mericans consider marijuana to be significantly less dangerous than cigarettes, alcohol and opioids—and they say cannabis is less addictive than each of those substances, as well as technology—according to a new poll.
The survey, released by the American Psychiatric Association (APA) and Morning Consult last week, looked at public opinion on the dangers and addictiveness of six different substances, plus technology. With respect to marijuana, 38 percent said that it is “very or somewhat unsafe.”
People were far more likely to regard as unsafe cigarettes (84 percent), alcohol (64 percent), prescription opioids (66 percent), non-prescription opioids (75 percent) and vapes (76 percent). The only thing that people said was safer than marijuana was technology, which only 23 percent described as very or somewhat unsafe.
In a separate question, 64 percent said that cannabis can be addictive. That’s a lower number than each of the other categories, including cigarettes (87 percent), alcohol (84 percent), prescribed opioids (83 percent), non-prescribed opioids (74 percent), vapes (81 percent) and technology (75 percent).
“It is clear that we have gotten the message through that cigarettes are dangerous and addictive,” APA President Petros Levounis said in a press release. “We can help prevent more Americans from other potentially addictive behaviors, like drinking alcohol and technology use.”
“For instance, vaping is just as, if not more addictive than cigarette smoking,” he added. “We can also make sure that people know about our current safe and effective treatments for both substance use disorders and the behavioral addictions. Addiction treatment works.”
Asked about the causes of addiction, 47 percent said that it was a result of “personal weakness,” but 76 percent said addiction is a medical condition and 93 percent said that substance use disorders can be treated. Another 76 percent said that the condition is preventable.
Additionally, 71 percent of Americans say they’d know how to help someone in their life who’s struggling with addiction. But while 58 percent said they’re aware of the opioid anti-overdose drug naloxone, just 35 percent said they’d know how to access the medication in the event of an overdose.
“In 2022, opioids killed more than 100,000 people,” APA CEO and Medical Director Saul Levin said. “While it is encouraging that most Americans see substance use disorder as a treatable medical condition, we can do more to ensure that more of us in our communities are aware of and can access naloxone, which saves lives.”
APA said it will be launching a public awareness campaign on addiction—initially focusing on vaping and then transitioning to opioids in the summer, alcohol in the winter and technology next year. It did not mention plans to include cannabis in that education campaign.
The survey involved interviews with 2,201 adults from April 20-22, with a +/-2 percentage point margin of error.
A New York-specific survey that was released in March found that 77 percent of respondents consider alcohol use a somewhat or very serious public health concern, while 46 percent said the same about cannabis consumption.
The findings are largely consistent with shifting public perceptions on alcohol and marijuana nationally, with fewer people viewing cannabis as a seriously dangerous substance as more states move to legalize the plant for medical and recreational purposes. Public education has also contributed to increased awareness of the harms of alcohol.
Also, past polling has found that many people are using marijuana as an alternative to alcohol, as well as a litany of prescription medications.
About one in five people who abstained from alcohol as part of “Dry January” this year said they’re were using cannabis as an alternative to help get through the month, according to another survey.
A separate poll released last year found that more Americans now openly admit that they smoke marijuana or eat cannabis-infused edibles than say they’ve smoked cigarettes in the past week.