What Causes Most Harm: Tobacco, Alcohol, Sugar, or Marijuana?

April 2, 2014 9:02 am Last Updated: April 2, 2014 10:37 am

A recent Wall Street Journal-NBC News poll asked 1,000 Americans whether they thought tobacco, alcohol, sugar, or marijuana was most harmful. The result: 49 percent said tobacco was most harmful, 24 percent said alcohol, 15 percent said sugar, and 8 percent said marijuana.

The Epoch Times asked Michael V. Pantalon, Ph.D., the CEO of Center for Progressive Recovery (CenterForProgressiveRecovery.com), an addiction treatment clinic in New Haven, Conn., and a senior research scientist at Yale School of Medicine, for his view.

Epoch Times: From a medical perspective, which of these substances is the most harmful?

Dr. Pantalon: It depends on a number of factors, but let’s look at two of the most important ones: type of harm and dose.

In terms of physical and medical harm and the ease with which people can ingest high doses over short periods of time, alcohol would seem to be the most dangerous of these four, as it can lead to injury due to intoxication, medical problems due to high levels of chronic use, and even death due to severe withdrawal, an indication of how physically habit-forming it is.

Next would be cigarettes because the nicotine in them is highly physically habit-forming, and [smoking has] links to a host of medical problems, including emphysema and cancer.

A close third, however, would be smoked marijuana because it too causes injury related to intoxication (motor vehicle crashes), medical problems similar to cigarettes over the long haul, and contrary to popular belief, it is physically habit-forming, meaning that many people end up needing more and more of it to get the same effect and/or experience physical withdrawal after stopping or cutting back.

The other important thing is that we do not know enough about the relationship between marijuana dose and harm, not even in terms of how much someone can smoke and still be able to safely drive.

Finally, while sugar has been linked to a number of medical problems, especially diabetes, it is not as dangerous as the others because it does not cause any acute harm due to overuse, it has not been conclusively established that it is physically habit-forming, though I suspect for some it is, and perhaps most importantly, the medical literature has established low-harm amounts, unlike with marijuana and cigarettes.


Michael V. Pantalon (Courtesy of Michael V. Pantalon)