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Marijuana vs. Alcohol: Which Is Worse?

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Some people prefer marijuana; some prefer alcohol; some prefer both, but of the two, which one is worse?

Those who prefer them both may opt to use them together in a practice called “crossfading.” Both substances can make the other stronger, and some users want to feel the potency of those effects. 

Alcohol, no matter how it’s used, is a depressant. Once it is in the body, it is absorbed by the stomach and small intestines, and slows the central nervous system, causing drowsiness, slowed reflexes, and impaired judgment, among other things. 

Marijuana can also act as a depressant, slowing brain function, and having effects similar to alcohol. But, according to Healthline, it can also act as a stimulant and a hallucinogen. This means using both at the same time can have varying effects depending on the user.

Because of this and other factors, when it comes to determining which one is worse, the answer is it just depends on the person using it.

How Weed and Alcohol Stack Up Against Each Other

While marijuana and alcohol are both substances that affect the body in various ways, alcohol has been linked to more health problems than marijuana has. That’s because alcohol has been studied more than marijuana, so this gap in research between the two means scientists and researchers know more about alcohol.

As Healthline notes, some may regard weed as safer to use because research on it is not as in-depth as that of alcohol, but that does not mean it is less dangerous or presents fewer risks, especially since the answer largely depends on the person using these substances.

People react to alcohol and marijuana differently. As they are both mood- and mind-altering substances, they come with their risks, and the frequency and potency of each use will have some bearing on the user. Below is a quick comparison of each:

Alcohol

Alcohol affects many organs once it is in the body, including the stomach, liver, small intestines, and brain. The frequency of alcohol use, as well as how strong the alcohol is, makes a difference. Alcohol’s short-term effects include:

  • Relaxation
  • Playfulness
  • Coordination and balance issues
  • Slurred speech
  • Restlessness, irritability
  • Inability to pay attention for long periods
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Impaired judgment

Marijuana (Weed)

Marijuana, a natural substance, is a mixture of dried flowers and leaves of the cannabis plant. Of the 500 or so chemicals in marijuana, the most potent one is THC tetrahydrocannabinol), which is responsible for causing the mood- and mind-altering effects that so many people use it for. People also seek out weed for CBD, or cannabidiol, which is an oil from the cannabis plant.

It can be consumed in more than one way than alcohol, so the method used can affect how a person reacts to it. The most popular way is smoking it, either as a cigarette, cigar, or a pipe. 

As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes, people can engage in “dabbing,” which is the practice of smoking oils, concentrates, and extracts of the marijuana plant. They can also drink it as a tea or eat it in various foods. How a substance is ingested can affect how it affects the user. Marijuana users may experience the following effects after using it:

  • Forgetfulness
  • Impaired judgment or cognitive skills
  • Slowed coordination and reflex skills
  • Giddiness
  • Drowsiness
  • Nausea
  • Increased hunger or thirst (dry mouth)
  • Red eyes, dilated pupils
  • Brain fog
  • Headaches

Smoking or vaping marijuana can have stronger effects on the brain and body as those methods speed up the route of the delivery of the substance. Engaging in these methods could affect the lungs and heart, and some researchers have found that vaping weed could have stronger effects than just smoking it. Just to be clear, neither method is safe as each comes with its risks.Some people may consider weed to be less severe than alcohol because of milder withdrawal side effects as compared to alcohol or heroin, but that, too, depends on who is withdrawing from the drug. 

marijuana vs alcohol

Long-Term Health Risks

Not everyone who tries or uses alcohol or marijuana either once or regularly will become addicted to it. However, using any chemical over time can adversely affect the body and one’s mental health. 

If you or someone you know is chronically using alcohol or weed, be advised that there are health risks with both, and the more you use your substance of choice, the more at risk you may be of developing a dependence or addiction to it. The key is to be aware of this as well as treatment options that can help you reduce or abstain from it if you want.

Alcohol


Chronic, frequent, or excessive use of alcohol is a slippery slope. People who do not control their alcohol intake put themselves on the road to a myriad of physical and mental health problems that, in some cases, will either not be easy to manage or reverse. 

Excessive alcohol has been linked to various conditions, including addiction, cancer risks, including breast cancer in women, and Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome or “wet brain,” which is alcohol brain damage that occurs due to a deficiency in thiamine or Vitamin B1 that results from long-term alcohol abuse.

Chronic use of alcohol can lead to life-threatening alcohol poisoning and shrinkage in certain regions of the brain. A person who uses alcohol frequently is also at risk of having accidents that could result in severe head injuries that could leave them with brain damage or lead to death.

Marijuana (Weed)

Despite the widespread perception that weed is harmless or less harmful than alcohol and other illegal or “harder” drugs, it is not a perception that research supports. According to research the CDC cites, marijuana is the most commonly used illegal drug in the U.S., with some 22 million people using it in some form every month. 

More states are making recreational use legal, and medical marijuana has also gained support in recent years. Despite these developments, it is still an illegal drug in the U.S., and data shows that more than one in 10 people will develop an addiction to it. If you or someone you know stops or cuts back and notices a difference in how you function, it is possible you have a dependence or addiction to it.

Long-term pot use puts users at risk of:

  • Changed brain behavior, development
  • Memory issues
  • Attention span challenges
  • Delayed reaction time
  • Cognitive impairment
  • Impaired ability to safely operate a vehicle or other machinery
  • Severe nausea and vomiting
  • Chronic breathing problems, lung illnesses
  • Weakened immune system

Chronic weed use can raise one’s risk of having a heart attack, or bring on health challenges, such as low blood pressure and diabetes. A person’s mental health is also at risk, especially if they already have challenges related to depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts. The CDC also notes that long-term or chronic weed use can put users at risk of experiencing psychosis or schizophrenia.

LiveScience highlighted various ways marijuana can affect the brain, and a medical professional told the site that an increased risk of psychosis is the best risk of pot use.

Some observers say alcohol is worse than marijuana when comparing the long-term effects of both, but again, that could be largely due to the fact that alcohol has been studied more than marijuana has when it comes to its effects on users. 

Overdose Risks of Alcohol and Marijuana: Are They the Same?

Using too much weed is not the same as using too much alcohol. It is clear from all the research that has been done that using too much alcohol can lead to a deadly overdose. Alcohol poisoning can end someone’s life. Using too much weed, however, can lead to something called “greening out,” which is an extremely ill feeling a person can experience after consuming too much weed. 

Psychiatrist Dr. Freddie Vista shared with Vice that a person who greens out is likely getting sick from THC. This illness is marked by dizziness, sweating, vomiting, and sudden anxiety. A person can also have an elevated heart rate and low blood pressure due to dilated blood vessels. 

As for whether greening out is life-threatening,  Vista told Vice,  “There are no verified cases of death in humans due solely to acute cannabis toxicity.”

When it comes to deciding whether alcohol or marijuana is worse, each user will have to determine that for themselves. As observers note, both substances can greatly affect a person’s cognitive abilities, reflexes, and judgment in similar ways that could change their quality of life.

If you or someone you know has problematic alcohol or marijuana use or addiction, help is a phone call or online connection away. For more than 50 years, The Palm Beach Institute, located in West Palm Beach, has helped many people overcome their addiction to harmful substances. 

Give us a call today to learn more about our programs. We want to hear how we can help you or your loved one overcome addiction to find peace in sobriety.

Sources

Cherney, K. (2019, May 06). Is Weed a Depressant, Stimulant, or Hallucinogen? Effects, Risks, More. from https://www.healthline.com/health/is-weed-a-depressant

Weed vs. Alcohol: Is One Better Than the Other? – Healthline. (n.d.). from https://www.healthline.com/health/weed-vs-alcohol

How is marijuana used? | FAQs | Marijuana | CDC. (n.d.). from https://www.cdc.gov/marijuana/faqs/how-is-marijuana-used.html

Tory R. Spindle, P. (2018, November 30). Acute Effects of Smoked vs Vaporized Cannabis Use in Infrequent Cannabis Users. from https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamanetworkopen/fullarticle/2716990

Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome: Symptoms, Causes, Treatment. (2020, July 16). from https://www.webmd.com/brain/wernicke-korsakoff-syndrome-facts#1

T, B. (n.d.). Causes of Brain Shrinkage in Alcoholics. from https://www.verywellmind.com/cause-of-brain-shrinkage-in-alcoholics-studied-66615

TBI: Get the Facts. (2019, March 11). from https://www.cdc.gov/traumaticbraininjury/get_the_facts.html

Blaszczak-Boxe, Agata. (2016, July 1). 7 Ways Marijuana May Affect the Brain. from https://www.livescience.com/55258-how-marijuana-affects-the-brain.html

Understanding Marijuana Effects on Heart Disease – Healthline. (n.d.). from https://www.healthline.com/health-news/we-are-just-understanding-link-between-heart-disease-and-marijuana

Mayo Clinic. (2018, January 19). Alcohol Poisoning. from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/alcohol-poisoning/symptoms-causes/syc-20354386

What's the Deal with Greening Out? (n.d.). from https://www.vice.com/en/article/yvxe3m/whats-the-deal-with-greening-out

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