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Colombia’s Minister for Health and Social Protection, Alejandro Gaviria, created a mini-stir recently by claiming that alcohol consumption was more harmful than smoking marijuana. His remarks come amidst moves in Congress here to legalise the use of the drug for medical purposes.

Carlos y yo en Cesar's...

Is beer more harmful to us than marijuana? Well, it depends on how you look at it …

In one sense it’s a bit puzzling to understand why what he said caused consternation in some circles; in reality, it was far from shocking. For from a societal point of view, he’s probably not far off the mark. Excessive alcohol consumption is very often at the heart of violence both here in Colombia and across the globe. It can destroy families and friendships.

In contrast, you’d do well to find an aggressive person high on pot; rather, such people are generally very placid.

So looking at it that way, if we are going to indulge in some sort of drug, perhaps we’d all be better off smoking marijuana instead of gulping down bottles of beer. ‘Make peace, not war’ and all that jazz.

However, at the individual level, anecdotally anyway, regular pot smokers tend to be quite lazy and lack motivation to do even the simplest of things. Maybe that’s just my bad luck and experience? There are, though, at least some supporting studies.*

On the contrary, and again this is a personal observation, consistent drinkers – not out-and-out alcoholics that is to say – seem more proactive when it comes to work and day-to-day activities. (They might just be a little crankier than non-drinkers, at times.) It could be argued that this is down to many societies’ long association with alcohol. Our bodies have learnt to cope better with it than other drugs.**

Nimbin, Australia

Nimbin, Australia: What you might call a pot smoker’s paradise. Is it the way to go?

What’s more, the idea of consciously inhaling damaging fumes into your body isn’t exactly the most natural or life-prolonging thing to do. (Although in a city such as Bogotá, puffing on a joint mightn’t do you much more harm than breathing in the urban air.) On the other hand, we all must ingest water to survive, the chief component of most alcoholic products. Plus, in the right amounts – as can be said for marijuana, too, of course – the likes of beer and wine can be beneficial for your health.

That’s pretty much the case for most things in life: Whatever you’re having, have it in moderation; ‘less is more’. Knowing your limits is the key.

Bearing all that in mind, if I was pushed to choose either alcohol or marijuana as my regular ‘vice’, I’d be firmly siding with the former. It’s ‘horses for courses’ I guess.

The bottom line with all these things should be that if there are harmful effects, it’s the individual user who bears them. Alas, that’s not always the case.
*For example, see Regular pot smokers have shrunken brains, study says.

**The Koreans obviously don’t believe this, though: ‘Irish alcoholism nature’ reason for job rejection for Irish teacher in South Korea.

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La vida en Colombia desde la perspectiva de un periodista y locutor irlandés, quien ha vivido en el país desde 2011. El blog explora temas sociales y culturales, interacción con los nativos, viajes, actualidades y mucho más. Escucha su podcast acá: https://anchor.fm/brendan-corrigan.

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