Naturally, both drinking alcohol and using cannabis can help you relax after a stressful day as a result of the sedative properties that both offer. However, it’s also true that you will also experience a slight impairment in coordination, thinking, and reasoning, which only increases the more you consume the substances. So, which one is worse, a glass of wine or a joint?
This is the question we’ll try to answer in this article, so keep reading to find out whether marijuana is better than alcohol, or if it’s the other way around. In general, weed has fewer risks than alcohol, but its main cannabinoids (THC and CBD) have only recently started to be widely researched, and the legality is another issue entirely. Alcohol, however, is widely available and has been popular among people as far as the times of the ancient civilizations.
To compare how both intoxicants affect users and give you the information on which is worse, we compared the effects and risks from consuming each substance and listed them in the sections below.
Things to Keep in Mind When Comparing Cannabis and Alcohol
Even though there are some similarities between both substances, there are also a lot of differences that make the comparison tricky.
Firstly, alcohol has been researched much more than weed has, and there aren’t as many cannabis-related long-term studies.
Secondly, there are a lot of cannabis products and cannabis consumption methods and each affects the human body differently, while alcohol doesn’t. How users consume weed has an impact on the short-term and long-term effects on users. For instance, smoking weed can affect the lungs, while consuming edibles doesn’t.
Finally, each user reacts to weed and alcohol differently, therefore one person may have a low tolerance for alcohol, but a high tolerance for weed and vice versa. Another person can consume alcohol in moderation without problem but may find it hard to function without weed.
Alcohol vs Cannabis
When we take a look at weed and cannabis, we realize that there are a few similarities but also a lot of differences between them with regard to the short-term and long-term effects of consuming these substances.
Weed and alcohol can both impair our short-term memory, and alcohol can even cause blackouts and impair the brain (so it’s unable to form memories while under the influence of the substances). Chronic drinkers may experience attention and memory reduction on top of the impaired social and emotional processes that can persist for years after the person has stopped drinking.
On the other hand, chronic cannabis users can experience decreased neurocognitive function and poorer verbal memory if they had started consuming cannabis during their teenage years. This research shows that marijuana use disorders, which are associated with dependence and withdrawals, can make people irritable and tired if they try to quit. In other words, they can experience marijuana withdrawal symptoms.
Short-Term Effects of Cannabis and Alcohol
The short-term effects of cannabis and alcohol can vary from person to person, and they also depend on how much the person has consumed as well as their tolerance level. One person may feel relaxed, but another may feel restless and paranoid after consuming either one of the substances.
The short-term effects of alcohol intoxication include:
- Lowered heart rate;
- Impaired coordination;
- Impaired judgment, cognitive skills, and attention span;
- Nausea and vomiting;
- A hangover the next day which can be paired with migraine and diarrhea.
Apart from having a hangover, consuming too much alcohol can actually kill you, which is why binge drinking is never a good idea. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, excessive amounts of alcohol can have serious health effects, especially if people are taking medication. The CDC claims that around 95,000 deaths in the US are caused by excessive alcohol consumption.
Weed’s short-term effects can vary from person to person and they include:
- Increased creativity from consuming some cannabis strains;
- Impaired coordination, judgment, cognition, and reflexes;
- Altered perception of time;
- Pain relief;
- Increased hunger (munchies);
- Cottonmouth (dry mouth);
- Bloodshot eyes (dry eyes);
- Increased heart rate and blood pressure, as well as an increased possibility of getting a heart attack;
- Paranoia or anxiety;
- No hangover, but possible headaches or drowsiness.
Currently, there are no cases of marijuana overdoses, but people have experienced unwanted side effects the day after consuming too much weed. Moreover, consuming weed together with other drugs and medication may cause serious side effects.
Long-Term Health Risks
As with the short-term effects of alcohol and weed, the long-term effects differ from person to person, and we’ll go over the general ones below.
Alcohol consumption causes a wide array of short-term and long-term effects on the body and mind ranging from memory loss to liver disease. Excessive alcohol use over a long period of time can have some of the following long-term effects:
- Liver disease caused by excessive drinking over a long period which may progress to fibrosis of the liver and ultimately liver cancer especially in people who have a higher risk of developing this cancer;
- Pancreatitis caused by alcohol misuse;
- Heart damage, heart attack, or stroke which has been linked to moderate drinking (one drink a day) over a long period;
- Stomach and digestive issues like ulcers, bloating and irritation as a result of long-term alcohol use;
- Central nervous system damage and tingling sensations in the limbs;
- Erectile dysfunction;
- Alcohol use disorder which According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) is a disorder battled by about 15 million people in the United States.
According to online surveys and blogs, people believe the addictiveness to alcohol is greater than that of marijuana.
The long-term effects of cannabis haven’t been researched that extensively since there aren’t that many long-term studies on weed and its effects. However, as legalization laws have increased all over the world, more and more researchers are focusing their studies on researching weed and its effects. When it comes to the long-term effects of weed consumption, the most common ones include:
- An increased risk of developing schizophrenia and psychosis in marijuana users, especially users who have the genetic predisposition for this mental health illness.
- Brain development issues in young people and teenagers according to a recent study and the American Journal of Psychiatry.
- May cause pneumonia, COPD and chronic inflammation of the air passages.
- May cause lung cancer.
- According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, consuming cannabis can lead to marijuana dependence in the future, and is quite prevalent in the US.
Because research into the health effects of marijuana is still in its infancy, it’s rather hard to give a definitive answer on which one is worse – alcohol consumption or smoking marijuana. Both weed and alcohol users risk developing substance abuse disorders over time.
If we look at it superficially, it seems that cannabis appears to be safer since you can’t overdose on it, however, what seems safe for one user may be dangerous for another since both cannabis and alcohol affect users differently.
Since public health is of the utmost importance, we’d recommend using both of these substances responsibly if you do decide to use them.