Cannabis is largely illegal in the United States, although there have been moves in several jurisdictions to make it accessible to people who suffer from specific conditions such as epilepsy, anxiety, depression, and chronic pain, among others. There are also states that allow for the growth, sale, distribution and use of cannabis for whatever purpose. Yes, that includes recreational use of marijuana. On top of that, there have been countries that are now legalizing marijuana, such as Canada.
Alcohol, on the other hand, is legal for adults everywhere. But that does not mean to say that alcohol is better than cannabis. If you were to pick your poison, which one should you choose?
Because of the illegal status of marijuana, scientific research into its effects — both good and bad — have been scarce. Most of the studies that we have now are newer ones, or needs more clarification. Alcohol, on the other hand, has been studied for decades.
This is why you should always have a healthy dose of skepticism of what you are to read next. Most of the studies we mention here are still in its infancy, or are still preliminary.
What’s more, there are a lot of factors that come into play when it comes to health effects of either marijuana or alcohol. The effects are also different when it comes to timing. There are effects that are immediately noticeable, while other effects tend to build up over time.
1. When it comes to cancer, it is better to avoid alcohol.
The American Society of Clinical Oncology came out with a statement in 2017 warning the public about the dangers of alcohol and its being a risk factor in several forms of cancer. The group of cancer doctors believe that minimizing alcohol use can help prevent cancer. According to the statement, 5.5 percent of all new cancer diagnoses and 5.8 percent of cancer deaths around the world are attributable to alcohol.
Alcohol is a carcinogen, which means that it causes cancer.
On the other hand, cannabis has shown promise in treating cancer. It was first thought that smoking cannabis can lead to lung cancer, but that is now hotly challenged.
The American Cancer Society lists the benefits of cannabis on cancer:
- Helps cancer patients manage vomiting and nausea when undergoing chemotherapy.
- Helps treat neuropathic pain.
- Helps lessen the need for painkillers.
- THC and CBD in cannabis have shown promise that it can slow down cancer growth and even kill cancer cells.
2. Alcohol kills more young people all over the world; cannabis has not killed anyone.
According to a study published in The Lancet, alcohol use is the biggest reason for the death or disability of people aged 15 to 49 years old. The used for the “Global Burden of Diseases, Injuries, and Risk Factors Study 2016” was collected from 195 places in a span of 26 years from 1990 to 2016, involving close to 700 data sources and close to 600 studies.
The huge scale of this study and its chilling results should open your eyes to the dangers of alcohol. The study authors even said that alcohol use increases the risk of death while making people who drink more at risk for cancer. As such, the notion that “moderation is key” is wrong, there is no safe level for alcohol use.
According to the World Health Organization, around 5.9 percent of all deaths around the world in 2012 may be attributed to alcohol. That translates to around 3.3 million people dying because of alcohol. What’s worse, the WHO also reports that in 2010, the average drinker consumed 13.5 grams of pure alcohol daily.
On the other hand, cannabis has killed no one. According to the Drug Enforcement Agency, nobody has died from marijuana overdose alone.
3. Alcohol can lead to more violence.
A study titled, “The neural correlates of alcohol-related aggression”, and published in the Cognitive, Affective, & Behavioral Neuroscience journal, notes that being drunk is one of the reasons for close to half of all violent crimes.
The authors prove that this is not just conjecture: there is a physical cause for the increased violence among drunk people. When you drink alcohol, the prefrontal cortex of your brain functions differently than when you are sober. Provocation is not even an issue, alcohol is.
This study is just one of the many studies that have linked alcohol use and violence. The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence notes that while eight out ten of prisoners are there because of alcohol or drugs abuse, the drink contributes more to the problem.
According to NCADD, alcohol is the reason behind four out of ten violent crimes happening today. In fact, around 37 percent, or more than a third, of those who are in jail confessed that they were drunk when they were arrested.
Alcohol is also most closely associated in a number of violent crimes, and that includes spousal abuse, domestic violence, sexual assault, rape, murder, and others.
On the other hand, drugs-related arrests are less violent in nature, usually involving robbery or theft. The NCADD reports that around 17 to 18 percent of prisoners stole to get money to buy drugs.
4. Alcohol is more addictive than cannabis.
Cannabis is often called a gateway drug. You try it once and then you are more at risk of being addicted to cannabis, and then you move on to stronger drugs. That is what the federal government is saying, anyway.
However, science begs to disagree. A Marist Poll asked adults over the phone whether they have tried and used marijuana. The results showed that a more than half of American adults have used marijuana at least once and around 14 percent use it on a regular basis.
That equates to a whopping 129 million people who have tried marijuana at least once. If that were the case and marijuana is really as addictive as the government would have us believe, then where are all those addicts now? The answer might surprise you.
According to numerous studies, only a “small percentage” of marijuana users become addicted to it. To be classified as an addict, you would need to meet at least three of seven criteria put forth by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.
A study conducted by the National Institute on Drug Abuse found that only 9 percent of people who use marijuana qualify as an addict. Alcohol, however, had more people getting addicted to it. Around 15 percent of alcohol drinkers become addicted. As a point of reference, here are the addiction rates for other illicit drugs.
- Cocaine, 17 percent
- Heroin, 23 percent
- Nicotine, 32 percent
Put another way, nine out of ten people who have tried marijuana do not become addicted to it.
5. Marijuana can lead to the munchies, but alcohol makes you gain more weight.
One of the most documented effects of cannabis is the munchies. Get high on weed, and you would probably find yourself looking for something to eat. The uncontrollable urge to eat is so strong that some people eat too much and not get full. This is because weed can hinder your brain from telling your body that it is full. For some people, food after pot session tastes a whole lot better.
Studies conducted by Rodondi, Pletcher, Liu, et. al, have shown that the munchies can easily add around 600 calories a day to your food intake. At that rate, you would expect to see a lot of obese stoners walking around. However, the researchers found that even with 600 calories more, marijuana users showed no changes in the body mass index or glucose or lipid levels. As such, the researchers concluded that cannabis use does not seem to add to your risk of cardiovascular diseases.
Time Magazine also had a report that showed that pot use might even cut your risk of being obese.
The opposite is true with alcohol. The American Journal of Preventative Medicine recently published a study that showed people who drink heavily has a higher rate to be obese or overweight. In fact, among those who drink heavily, they have a 41 percent higher risk of being obese. And if you are already overweight, alcohol can keep the weight on if you drink heavily.
6. Alcohol and cannabis can impair your memory.
Among heavy and frequent users, cannabis and alcohol can do bad things to your memory. However, alcohol can lead to temporary blackouts, wherein you cannot remember a certain period because your brain has stopped making new memories during that time.
It is no surprise that the heavy and frequent use of cannabis can affect your cognitive functions. A study conducted by researchers from the Veterans Affairs San Diego Healthcare System showed that adolescents who use marijuana heavily have problems with working and learning memory even after six weeks of abstinence. Adults, on the other hand, suffer from memory impairment for only days.
Meanwhile, cannabis has also been shown to be detrimental to verbal memory skills, especially among long-time users.
Heavy and frequent drinkers, on the other hand, struggle with being attentive, planning and have problems with memory. On top of cognitive problems, they also have problems with their social cognition and emotional processes. Unlike cannabis, where the cognitive effects linger only after days or weeks of abstinence, the effects of alcohol on memory remain even after years of not drinking.
7. Alcohol might prove more beneficial than cannabis when it comes to matters of the heart.
Marijuana can speed up your heart rate, which might be bad for your heart. However, there are no studies that could prove that cannabis leads to greater risks of you suffering from a heart attack.
Alcohol, when used moderately, can lower the risk of a heart attack.
8. Alcohol can make you depressed or anxious, but pot can make you paranoid or schizophrenic.
It is very apparent that both alcohol and cannabis can alter your mind. With weed, you tend to be more paranoid, hostile and even suffer from disorganized thinking. These are psychotic symptoms that can last for the short term.
More than that, there are a number of studies that have shown pot use can lead to schizophrenia. These studies focused on up to thousands of subjects over decades.
With alcohol, on the other hand, it has been shown that it can lead you to be depressed. According to UK’s Royal College of Physicians, more than half of people living in the UK drink. But they caution that alcohol can lead to dementia and psychosis. It can also lead to depression by affecting the brain’s chemistry.
This might lead to suicide and self-harm.
On that note, cannabis has proven beneficial in treating anxiety or depression. This study showed that cannabis use led to a reduction of symptoms in 89.3 percent of people who suffer from depression. Meanwhile, 93.5 percent of those who suffer from anxiety reported a reduction of symptoms after smoking pot. Weed also has a similar beneficial effect on stress, where 93.3 percent reported that they are less stressed after using marijuana.
9. Alcohol leads to more car crashes than cannabis.
According to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, THC in by itself does not increase the risk of a driver getting into a car crash, while there is a statistical relationship between crashes and alcohol.
The NHTSA also notes that while THC alone will not increase the risk of your car hugging a pole, a 0.05% blood-alcohol level will increase your risk close to six times!
That is not to say that THC, which is the main psychoactive compound in cannabis, is safe to consume while driving. It isn’t. When you toke before you drive, you will still have 1.25 times higher risk of getting into a car accident. It is worse if you combine alcohol and cannabis, where you get a much higher risk.
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As it is, it would seem that alcohol, which is legal and readily accessible to adults, is much more deleterious to your health than cannabis.