstasy and heroin, comparing known lethal doses and the average amount used to find which substances posed the biggest problems to society.

Alcohol, nicotine, cocaine and heroin all fell into the 'high risk' category for individuals, while only alcohol posed a 'high risk' in terms of population exposure.

But THC - the active component in cannabis - was found to be significantly outside any risk in both categories.

And even some of the Class A drugs which posed a 'high risk' for individuals - which included opiates, cocaine, amphetamine-type stimulants, ecstasy and benzodiazepines - fell below the 'risk' threshold when looked at on a population-wide level.

On a population scale, cannabis had a MOE of more than 10,000 - well outside the 'risk' limit of 100 Credit: Scientific Reports
Cannabis had a MOE of around 600 on personal scale, still significantly below the 100 threshold for 'risk' Credit: Scientific Reports

The paper's authors, led by Dr Dirk Lachenmeier of the Technische Universitat Dresden, Germany, warned that the results should not be taken to mean, for example, that moderate, regular heroin use was safer than moderate, regular alcohol use.

But, they added, it points towards the idea that governments should focus more on tackling problems caused by alcohol and cigarettes than on banning substances.

Writing in the Scientific Reports journal, they said:

The results confirm that the risk of cannabis may have been overestimated in the past. In contrast, the risk of alcohol may have been commonly underestimated.

Our findings should not be interpreted that moderate alcohol consumption poses a higher risk to an individual and their close contacts than regular heroin use. Much of the harm from drug use is not inherently related to consumption, but is heavily influenced by the environmental conditions of the drug use.

Currently, the... results point to risk management prioritization towards alcohol and tobacco rather than illicit drugs. The... values of cannabis, which are in a low-risk range, suggest a strict legal regulatory approach rather than the current prohibition approach.

– Scientific Reports
The study suggests governments should focus more on tackling problems caused by alcohol and cigarettes than on banning substances Credit: PA

The study used a measurement called the 'margin of exposure' (MOE), which measures the ratio between the lethal dose of a substance derived from animal studies and estimated typical human intake of that substance.

The lethal doses ranged from two milligrams per kilogram of bodyweight for heroin to 531mg for alcohol.

A MOE ratio of less than 10 put the drug into the 'high risk' category, while less than 100 categorised it as a 'risk'.

On a population scale, cannabis had a MOE of more than 10,000 - well outside the 'risk' limits - and of around 600 on personal scales.

On a population scale, cannabis had a MOE of more than 10,000 - well outside the 'risk' limits Credit: PA