Mar 26, 2008

A Tale of Two Drugs

Which is more dangerous – alcohol or cannabis?

This is a trick question - for Singaporeans. In many other parts of the world, the correct answer is already very well-known. Meanwhile in Singapore, many people would unhesitatingly answer, “Cannabis”.

Wrong. Alcohol is more dangerous.

For an authoritative study on the topic, you can refer to this study commissioned by the UK Science & Technology Select Committee. This study compared 20 legal and illegal stimulants commonly used in Britain. The full report is here.

Heroin is the most harmful drug. Cocaine takes 2nd spot. Alcohol is rated the fifth most harmful drug. Tobacco comes in at No. 9.

Meanwhile, cannabis is rated 11th. Ecstasy comes in at No. 18. If all you knew about drugs was Singapore's drug laws, you'd never have guessed this.

You can buy alcohol and cigarettes at any supermarket. But if you were caught selling cannabis, you could die. They'd hang you.

Why am I writing about this? Just felt like it, after reading the following article in the Straits Times:
ST March 25, 2008
Drinking binge killed China woman

By Elena Chong

A CHINA woman had so much to drink at a pub that she died of acute alcohol intoxication, a coroner's court heard on Tuesday.

Ms Zhu Shaoyun, 31, had been drinking from 5pm till about 9pm at Dong Guang Entertainment Group Pub along North Bridge Road on Nov 12 last year.

In Singapore on a social visit then, she had ordered beer and a bottle of Cordonbleu from waiter Ng Wei Guang, 25.

By about 8pm, she was heavily intoxicated.

At an inquiry into her death, Station Inspector Eugene Lim Kuan Leng from Central Police Division said in his investigation report that out of goodwill, Mr Ng accompanied Ms Zhu back to Lorong 8 Geylang in a cab. She vomited on the way.

When they arrived at Lorong 8, Mr Ng noticed her foaming in the mouth and nose. She was also pale and not breathing.

Mr Ng immediately asked the cabby to take them to Raffles Hospital where she was pronounced dead at 10.50pm.

Ms Zhu's blood-alcohol level was 547mg/100ml - more than 1 1/2 times the lethal range.

SI Lim also told the court that Mr Ng had noticed that Ms Zhu, a married woman, appeared depressed, and that when he approached her, she told him to leave her alone.

Verdict: Misadventure.
Death by alcohol overdose is relatively common. In contrast, it’s practically impossible to die from a marijuana overdose. See Point 2 of the article here.

(Naturally Mr Wang is not suggesting that you go out now and buy cannabis from your neighbourhood dealer. Mr Wang is merely suggesting that you be careful how you drink your alcohol).


Anonymous said...

Neither cannabis nor alcohol is as dangerous as the teasers of stress and survival. The Latter has driven(lead to) the Former just liked hunger has caused people to beg(illegal in Sg) steal and rob, not that their deeds can be condoned.


Lau Min-tsek said...

Fatty food has killed more people than all the top 10 combined, if you take into account the number of cardio-vascular diseases and other related diseases.

Anonymous said...

It not so much the matter but the context. If police fire a gun, it is legal but if other people do so, it means death penalty.
It is normal to have sex with spouse but it is immoral or even criminal to do so otherwise.
It is legal to have million dollar salary but illegal to be corrupt even for a few hundred.
Even the law recognise context of situation and hence penalty can be totally different even though the effect is the same.
Hope this clarify things.

Anonymous said...

All because the cannabis smokers were too high to use hunks and babes to make them look cool and glamourous =)

Robert L said...

Dear Mr Wang,

This is a good article, keep at it.

I shudder to imagine that, sometime in the future, Singapore will hang someone for possession of cannabis exceeding xxx grams or zzz pills of ecstasy (equivalent to trafficking under our laws), and one week later, hey presto! these two items are decriminised to streamline with medical knowledge and laws all over the world.

How will our Ministers explain to the families of the victims (umm, I mean offenders, or rather, offenders under previous laws).

I'm amazed that our Ministers never read Sun Tze's wisdom about taking away somebody's life and never being able to give it back.

Anonymous said...

Its all about CONTEXT isnt it?
Unfortunately it requires a lot of thinking and analysis so lets just go with the herd mentality shall we...

Anonymous said...

unlike alcohol, cannibis can give you the "high"/"higher" feelin relatively.
drink lots of alcohol and you'l konk out before attaining the "high".

besides, if the govt bans alcohol, i imagine half the world will riot :)


Anonymous said...

have any of you ever watched BBC Dispatches - Drinking Yourself To Death? it's available on torrent sites.

the show's findings are truly shocking. if i recall correctly, it strongly suggests that responsible drinking for your liver means men should not have more than 2 drinks within a 24 hour period, and women should limit themselves to 1. the show introduced to me the concept that "responsible drinking" has absolutely nothing to do with whether you feel the effects of the alcohol you've ingested and whether you can look after yourself well enough to get home safely.

was terribly angry with those responsible drinking ads we see everywhere after that. those ads support our ignorance and do not serve to educate at all. they merely lull us into a false sense security.

the show focused quite a bit on what liver disease actually entails and featured interviews with people suffering from it. it was personally terrifying to realise my friends and i were on the path to that just by binge drinking 6-ish drinks once a week on saturday nights.

my friends and i are in our early 20s, and with all the lecturing the government gives us on other matters, as well as the money the industry has been spent on the drink responsibly ads, i think they have really failed us on the issue of alcohol consumption. after watching the BBC program i'd started panicking about whether alcohol limits for asians would be different (because we're smaller built, etc). with all my trust in the government, i decided they would be in the best position to advise me. however, when i accessed i couldn't find any guidelines at all. they only mentioned generalised stuff like "limit your consumption of alcohol as excessive drinking can [...] increase your risk of liver cancer" on their page for the disease.

but what is "excessive?"

please message to correct me if the guidelines ARE indeed on the HPB website but i somehow missed them. it would be nice to know what our web savvy government thinks they are.

i've read about APBS and NTU's recent joint campaign "get your sexy back" about drinking in moderation and have visited their flashy site i'm not in singapore right now and don't know how effective the campaign's been, but i don't think the recommended alcohol limits are defined clearly enough on their site. if you take their "bar exam" quiz, only one question touches on it. Q: "Binge drinking for men is considered having?" The answer given is "more than five drinks."

um, women leh?

i think the government should show this BBC program in our secondary schools during health ed class or assembly. they've been using the scare tactic for smoking and drugs for years. if they scare and inform us about alcohol, the issue of ignorance will be largely solved. if we continue to binge drink afterward we will only have ourselves to blame.

- caroline

Anonymous said...

in any case, if you're interested in reading about alcohol consumption guidelines for yourself, a really useful educational site you can visit is

- caroline

Mr Wang Says So said...

Thank you, Caroline, for your informative comment.

numbernine said...

How come alcohol is more dangerous than tobacco? It is hardly as addictive.

And Marijuana is more dangerous than LSD?

Anonymous said...

Mr Wang, ask you a legal or medical term.

What is "misadventure"? What kind of verdict does it mean?

Not referring to this case. But so far those cases which doctors are obviously are at fault, like the leg rot NSmen who died, all ganna "misadventure" verdict. What are your views?

Anonymous said...

Marijuana is a natural drug. It clears out of your system in 3 days and is non-addictive.

Ciggies are addictive and the tar stays in your system for decades.

Alcohol is addictive, and can cause instant death.

Marijuana is banned. And penalized by death (if exceed certain amt) if found.

Ciggies are legal.

Alcohol is legal.

Ironic isn't it?

numbernine said...

An interesting article that says that marijuana is not that harmless after all.