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Pot Is 114 Times Safer Than Alcohol, A New Study Says

By one metric.

Posted on February 24, 2015, at 2:01 p.m. ET

A new study reaffirms the common claim that marijuana could be safer than a host of other drugs, including alcohol and tobacco.

Andres Stapff / Reuters

In a January article published in Scientific Reports, researchers analyzed existing data on the number of deaths from each drug and how often each is used to reach their conclusions.

They found alcohol is about 114 times more deadly than pot, according to the Washington Post's math.

To get that figure, they took what's called the effective dose of a drug, which is the minimum dose it takes someone to feel its effects. Then, they took the lethal dose of the same drug, which is how much people typically die from. Dividing the lethal dose by the effective dose gets what's called a safety margin, which scientists use to compare the relative safety of drugs.

The higher the number, the more of a drug it'd take to kill you.

The study even goes so far as to advocate for the legalization of marijuana.

Spencer Platt / Getty Images

Their findings "suggest a strict legal regulatory approach rather than the current prohibition approach."

But be warned: The data is subject to change as the number of users fluctuates.

As more states legalize pot medically and recreationally, we might see a spike in the number of smokers. Increased exposure to marijuana has the potential to alter the statistics about how dangerous it is.

"This is very heavily dependent on the prevalence of use in the population," University at Buffalo Research Institute on Addictions Director Kenneth Leonard told BuzzFeed News.

Lead study author Dirk Lachenmeier also stressed that the data is subject to change with consumption patterns.

Scientists don't yet have good data on marijuana's long-term effects.

Steve Dipaola / Reuters

The Scientific Reports study focuses on the effects of taking drugs on a day-to-day basis, rather than what could happen in the long term. It's clear that marijuana is incredibly safe in this regard: Someone who injects heroin, a drug included in the study, could possibly die of an overdose from just one use. By contrast, someone who smokes pot once may not experience any effects at all.

But scientists say more research must be done on marijuana's potential long-term impact on people who smoke or ingest it regularly.

"There is evidence that it relates to some changes in the brain that may impair memory, and that that is particularly the case if it's used regularly among people who are younger," Leonard said. "We don't really know as well about people who are older. Regular frequent use does seem to be associated with intellectual impairments."

Like any drug, marijuana's safety hinges on how it's used.

Norberto Duarte / AFP / Getty Images

It's largely true that marijuana isn't associated with overdoses, but Claremont University emeritus professor Robert Gable, who has researched marijuana use extensively, cautions that anything can be hazardous if used improperly.

"Let's just say the safety depends upon somebody acting rationally, only one drug in the proper route, and not mixing it with other substances," Gable told BuzzFeed News. "Marijuana is exceedingly safe by all normal toxicity measures."

A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.