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It is a commonly held view that if alcohol and smoking were discovered today, they would definitely be labelled as substances with a high potential for abuse, and therefore controlled.
However, the utter incongruity of the illegality of CBD in many countries is indefensible. While alcohol and tobacco are legal in nearly any country you would care to visit (some Muslim countries still ban alcohol,) but medicines like CBD do not create a high and are not addictive, and yet are not fully legal everywhere.
All of this illustrates the need for more comprehensive and sane international drug policies.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 6.2 litres of pure alcohol per person were consumed by people over the age of 15 in 2010. In 2012, 3.3 million people died as a result of alcohol consumption, or close to 6 percent of all deaths worldwide.
Alcohol is a very dangerous drug. It has a high toxicity, inconsistent effects, can induce psychosis and inspire dangerous behaviours. It’s also a leading factor in the commission of murder and rape worldwide, and it can lead to many forms of cancer.
Clearly, if a scientist were to discover alcohol in a laboratory today, they would consider it as more dangerous than many other drugs out there today. For example, MDMA (also known as ecstasy, a popular party drug) has a much better safety profile than alcohol, with about 1 in 10,000 users being hospitalized from its use. For alcohol, the numbers are about 1 in 40 per year in the UK.
There are significant health risks from taking alcohol (it is a drug, after all). Liver damage, heart disease, stroke, damage to the brain and nervous system, increased risk of mental health conditions, and a much higher risk of early death. Other factors, like foetal alcohol syndrome, the damage caused by alcohol-induced crime, and the personal cost of addiction, are all huge strains on society and the systems of government.
Alcohol is not a safe drug by any measure. Even one drink a day increases the risk of disease significantly.
The WHO sums tobacco use up brilliantly on their site, saying:
Tobacco is the only legal drug that kills many of its users when used exactly as intended by manufacturers.
They estimate that about 7 million people die annually from tobacco use worldwide. This includes the sad statistic that about 890,000 people die from second-hand smoke each year, about 28 percent of whom are children.
Most smokers are from low and middle-income countries, have little protection from commercial tobacco interests, and have a poor standard of health education.
Everyone knows how bad tobacco is, but let us refresh your memory a little: There are 1.1 billion smokers in the world, and about 10 percent of them will die from lung cancer. They have a 23 percent increase in the chance of developing some cancers, which include: trachea, lung and bronchial cancers. Other cancers include cancers of the lip, pharynx and oral cavity, esophagus, stomach, pancreas, larynx, cervix uteri (women), kidney and renal pelvis, bladder, liver, colon, and rectum; also acute myeloid leukemia. The risk of dying from heart disease is quadrupled.
Smoking reduces your fitness, makes you more likely to become obese and develop emphysema. Inhaling tobacco smoke also makes you more vulnerable to infection and communicable diseases.
To top it all off, there is no medical benefit from smoking tobacco. It does not get you high or cure you of anything. Other than thinking you look cool when you’re 17 with a cigarette drooping from your lips, there is little discernible benefit from smoking.
Smoking was brought back to Europe in the 16th century, where it quickly caught on and spread as an addictive medicine. People actually thought it was good for the lungs. Probably due to the marketing message promoted by those who grew and sold it. Now, because it has been around for so long, it has become ingrained in our culture and therefore accepted.
When the great public health campaigns of the early and mid 20th century started taking off, there was neither the appetite nor the evidence for tobacco being banned. However, by the 1950’s, tobacco had been clearly linked with lung cancer, and things started to change. As many as 50 percent of the adult population of the United States smoked at that time and the profits and tax from the tobacco industry were too great to ignore, so it was never banned.
People regard smoking as a part of their free choice, regardless of the hundreds of thousands of children who die as a result. However, no government has been courageous enough to try ban tobacco completely.
The same is true for alcohol. There are many better drugs out there with much better safety profiles, but we have been drinking alcohol for thousands of years and most people enjoy it. To ban alcohol would be to deprive many millions of people of an enjoyable and relatively risk-free (in moderation) product. The enormous costs of addiction and abuse are one thing, depriving people of their favourite vice is another.
Now we come to CBD, a demonstrably harmless and safe drug that has many therapeutic applications and a remarkable safety record. The story of its illegality begins in 1906, when the United States federal government included it in a list of “dangerous drugs”. It had been erroneously associated with crime, delinquency, madness, and black people, so there was increasing popular support for its prohibition.
Clearly, prohibition did not work for alcohol, and it has not worked for cannabis. However, because of reasons that are too contentious and complicated to go into here, it has been fought against for the last 40 years in a bloody and futile War on Drugs.
Cannabis was banned because it got people high. CBD does not get people high, but it was a part of the plant, so was included in the prohibition. Even with considerable evidence for its safety and non-psychoactivity, it is still classed as having no medicinal value and a high potential for abuse.
Alcohol and smoking are demonstrably harmful. They cause untold suffering. They are not even very good drugs.
CBD does not cause people harm and has dozens of potential medicinal applications.
CBD is illegal (at a federal level), alcohol and tobacco are not.
It’s only because cannabis was not as ingrained into society as tobacco or alcohol were that it was ever banned in the first place. Had it been as popular 100 years ago, as it is now, (especially amongst the white people who made the laws), there would have been mass protest at any attempt to ban it. One could even imagine an alternate reality where the American Revolution began with colonists throwing bales of cannabis into Boston harbor.
However, because a lot of the users in the early days were black people and or poor, their opinions did not matter. Politicians love a scapegoat, something to distract people from the real problems. Cannabis, and therefore CBD, made a fine choice for someone running for election to rail against. “Degenerates! Negroes! Mad people! Poor people!” All the enemies of an ordered society.
Thankfully, things are changing. The evidence base is substantial and more importantly, the media now support CBD.
It is time to change. Don’t you agree?
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