In this paper we discuss the relative physical, psychological and social harms of the two most frequently used intoxicant drugs in the UK, namely cannabis and alcohol.
Over the past 40 years, the use of both drugs has risen significantly with differential consequences.
It is argued that increased policing of cannabis use under the current drug classification system will lead to increased criminalization of young people, but is unlikely to significantly reduce the rates of schizophrenia and psychosis.
In comparison, increases in alcohol drinking are related to significant increases in liver cirrhosis hospital admissions and mortality, at a time when mortality rates from other major causes are on the decline.
A recent expert-led comparison of the health and social harms to the user and to others caused by the most commonly used drugs in the UK showed alcohol to be more than twice as harmful as cannabis to users, and five times as harmful as cannabis to others.
The findings underline the need for a coherent, evidence-based drugs policy that enables individuals to make informed decisions about the consequences of their drug use.
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