Column: Why can’t weed be friends?

Column: Why can’t weed be friends?

Marijuana is illegal. But is it any worse than fast food, tobacco or alcohol? Then again, you probably already know that. But what about soda? Facts and studies show soda, a legal part of our lives, is just as harmful and more addicting than marijuana.

Sixty-five grams of sugar are dumped into a 20-ounce bottle of Coca-Cola. I’ll translate: A nickel weighs five grams. Therefore, you’re downing the equivalent of 13 nickels’ worth of sugar. Research has shown that sugar triggers production of opioids in the brain, which sparks addiction. The same process happens when the brain gets addicted to the opioids in heroin. Of course, sugar and heroin aren’t on the same level. Coke contains more than just sugar, though.

A 20-ounce bottle of Coca-Cola also contains 57.5 milligrams of caffeine. In January 2005, National Geographic presented a study suggesting caffeine creates a physical dependence. Plus, a different study spanning 170 years concluded that caffeine leads to withdrawal. I know any coffee drinker could attest to caffeine’s addictiveness.

Finally, Coca-Cola has “natural flavors,” the meaning of which is summed up perfectly by “Natural Flavors can be pretty much anything approved for use in food.” So what “natural flavors” are in Coke? Your guess is as good as mine. Up until 1929, Coca-Cola contained trace amounts of cocaine. Coca leaves, which contain traces of cocaine and nicotine alkaloids – both of which are slightly addictive – have been chewed by South Americans for centuries because they’re rich in vitamins and protein. But my opinion is they may not have disappeared completely from the drink.

In a Time article in January, Bolivian president Evo Morales claimed that Coca-Cola imports coca leaves from his country. I believe him like I believed Jose Canseco. Morales clearly has ulterior motives, but he’s telling the truth, just like Canseco. Do you think it’s a coincidence that the drink is called Coca-Cola?

I’d be lying if I said marijuana isn’t addictive, too. Using it can provide deep relaxation, auditory enhancement, creative thinking and sensory delight. People enjoy the results and want to do it again. But is this physical addiction or merely enjoyment?

In a 1999 report, the Washington-based Institute of Medicine relayed the results of two large surveys, finding that 5 percent of people have been dependent on marijuana. That was miniscule compared to alcohol (14 percent) and tobacco (36 percent). There were no numbers on soda, but I know a good way to estimate.

The Coca-Cola Company netted $23 billion in 2005. PepsiCo pulled in $32.5 billion. A lot of people drink soda. Might this indicate dependence? Of course, this wouldn’t matter if marijuana was much more harmful. But is it? Let’s take a look.

A 2004 study by Harvard epidemiology and nutrition professor Walter Willett found a strong link associating soda with diabetes and obesity. According to the American Diabetes Association, diabetes contributed to 224,092 deaths in 2002. In addition, the Center of Disease Control and Prevention claims obesity is close to passing tobacco as the leading cause of preventable death. Now let’s compare this to marijuana.

Getting high gives you cancer – or so the myth goes. A study by Johns Hopkins Medical School couldn’t prove this. In fact, it found that “Marijuana, unlike tobacco and alcohol, does not appear to cause head, neck, or lung cancer,” according to a 2000 WebMD article. Also, if marijuana is so dangerous, why would major government studies like the Nixon Marijuana Commission Report and the Canadian LeDain Report support legalized recreational use?

I’m not saying marijuana’s perfectly healthy. I know for a fact that it doesn’t help the lungs. I also agree that it can contribute to mental illness. However, I think there’s one telling statistic that displays its relative harmlessness. As the Institute of Medicine stated, “To our knowledge no marijuana user has ever died of such an overdose [where they tend to increase the amount of drug they take in order to attain the same high].”

Truth be told, neither soda nor marijuana is good for you. Alcohol isn’t good for you. Fast food isn’t good for you. Simply put, there are a lot of things that aren’t good for you. Nevertheless, people can still lead a normal life if they don’t overindulge. So why is only one of them illegal?

I think it comes down to the government’s ideal vision of America. The government yearns for economic achievement, and it knows marijuana will probably hurt people’s productivity. That’s why alcohol, tobacco, Adderall, soda and any other social stimulants are accepted and revered. But does achievement correlate with happiness? Is our incessant pursuit the best thing for America?

I don’t think soda should be illegal. I don’t think any substance should be, so long as it doesn’t control your life. I drink Coke, eat McDonald’s, puff cigars and get high. I want the full flavor of life. I just make sure I take in small amounts of the aforementioned ingredients.

My goal for this wasn’t to prove that soda is worse than marijuana, although I think it is. My goal was to show that marijuana’s criminalization is a complete and utter hypocrisy. Deep down, I know the truth will eventually prevail and marijuana will be legalized. But isn’t it about time?

– Christopher Sabanty can be reached at [email protected]

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