Do you prefer a cool pint on a summer evening? How about a chunky blunt? Or perhaps you choose to dabble in both simultaneously? A debate rages on between booze and bud, on both an interpersonal and international level.

Cannabis and alcohol have several things in common; both alter consciousness, and both have faced prohibition at some point in the last century. But the similarities end there. These substances work much differently in the body, create almost opposite states of mind, and have very different short and long-term effects.

So, what’s the difference between being high and drunk? Is it a good idea to mix both cannabis and alcohol? Here’s our take on the debate.

The Eternal Debate: Weed vs Alcohol

Humans have used consciousness-altering substances, including alcohol and cannabis, for thousands of years. Our species' widespread aversion to sobriety means these substances have stuck with us for millennia. In the modern day, an estimated 2.3 billion of us[1] enjoy a glass of booze, and 200 million appreciate the occasional joint.

Of course, many people fall into both of these groups, and some even use both substances at the same time. But a schism also exists between those that use alcohol vs weed.

Personal preference does a lot to maintain this divide, but a lot of these opinions arise from an uninformed place.

Many drinkers, for example, happily down shots of vodka while rejecting cannabis as a dangerous, illicit drug. In contrast, many cannabis purists frown upon alcohol due to its inherent danger and tendency to rile up violent and foolish behaviour.

Below, we’ll take an in-depth look at the differences between being high and being drunk. We’ll explore the physical and psychological effects, how society views both substances, and if it’s a good idea to mix them.

The Eternal Debate: Weed vs Alcohol

Being High vs Being Drunk

Necking an IPA and hitting a bong produce two very different states of mind. Cracking open another three beers, or packing that bowl a couple more times, does even more to highlight these differences.

But the psychoactive and behavioural distinctions aren’t the only reason people harbour opposing views on bud and booze. Decades of propaganda have also forced society to accept one while shunning the other.

  • High vs Drunk: Cultural Acceptance

The cultural acceptance of alcohol and cannabis varies massively from country to country. Visit the Islamic world, and you’ll find a strict aversion to booze. But head to an English pub, and you’ll see people knocking it back like they need it to breathe. Take a trip to Colorado, and you’ll find stores dishing out recreational weed, whereas this would be strictly prohibited in many countries in Asia, Europe, and beyond.

In most of the Western world, alcohol remains the drug of choice. Despite a brief period of prohibition, alcohol has played crucial historical roles in many regions. And we’re not just talking about getting pissed. In the Middle Ages, when the water supply was questionable at best, alcohol received the title “aqua vitae” meaning “the water of life”, and provided a source of sterile fluid and belly-filling calories.

These days, we don’t depend on alcohol to survive. But it still plays an important cultural role. Many of us undergo a celebratory initiation when we reach drinking age (though this often occurs much earlier!). From this point, booze remains the centre of many social interactions. It serves as a social lubricant at pubs and bars, and forms a key part of sophisticated dining experiences.

It’s no secret that alcohol also causes unruly behaviour. It stokes the flames of violence, promiscuity, vandalism, ill health, and driving deaths. Despite this terrible track record, many of us still hold alcohol in high regard and quickly brush these inconveniences aside.

But what about cannabis? This plant has a rich history of use in traditional holistic systems, agriculture, and industry. The herb played an important role in the development of the Western world, and even held a respected place in the United States pharmacopoeia until 1942[2].

However, the public view of cannabis took some serious damage before this. The prohibition efforts of the 1920s and the Reefer Madness era of the 1930s drastically shifted how people perceived getting high, placing cannabis in the category of a dangerous, mind-warping drug. The War on Drugs, initiated by President Nixon in the early 1970s, has perpetuated this myth to this day.

But cannabis has held a controversial status at many points throughout history. Authorities outlawed the herb back in 1387 in Arabia, and many nations banned the plant during the 1800s.

Despite a rocky past, sweeping legislation has done a lot to normalise cannabis. Several countries have given a green light to recreational and medical cannabis, partly restoring the herb’s tarnished image. Millions of people across the world use cannabis frequently, socially, and responsibly, even in areas where it remains prohibited.

High vs Drunk: Cultural Acceptance

  • Marijuana vs Alcohol: Physical Effects

Alcohol and cannabis work in the body in very different ways, giving rise to contrasting physical and psychological states. When it comes to alcohol, the drug directly binds to gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) receptors. GABA and glutamate are two major neurotransmitters in the brain. GABA dampens central nervous system activity, whereas glutamate ramps things up.

Through its ability to bind to GABA receptors, alcohol mimics the effects of this brain chemical. After drinking some beers or taking some shots, this chemical mimicry gives rise to the physical effects of booze. These include:

Slurred speech Drowsiness
Distorted vision and hearing Decreased perception and coordination
Large volumes lead to vomiting and unconsciousness

Cannabis works differently in the brain. THC, the main psychotropic constituent, binds to CB1 receptors. These sites belong to the endocannabinoid system (ECS), a network that governs almost all of our physiology. Much like alcohol, THC produces its effects by mimicking our internal molecules. In this case, THC mimics anandamide, an endocannabinoid neurotransmitter.

Instead of mimicking GABA, THC causes our brain cells to release less of this dampening neurochemical. This puts the breaks on GABA signals that tell certain brain cells to limit dopamine production. The result? Our brain cells release higher levels of dopamine, resulting in a pleasant high. But THC also affects receptors outside of the brain. Together, these actions result in the following physical effects:

Increased hunger Red eyes
Dry mouth Increased heart rate
Relaxation of muscles Stomach discomfort
  • Being High vs Drunk: Psychological Effects

By tampering with our brain chemistry, both alcohol and cannabis can change our mood, perception, and behaviour.

The psychological effects of being drunk include:

Disruption of rational thought Violent behaviour
Compromised memory Short-term reductions in social anxiety
Confusion Shorter attention

The psychological effects of being high include:

Elevated mood Euphoria
Deeper thoughts Uneasiness/rumination
Impaired short-term memory Panic
Paranoia Altered perception of time
  • Health Impact

Significant differences exist between cannabis and alcohol in terms of health risk. Both of these substances can cause physical and psychological issues when abused over time. However, when used in moderation, cannabis may offer some health benefits, whereas drinking alcohol is pretty unanimously deemed to be devoid of therapeutic potential.

In countries where cannabis is legal, doctors can prescribe the herb for approved conditions. While research remains inconclusive about the health benefits of cannabis, ongoing study on the endocannabinoid system suggests a widespread effect on the body.

Of course, no doctors are giving out prescriptions for alcohol. Still, while drinking certainly negatively impacts health, some forms of alcohol do provide molecules that benefit the human body. For example, wine contains resveratrol, an antioxidant being investigated for its potential to protect the body against oxidative stress and inflammation. Whiskey also contains polyphenols, which might help to promote healthy cholesterol levels. But the negative long-term effects of alcohol certainly outweigh the potential benefits.

Alcohol and cannabis can take a toll on our health after short and long-term use. Check out the potential health consequences below.

Short Term Cannabis and alcohol can expose users to short-term mental and physical health challenges.
Headaches
Alcohol Diarrhoea and vomiting
Breathing difficulties
Feeling nervous/anxious
Cannabis Paranoia
Loss of sense of personal identity
Increased risk of heart attack in those susceptible

Long Term Both substances also pose significant health problems when abused frequently for long periods.
Addiction
Memory loss
Liver fibrosis
Alcoholic hepatitis
Alcohol Loss of attention
Diminished grey and white matter in the brain
Stroke
Cancer
Irregular heartbeat
High blood pressure
Addiction
Impaired brain development when abused in adolescence
Possible decline in IQ when abused in adolescence
Cannabis Increased susceptibility of mental illness
Cardiovascular problems linked to smoking
Cannabis hyperemesis syndrome

Should You Mix Alcohol and Weed?

It depends. Some people have a very healthy relationship with alcohol and cannabis, and can achieve a satisfying sweet spot when using them together. Done right, this can result in a fun psychological state. However, it’s very easy to overdo it. If you tend to go a bit overboard when drinking and smoking, you should avoid mixing booze with bud.

Layering the effects of both substances, also known as crossfading, can vastly increase the chances of greening out. Research has found that mixing the two leads to far higher concentrations of THC in the blood[3]—i.e. alcohol can amplify the effects of weed.

At the end of the day, being high and drunk can prove an unsatisfying combination for some people, and a satisfying one for others. Just make sure to proceed with caution and listen to your body.

Stoned vs Drunk: Which Is Better?

Physiology aside, this debate purely boils down to preference. Everyone enjoys winding down after a busy day, and we should all reserve the right to choose whichever substance we use to relax. Cannabis helps to boost our creativity, allows us to explore deep thoughts, and enables us to wake up without a hangover. Alcohol works as a social lubricant that helps us connect with others, but leaves us feeling rather terrible the morning after.

External Resources:
  1. Global status report on alcohol and health 2018 https://www3.paho.org
  2. Medicinal Cannabis: History, Pharmacology, And Implications for the Acute Care Setting https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov
  3. Controlled Cannabis Vaporizer Administration: Blood and Plasma Cannabinoids with and without Alcohol | Clinical Chemistry | Oxford Academic https://academic.oup.com
Disclaimer:
This content is for educational purposes only. The information provided is derived from research gathered from external sources.

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