Cannabis vs Alcohol: Which Is The Most Damaging?

Cannabis vs Alcohol has been one of the biggest debates of the past years. So which is better? Which is worse for your health? Which yields (if any) benefits? What are its short and long-term effects and how do they compare to each other? Let’s discuss this.

According to Healthline, “weed tends to come with fewer risks than alcohol.” However, comparing one to the other is difficult since “they’re unique substances that produce different effects”. One of the main factors that make comparing alcohol vs. weed is the lack of research. Since marijuana has only very recently been legalized, studies investigating its long-term effects are way behind studies on alcohol.

One of the main things to consider is the variety of ways cannabis can be consumed. While alcohol can only be ingested through drinks, marijuana can be smoked, vaped, eaten, drunk, or applied directly as a topical. This is important because “the way you consume weed can have a big impact on its short- and long-term effects.” As an example, smoking weed can damage your lungs. But this risk doesn’t apply if you decide to consume edibles. 

Everyone Is Different

Alcohol and weed reactions vary from person to person. This also complicates overall research, because someone may have a high tolerance for alcohol with a low tolerance for marijuana. Or a high tolerance to both. Or either combination.

Effects

Let’s look at the short and long-term effects on the human body for both alcohol and marijuana.

Short term effects

“The differences in effects between cannabis and alcohol change depending on how much you have. While a drink of alcohol might not have any noticeable effect on someone, having a puff of some cannabis might (depending on their tolerance). While alcohol tends to make people feel more confident, cannabis can have different effects depending on the setting, amount and experience of the user. For myself, cannabis generally brings me a lot of relaxation.”

Zac Smith, Manager at The THC Times

The short-term effects of both alcohol and marijuana vary from person to person. Let’s review them for both substances.

Alcohol

“Drinking can cause damage to your body, specifically the liver. Cannabis increases heart rate and blood pressure but is overall not too damaging.”

Dr. Giuseppe Aragona, General Practitioner & Medical Advisor at Prescription Doctor

Becoming intoxicated is very different for everyone. Some people become uninhibited, others become restless, others feel relaxed. The main short-term effects are:

  • Issues with coordination & reflexes
  • Impaired cognitive skills
  • Impaired judgment
  • Nausea & vomiting
  • Short attention span
  • Giddiness 
  • Restlessness
  • Drowsiness 
  • Relaxation

If you’re unlucky enough to feel hungover the next day, the symptoms may include headaches, diarrhea, and dehydration.

Marijuana

“Ingredients in cannabis attach to the cannabinoids around the body which are most densely populated in the brain, affecting appetite, consciousness, memories and emotions. Alcohol is a depressant which alters parts of the brain to temporarily change a person’s personality and response time.”

Dr. Giuseppe Aragona, General Practitioner & Medical Advisor at Prescription Doctor

As with alcohol, the immediate effects of marijuana vary from person to person. They also depend on the type of strain being consumed, as well as the consumption method. Certain marijuana strains have invigorating effects, while others tend to relax. And edibles can take a long time to take effect, while smoking and vaping tend to carry more immediate responses. Some of the most common effects are:

  • Issues with coordination & reflexes
  • Altered time perception
  • Impaired cognitive skills
  • Impaired judgment
  • Relaxation
  • Anxiousness
  • Giddiness
  • Drowsiness
  • Nausea
  • Dry mouth
  • Red & dry eyes
  • Increased hunger
  • Pain relief

Weed hangovers do exist, and can include headaches, drowsiness, and brain fog, depending on the person. 

Long-term Effects

Once again, the results are different depending on the person. 

Alcohol

After heavy consumption or over long periods of time, alcohol can have very damaging long-term effects. These may include:

  • Liver disease
  • Pancreatitis
  • Heart damage
  • Stomach & digestive issues
  • Central nervous system damage
  • Infertility
  • Erectile dysfunction

Marijuana

Sadly, the long-term effects of marijuana aren’t clear. Since it’s only very recently been legalized, there is still more research to be done about this. But in general, its long-term effects may include:

  • Brain development issues if consumed as a teenager
  • Schizophrenia – it may trigger the onset of schizophrenia on people with a family history.
  • If you’re pregnant, this could also affect your unborn baby

Healthline states that “that there aren’t many high-quality, long-term studies on weed and its effects.”

Benefits

Moderate consumption of either substance may yield some short-term benefits that users can enjoy. Regarding alcohol, the health benefits found in moderate drinkers may include a lower rate of cardiovascular disease. For marijuana, mainly regarding CBD, the benefits appear to be endless: pain relief, relaxation, stress treatment, and more.   

“With THC becoming more available and deemed an essential product during lockdowns across the US, people are looking to THC to help their overall state of mind and wellbeing, not to get high. […] People looking to relax, sleep, and even focus can now use products like ReCreate, which are low-dose, designed for specific states of mind and health.”

Jesse Stanley, Co-founder of the Stanley Brothers and ReCreate, a new wellness THC brand.

Addiction Or Potential For Misuse

“Both are quite addictive, so any short-term consequences either have technically become long term. Alcohol can also cause liver cirrhosis which can cause threat to life. It is speculated that smoking cannabis can cause problems with the lungs, there are studies that disprove it.”

Dr. Giuseppe Aragona, General Practitioner & Medical Advisor at Prescription Doctor

Both substances have addiction potential, meaning that it is possible for a person to develop a physical or emotional dependence on both of them. Alcohol abuse and addiction is pretty common – so much that according to the NIAAA (National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism), 15 million people deal with alcoholism in the United States alone. Common signs of alcoholism include being unable to cut down on alcohol consumption, changing your schedule around drinking or hangovers, strong alcohol cravings, withdrawal symptoms from lack of drinking, trouble with work & family due to alcohol abuse.

Marijuana abuse and addiction, on the other hand, isn’t a topic that is necessarily treated. Many people still believe that marijuana isn’t addictive, which is one of the biggest marijuana myths out there. 

“Of course it’s addictive… People can be addicted to ANYTHING. I’ve seen thousands of marijuana addicts that justify it with a praise of “stoner culture”. [However] there are worse things to be addicted to.”

Josiah Chissoe, Professional Cannabis Consultant

According to a study on the prevalence of marijuana use disorders, marijuana addiction is surprisingly common in the United States alone. So marijuana addiction exists as a very common issue today, whether we want to see it or not.  

One Key Differential

“Drinking safely can have little or no effects but excessive can become life-threatening, which isn’t the case for cannabis.’

Dr. Giuseppe Aragona, General Practitioner & Medical Advisor at Prescription Doctor

Alcohol abuse can kill a person. Marijuana cannot. Joe Brownstein from LiveScience states that “Drinking too much alcohol can quickly kill a person. The inability to metabolize alcohol as quickly as it is consumed can lead to a buildup of alcohol in the brain that shuts down areas necessary for survival, such as those involved with heartbeat and respiration.” And as we’ve already explained as part of the 8 marijuana myths that need to be debunked, you can’t lethally overdose on weed. This doesn’t mean that you can’t overdose, which entails consuming more than the recommended amount. It just means that this overdose isn’t lethal. 

So, Which Is Better? 

Let’s compare and reach a verdict.  As you can see, both have very similar short-term effects regarding cognitive skills, reflexes, and judgment. This is part of the reason why you should never drink and drive or smoke and drive. Also, both can make the next morning a bit miserable for you, though alcohol tends to be worse for most people.

“From my experience, I would say cannabis is better, safer and less damaging to consume. I’m always capable of going about my day after using cannabis, but after drinking too much I may not be. This recovery time alone seems to be quite telling in the effects it can have on a person.”

Zac Smith, Manager at The THC Times

Marijuana appears to have fewer long-term effects and risks than alcohol. But this might also be due to the fact that more research on the long-term effects marijuana can have on the human body is needed.

So who wins the cannabis vs alcohol battle? Comparing both, it seems that cannabis is the safer option – or at the least damaging – of the two. At least, it’s the main one where if you end up consuming more than you should it will only result in a very bad trip, but not death. However, the fact remains: we need more research & evidence in order to have hard, real facts in order to determine which substance is better.
In the end, it’s up to you. Our one recommendation for consumption would be to always consume either substance responsibly and in moderation. If you would like to know more about cannabis and its uses, try one of our certificate programs & courses, where you can learn everything from cannabis horticulture, industrial hemp & CBD to even medical cannabis applications. Get more information about our courses, programs, and certifications here!