Americans Say Cannabis Is Safer Than Alcohol And Cigarettes (And Less Addictive Than Technology)

But the survey reveals regressive attitudes about addiction.

Americans say that cannabis is much less dangerous than opioids, alcohol, and cigarettes, according to a new survey conducted by the American Psychiatric Association (APA) and Morning Consult last week. The survey results come from interviews with 2,201 adults conducted between April 20 and 22 of 2023, with a +/-2 percentage point margin of error, analyzing public opinion on the dangers and addictiveness of six different substances—and technology. 

Regarding cannabis, 38% said that it is “very or somewhat unsafe.” Comparatively, 84% of respondents said they regarded cigarettes as unsafe. Sixty-four percent believe alcohol to be unsafe, 66% found prescription opioids unsafe, and 75% found non-prescription opioids unsafe. Reminding us of the negative public perception of vapes, 76% responded that vapes are unsafe. While technology will lose in other categories (here’s where we unintentionally ironically tell you to keep scrolling on your screen to find out), people said that technology was safer than cannabis, with only 23% described as very or somewhat unsafe, making it the only category deemed safer than marijuana. 

The survey also analyzed the public’s perception of addiction. In that category, they perceive cannabis to be less addictive than all of the substances mentioned, in addition to technology. Sixty-four percent said that cannabis can be addictive. Eighty-seven percent say cigarettes are addictive, and 84% deem alcohol addictive. Prescribed opioids are considered 83%, a figure that drops to 74% for non-prescribed opioids. Eighty-one percent think vapes are addictive, and 75% find technology addictive. 

“It is clear that we have gotten the message through that cigarettes are dangerous and addictive,” APA President Petros Levounis said in a press release. “We can help prevent more Americans from other potentially addictive behaviors, like drinking alcohol and technology use.” “For instance, vaping is just as, if not more, addictive than cigarette smoking,” Levounis adds. 

However, even though science agrees that addiction is a medical condition (check out this study published in the Journal of Psychiatry and Neuroscience), 47% said that addiction results from “personal weakness,” which gives us insight into the stigma surrounding substance use disorders. While cannabis is generally not considered physically addictive, remember that other substances the survey covers, such as opioids, are highly addictive due to how they affect the brain, research confirms. If someone is prescribed opioids after sustaining injuries in an automobile accident, for instance, and they develop an addiction, it is scientifically proven to be due to changes in the brain rather than a lackluster set of morals. 

However, Levounis says the survey can be helpful by offering insight into how to educate the public best. “We can also make sure that people know about our current safe and effective treatments for both substance use disorders and behavioral addictions,” he says. “Addiction treatment works.”

And the numbers are higher for those with less regressive views regarding the cause of addiction. Seventy-six percent of respondents answered that addiction is a medical condition, and 93% of those polled said substance use disorders can be treated, with 76% responding that the condition is preventable. 

The survey also offers insights into the importance of increasing awareness regarding naloxone, a life-saving opioid anti-overdose drug. Only 58% said they were aware of naloxone, and only 35% said they’d know how to access it if they needed it for an overdose. Naloxone can reverse an overdose, but only if used 30 to 90 minutes after the incident is discovered. As a result, it is something everyone should have on hand rather than search for when discovering an overdose. Considering that the study found that 71% of Americans say they’d know how to help someone in their life who’s struggling with addiction, it’s clear that one of the biggest takeaways from the research is the importance of naloxone awareness. 

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