Although consumption of both booze and weed traces back thousands of years, one is currently considered to be a Schedule 1 drug while the other is perfectly legal. There has been a lot of debate over which one is worse for us, with marijuana having often been branded as the gateway drug for other more harmful substances. Is this actually the case, though? Let’s look at some of the cold, hard stats that show seven ways in which weed is indeed better for us than booze.
Adam E. Barry, an assistant professor at the University of Florida, set out in 2015 to debunk the negative propaganda around weed use and helped conduct a study of the effects of cannabis versus alcohol (http://news.ufl.edu/archive/2012/07/uf-study-shows-long-term-drug-abuse-starts-with-alcohol.html). Barry collected data from a pool of high school seniors from across the United States and evaluated whether or not they had tried any one of eleven substances. The study proved that alcohol was often the first substance that the students had tried, rendering it more of a “gateway drug” than weed. Furthermore its consumption more often than not lead to the use of tobacco, marijuana, and other illicit substances. In other words, the gateway hypothesis is supported but it progresses from socially accepted and legal substances to the harder, illegal ones. Barry said, “Just like prescription pills and tobacco, alcohol is seen as more socially acceptable in American society because the government approves of it. However, these substances are largely more dangerous than many of the illegal drugs that people have a deep fear of.”
Death or Risk of Overdose
On the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism’s website, it states that an estimated 88,000 people (approximately 62,000 men and 26,000 women) die from alcohol-related causes annually, making alcohol the third leading preventable cause of death in the United States (the first being tobacco and the second poor diet and physical inactivity). In contrast, there have been nearly zero reports of marijuana-related deaths or overdoses.
In one study (http://www.iflscience.com/health-and-medicine/new-study-suggests-risks-marijuana-use-have-been-overestimated/), it was proven that alcohol presents the highest risk of death at an individual level, followed by nicotine, cocaine, and heroin. Weed, on the other hand, ranked as 114 times less deadly than booze. All of these findings backed up prior research that had consistently ranked weed as the safest recreational drug.
As the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) states on its website (https://www.mpp.org/our-mission-vision/), “If you’re like most Americans, you have been led to believe that marijuana is a dangerous and addictive drug that has destroyed the lives of millions of teens and adults. You have been encouraged to believe that marijuana causes lung cancer and is a ‘gateway’ to harder drugs. The government has even tried to convince you that most people who use marijuana are losers who sit around on couches all day doing nothing.” The MPP aims to “wipe the slate clean” by showing how substances like alcohol are much more toxic and addictive for the body.
The British Columbia Mental Health and Addictions Journal backed this up when it published its assessment of the health-related costs associated with both booze and weed. Not surprisingly, the health-related costs for those who consume more alcohol are eight times higher than those of weed smokers.
Booze is also closely linked with a wide array of cancers, such as cancers of the esophagus, stomach, colon, lungs, and liver, while weed isn’t. Dr. Donald Tashkin of the University of California at Los Angeles conducted the largest case-controlled study ever done in order to investigate the effects of weed smoking and cigarette smoking on the lungs. Much to everyone’s surprise, the study showed that smoking pot is not correlated with any increased risk of developing lung cancer. In fact, researchers found that cannabis consumption actually helps to combat cancer while tobacco was proven to increase the risk of cancer.
Another factor working against alcohol’s favour is that booze (not surprisingly) greatly increases our risk of injury while weed does not. The Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research journal contained research a few years back that showed that 36% of hospitalized assaults and 21% of all injuries are attributable to alcohol use by the injured person. Meanwhile, the American Journal of Emergency Medicine reported that lifetime use of marijuana is rarely associated with emergency room visits.
Addiction researchers have consistently found that pot is far less addictive than alcohol based on a number of factors. Specifically, alcohol use can result in potentially fatal physical withdrawal, whereas marijuana has not been found to produce any symptoms. Chronic consumers of booze are also much more prone to become dependent on it, plus they develop a high tolerance. In contrast, there are no real withdrawal symptoms with weed.
Dr. Aaron Carroll is a professor of pediatrics at Indiana University School of Medicine who has written about the effects of weed and booze. After sifting through the data, he concluded that alcohol is far more dangerous than weed. “We always worry about pot as a gateway drug,” Carroll said, “but research shows us that about 9 percent of people who experiment with pot will become dependent or abuse it. The percent that later become dependent or abuse alcohol is greater than 20 percent. So more people who use alcohol are actually going to have a problem with it later in life.”
Several studies link alcohol with violence while this has not been the case with weed. A more recent study looked at cannabis use and intimate partner violence in the first decade of marriage, and concluded that marijuana users were far less likely to commit violence against a partner than those who did not partake. A study by the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence backs this up by showing that two-thirds of victims who are attacked by a spouse, boyfriend or girlfriend report that alcohol has been involved.
On the other hand, these same studies consistently find that marijuana use helps to decrease violence. According to the British Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, the reason is that “Cannabis differs from alcohol … in one major respect. It does not seem to increase risk-taking behaviour. This means that cannabis rarely contributes to violence either to others or to oneself, whereas alcohol use is a major factor in deliberate self-harm, domestic accidents and violence.”
Although it’s just a bad idea for anyone to get behind the wheel under either influence, weed is definitely the lesser of the two evils when it comes to impaired driving. A case-control study by the Accident Analysis Prevention shows that consuming cannabis increases our risk of an accident by 83%, while alcohol consumption ups our risk by a whopping 575%.
Learning and Memory
Heavy use of both cannabis and alcohol have the ability to negatively impact our memories, but in very different ways. Despite the many myths we’ve heard about how weed kills brain cells, studies prove that our favourite plant actually has neuroprotective properties that work to protect brain cells from harm. In contrast, alcohol has been proven to greatly damage the brain’s white matter.
Thanks to modern science and research, society is slowly starting to remove the Reefer Madness stigma from marijuana. Alcohol has been legal for longer, but marijuana has been proven to be by far the safer substance. (As with everything, however, moderation is our best friend.) As the legalization of marijuana becomes more widespread and we redefine the cannabis conversation, hopefully weed will lose its bad rap and we can focus on its healing properties.