Smoking marijuana is healthier than drinking beer: true or false?

Canadian police chiefs say cops should be able to hand out tickets, fines, for possession of small amounts of marijuana.
Canadian police chiefs say cops should be able to hand out tickets, fines, for possession of small amounts of marijuana. Justin Tang/The Canadian Press

TORONTO – A recent mock beer ad touting the relative merits of marijuana versus beer has been making the rounds lately, adding to the ongoing debate over marijuana prohibition.

The parody ad by U.S.-based Marijuana Policy Project was screened on a jumbotron during the NASCAR Brickyard 400 races, has been viewed over 790,000 times on YouTube.

WATCH: The “New Beer” – Marijuana Policy Project NASCAR Ad

The Marijuana Policy Project and its related foundation advocate for the legal regulation of marijuana similar to those in place for alcohol.

Their ad describes marijuana as a “new beer” that eschews the hoppy beverage’s negative side effects – namely hangovers, calories and overdose deaths – and is ultimately less harmful than alcohol.

It’s a bold statement – but is it true? Global News looked to the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse (CCSA) to in an attempt to verify MPP’s claims.

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Claim: “One without all the calories and serious health problems”

According to the CCSA, the short-term effect of smoking marijuana leads to a reduced attention span, trouble multitasking, loss of memory, and the potential for body tremors and reduced motor skills.

They also pointed out that cannabis increases both heart rate and appetite – so while it may be true that smoking pot on its own will not cause you to gain weight, you’re likely to make up the calories through binge snacking.

Though symptoms like diminished memory, lowered attention span, and poorer functioning overall was seen to cease after a month of curtailing smoking altogether, younger pot smokers are much more likely to experience long term health issues.

Claim: “Less toxic so it doesn’t cause hangovers or overdose deaths”

While you may not be able to feasibly overdose on marijuana, doesn’t mean it can’t kill you. According to the CCSA, cannabis smoke contains a number of poisons and carcinogens that are either similar to or also present in tobacco smoke, and THC can also lead to respiratory problems.

That being said, the cost to Canadians incurred by marijuana-related health issues is relatively low. An article published by Gerald Thomas and Chris Davis, senior analysts with the Centre for Addictions Research of BC and CCSA respectively, says that cannabis-related health problems costs the average Canadian about $20 per year – compared to around $165 for alcohol-related health costs and an estimated $800 for tobacco-related health costs.

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Claim: “And it’s not linked to violence or reckless behavior”

A CCSA report published this summer says the number drivers who were fatally injured in Canada between 2000 and 2008 shows that psychoactive drugs (which includes alcohol, cannabis, among others) accounted for over a third of all deaths. According to the study, cannabis “was among the most common substance present, either alone or in combination with other substances.”

The CCSA also mentioned the troubling link between marijuana smoking and psychosis. Frequent pot smokers are at greater risk of psychosis or psychotic symptoms, especially if a history of mental illness runs in their family.

Claim: “Marijuana – less harmful than alcohol, and time to treat it that way.”

Despite the cautions listed above, the CCSA also highlighted the medical applications of cannabis. In a report released this April, the CCSA states that “good evidence” suggests that cannabinoids, chemicals present within marijuana, can help alleviate symptoms of nausea and vomiting, and some types of pain.

Research into the span of cannabis’ therapeutic effects is ongoing; though findings are reportedly mixed, some medical marijuana users have publicly spoken about their use of cannabis to successfully treat symptoms of debilitating diseases like multiple sclerosis.