In the ongoing discourse on substance use, the question of which is safer, alcohol versus marijuana, remains a subject of debate and scrutiny.

In the ongoing discourse on substance use, the question of which is safer—alcohol vs. marijuana—remains a subject of debate and scrutiny. With #4/20 day around the corner, plus the fact that we get this question asked at almost every Rachael’s First Week LIVE! program, we decided it was a good time to post a blog regarding the alcohol vs. marijuana debate. Understanding the nuanced differences in their effects on health and safety is crucial for making informed decisions. In this blog post, we’ll delve deeper into the comparative health, safety, risks, and legalities of alcohol versus marijuana.

HEALTH EFFECTS:

Alcohol:

  • Excessive alcohol consumption is a leading cause of preventable death worldwide, contributing to various health issues such as liver disease, cardiovascular problems, increased risk of certain cancers, as well as addiction.
  • Binge drinking, in particular, can lead to acute alcohol poisoning, accidents, and injuries.

Marijuana:

  • Marijuana use carries its own set of health risks, including respiratory issues and potential cognitive impairment. Marijuana use has been associated with an increased risk of motor vehicle accidents, health problems, psychiatric symptoms, and poorer educational outcomes. (1)
  • Marijuana is also commonly referred to as the ultimate “gateway drug,” leading to increased chances of using other illicit substances. (1)
  • There is evidence suggesting a link between heavy marijuana use and mental health issues such as psychosis, schizophrenia, and exacerbation of existing mental health conditions. (2)
SAFETY CONCERNS:

Alcohol:

  • Alcohol intoxication can impair judgment, coordination, and decision-making, increasing the risk of accidents, injuries, and violence.
  • Binge drinking, in particular, poses significant safety risks, including alcohol poisoning and alcohol-related accidents.

Marijuana:

  • Marijuana intoxication can also impair cognitive and motor functions, potentially leading to accidents, particularly when operating machinery or driving.
  • The potency of marijuana products, particularly with the rise of edibles and concentrates, can pose risks, especially for inexperienced users.
RISK OF ADDICTION:

Alcohol:

  • Alcohol has a high potential for addiction, with many individuals experiencing dependence and withdrawal symptoms upon cessation of use.
  • Alcohol addiction can have profound effects on personal, social, and professional aspects of life, leading to chronic health issues and impaired functioning.

Marijuana:

  • While marijuana can be psychologically addictive for some individuals, physical dependence is less common compared to alcohol. However, as we mentioned above, marijuana is known as a “gateway drug” that leads some users to partake in other illicit substances.
  • Most users can quit marijuana without experiencing severe withdrawal symptoms, although psychological dependence can still occur.
LEGAL STATUS AND REGULATION:

Alcohol:

  • Alcohol is legal for adults in most countries, with regulations governing its production, distribution, and sale.
  • In the United States, the legal age for drinking alcohol is 21.

Marijuana:

  • The legal status of marijuana varies widely across jurisdictions, with some regions legalizing it for medicinal and/or recreational use, while others maintain strict prohibition.
  • In legalized markets, marijuana is subject to regulatory frameworks that control its production, distribution, and sale, often with age restrictions and potency limits.
  • In Indiana, marijuana is considered an illegal drug.

In the age-old debate of alcohol vs. marijuana, both substances carry health risks and safety concerns, individual factors such as frequency and quantity of use, as well as co-occurring conditions, play significant roles in determining the overall safety of substance use. Ultimately, promoting responsible consumption, informed decision-making, and evidence-based policies are essential in minimizing the potential harms associated with alcohol and marijuana use.

 

(1) Feeney, K. E., & Kampman, K. M. (2016, May). Adverse effects of marijuana use. The Linacre quarterly. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5102212/#:~:text=Marijuana%20use%20has%20been%20associated,illicit%20substances%20(Hall%202006).

(2) Volkow, N. D., MD  (2023a, May 8). Is there a link between marijuana use and psychiatric disorders?. National Institutes of Health. https://nida.nih.gov/publications/research-reports/marijuana/there-link-between-marijuana-use-psychiatric-disorders