Although the doctors disagreed on what substance was most harmful, all three doctors agreed that marijuana was the least harmful.
Dr. Anand Akhil, a behavioral health doctor with Cleveland Clinic, said that when it comes to generalizing for the average person, alcohol was the worst, followed by tobacco.
“Alcohol use is linked to over 200 health conditions and diseases, damaging every organ system in the body . . . Depression, anxiety, dementia, cancers, heart and liver disease, and bone disease can all result from alcohol consumption. Similarly, tobacco use is largely connected to serious cancers, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and cardiovascular diseases.” ~Dr. Anand Akhil
Dr. Kevin Most, chief medical officer at Northwestern Central DuPage Hospital, agreed in a recent interview with WGN Radio.
“I would certainly rank alcohol No. 1. . . . I’m going to say that alcohol in moderation is OK, but too much alcohol is going to have impact on many illnesses.” ~Dr. Kevin Most
The harms of consuming tobacco, Dr. Most said, could be largely reversed when people stop smoking earlier in life. “If people understand the the risk of lung cancer, based on how many years you’ve been smoking and how much you’ve been smoking, if you stop that smoking at an early age … your lungs can reinvigorate and get back almost to normal.”
But Glickman disagreed, and ranked tobacco as worst due to the fact it has no proven health benefits.
“Tobacco I would argue is the worse substance of the three, given it has no conceivable benefit even in light amounts, and considerable risks. Tobacco has been linked to increases in heart disease, cancers, and premature mortality, among others . . . Alcohol on the other hand, could have benefits at light or moderate amounts, but then risks with large amounts.” ~Dr. Glickman
He said red wine in particular contains antioxidants, and pointed to studies showing up to one glass per day can reduce inflammation in blood vessels.
But all three doctors agreed on which ranked least harmful to the average person’s health.
“I would put marijuana third, mainly because we know that there’s a lot of medicinal uses for marijuana and used in the right format and in the controlled environment is fine,” Most said. He said chemotherapy patients often credit cannabis as the only thing keeping their appetite up, allowing them to get nutrition they need.
Glickman said evaluating cannabis’ healthfulness and harmfulness is more complicated than the other two.
“The available evidence suggests that cannabis could be of benefit when medically supervised as part of a treatment plan for certain conditions such as chronic pain, anxiety, trauma, insomnia, and muscular disorders, among others,” he said. But Glickman went on to say cannabis use could make certain mental health issues worse, as well as impair memory and concentration.
He said the data suggests there is an extra risk to young adults whose brains aren’t fully developed.
Plus, Akhil noted, while the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Health and Human Services have guidelines on how much alcohol adults can consume in moderation (up to two drinks a day for men, one drink for women), there are no such guidelines for safe cannabis or tobacco use.
“I think negative health consequences could be possible for all of the three substances, even in moderate amounts, depending on the person and situation,” Glickman said. “There is no foolproof vice.”
All three experts emphasized each person is unique, and you should always talk to your doctor about your specific situation.
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