Originally posted on 7th August 2017, Updated on 24th January 2019
In the United States, cannabis remains a Schedule I drug, meaning that it cannot be sold, consumed or even tested. This is true even though many individual states are legalizing weed for both medicinal and recreational use. Even with these restrictions and legalizations however, alcohol still remains readily available to anyone who is over the age of 21.
This of course, pertains only to the United States, but even with legalization of cannabis becoming more common throughout the world, alcohol is often available to those who are 18 years or over. In some regions, the legal drinking age is even younger. This has many people wondering, what’s more dangerous? Weed, or alcohol?
How does weed and alcohol affect the brain?
With both weed and alcohol having very controversial effects on the brain, this is one of the first things studied when comparing the effects between the two. What’s most interesting, is that when looking at the brain alone, it seems as though alcohol might be the bigger culprit.
This is especially true when it comes to binge drinking. When an excessive amount of alcohol is consumed, the body simply can’t metabolize it quickly enough and this can lead to a buildup of alcohol in the brain. When this happens, certain areas of the brain can begin to shut down. Most notably, these include the areas responsible for heartbeat and respiration, systems that when a human goes without, it can lead to death. These damaging effects have been confirmed in this study.
It’s for this reason, says the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that each year, 37,000 people die due to binge-drinking alone, and even more from accidental deaths related to alcohol.
Marijuana does not have the same effect on the brain as alcohol does, but that does not mean it’s completely safe either. While no one has ever died from consuming too much weed, it can have negative effects on the brain.
The most commonly known are that when weed is consumed before a person reaches the age of 25, it can have very negative effects. This is because before this age, the brain has not fully developed leaving it susceptible to problems with cognitive function, memory, and other learning disabilities when too much weed is consumed before individuals reach that age. This study provides evidence of how harmful marijuana compounds can be to the adolescent brain.
How does weed and alcohol affect the body?
In addition to the brain, the effects of both cannabis and alcohol are also studied by the CDC and other governing bodies. So, just what do both of these substances do that can be harmful – or not as harmful as people think?
Both weed and alcohol travel through the bloodstream, but the similarities between the two ends there. After drinking alcohol, the toxins will have to be processed by the liver, which is the location where most of the damage done by alcohol will be seen. Excessive alcohol use can lead to a number of fatal diseases including alcoholic liver disease, fibrosis of the liver, and even liver cancer.
The same is just not true of cannabis. There is not as much known as to the extent to which cannabis affects the body, but this may be because it’s considered a highly illegal drug in many parts of the world. So illegal in fact, that these sorts of studies cannot be done on it. But logic does dictate that if weed were to cause these kinds of disastrous effects, the medical community would have stumbled upon it through patient use alone, and it hasn’t.
The worst thing weed is likely going to do is to cause excessive coughing and possibly even bronchitis or chronic inflammation of the lungs to those who smoke it. It does need to be noted however, that in order to cause these effects, an individual would need to be a very regular smoker in order to suffer from these adverse effects.
With this kind of damage to the lungs, it would make sense that lung cancer would follow in regular weed smokers, just as liver cancer does in alcoholics. But this study done by UCLA in 2006 proved this not to be true.
In fact, that study showed that not only does cannabis do nothing to contribute to a person developing lung cancer, but that it may even prevent the cancer from ever appearing. Why this was, the researchers couldn’t determine exactly, but they do believe that cannabis may have some type of protective element from the CBD content that actually combats cancer rather than promoting its development.
Ruben Baler, a health scientist at the National Institute of Drug Abuse, does conclude in this study that pre-existing psychiatric issues may become more apparent with cannabis use, and that it can have negative effects on a person’s reproductive system. However, he also concludes that generally speaking, weed does not bring about the same consequences to the brain or the body that alcohol does.
He also agrees that while there is little to be gained by drinking alcohol regularly (although moderate amounts are considered okay), those who consume weed on a regular basis are also opening themselves up to many of the positive effects cannabis can have in the body. And that’s something that alcohol simply cannot provide.
Addiction and Overdose
Of course you can’t talk about the dangers of alcohol and weed without talking about the possibility of drug addiction. So when it comes to alcoholics and a drug addiction to cannabis, which one is the biggest threat?
This is another area that’s very difficult to study due to the fact that weed is still illegal in many parts of the world. So much so that many governments do not even allow it, and its effects including overdose, to be studied. However, as suggested in this study, only 9 percent of those who consume cannabis at any time in their lives will become dependent on it to the point they could be considered to have a drug addiction. However, nearly twice as many people who consume alcohol – 16 percent – will become an alcoholic, or dependent on alcohol.
In conjunction with these studies, the idea that weed could possibly be a viable replacement for those with a current drug addiction to opioids is one that’s gaining traction. Again, while no one has ever died of a cannabis overdose, over 14,000 Americans died from an opioid overdose in 2014 alone. Today it’s estimated that over 100 people die in the U.S. every day from an opioid overdose.
Cannabis has many of the same properties as opioids including relieving pain, anxiety, insomnia, and other ailments, but without any of the negative effects. This fact alone has led many researchers and scientists to conclude that cannabis is a very viable replacement for opioids. Many have even referred to weed as not the ‘gateway’ drug it was once thought to be but instead, an exit drug.
Those who are opposed to cannabis legalization in many parts of the world continue to point to two areas they deem the most concerning should weed ever become legalized – addiction, and crime. With the stats for drug addiction proving that most smokers simply want to enjoy a toke after a hard day and aren’t interested in becoming dependent on the drug, crime is the next logical element to look at. And there’s no better place to turn than to the one place that has gotten the most media attention after being the first in the U.S. to legalize cannabis, Colorado.
In just the first year after legalizing weed, the Colorado Bureau of Investigation reported that overall crime had dropped by 1 percent. The crime rate per 1,000 people had dropped by 2.5 percent, while property crimes saw a drop of 3.1 percent. Homicides dropped by 12.8 percent, while automobile break-ins saw a decrease of a whopping 36 percent decrease.
This isn’t surprising to those who enjoy the odd joint every now and then, or even those who use it more regularly. Cannabis simply doesn’t elicit the strong violent reactions that alcohol is known for doing. And in fact, within the same year that crime stats were dropping in Colorado, alcohol played a major role in 40 percent of all violent crimes committed in the entire country. It’s thought that number could be even more today, as the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism states that violent crime contributed to alcohol is on the rise.
There are many benefits that one can feel after using both weed and alcohol. But on the whole, not only has cannabis proven to be better for individuals with each passing study, but it’s also shown that alcohol can have more devastating effects on the body. In addition to that, people are more likely to form a drug addiction to alcohol than they are to weed, and those under the influence of alcohol are also more likely to partake in a violent crime.
When it comes to which is better – weed or alcohol, it’s clear that weed wins out every single time.