By Ryan Najjar

Until recently, every anti-drug advertisement would have you believe that weed is a menace. Some relied on exaggeration, or straight up lies, about its effects. Other ads would show people comically off the rails, establishing a correlation between this behaviour and cannabis users. No matter what route the ads took, there was one mission: make cannabis look like a threat and a waste of time.

These anti-drug camps didn't pay nearly as much attention to alcohol, though. Sure, there have been ads about alcoholism for decades, and the issue isn't completely ignored by the public; however, most alcohol ads showcase images of parties and adventures. No talk of surgeons getting wasted during surgery like their stoner counterparts. Nope, just a simple "Drink Responsibly" at the end of each celebratory commercial.

So, until recently, the media had most people convinced that weed was far more dangerous. But what does science have to say about all this? Well, if we look at the facts, we find that weed is safer than alcohol in many ways. Here are the top 10 reasons why:


We don't mean to start off on a dark note, but one of the biggest indicators of danger is death toll. Harmful use of alcohol claimed over 3 million lives in 2016 worldwide[1], including alcohol poisoning victims, those who got cancer and strokes as a result of use, and more. Marijuana's death toll, by comparison, is a big fat 0. Sure, there are some people who drive high and cause car accidents, but drunk drivers are far more prevalent.


According to Alcoholism Solutions, nearly 50,000 US patients are diagnosed with alcohol poisoning yearly. The situation's also bad in the UK, with underage hospital visits due to alcohol poisoning shooting up 20%[2] year over year in the past eight years.

While not as recent of a statistic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that six people[3] in the US were dying daily from alcohol poisoning in 2011–2012. You know how many people died from marijuana overdoses in that time, or at all? Spell it with me: Z-E-R-O. You'd have to smoke anywhere from 238 to 1,113 joints[4] (0.5 – 2.5 oz of pure THC) to get there. Good luck even trying.


Liver cancer, breast cancer, colon cancer, epilepsy, ischaemic heart disease—all these and more can result from long-term, excessive alcohol use. Marijuana has its own baggage, but it's mostly limited to lung issues (particularly when used with tobacco) and psychotic episodes in especially severe cases. But nearly nobody reaches that threshold. Even then, psychotic episodes are a danger of alcohol as well! Overall, the associated risks with alcohol consumption set the scale far off balance.


We don't know about you guys, but when we smoke, we just don't have the energy or impetus to commit violent crimes. It seems like others agree.

A study from the _American Journal of Emergency Medicine_ found that long-term weed use was rarely[5] associated with injuries from assault. Meanwhile, research found that 36%[6] of hospitalised assaults and 21% of all injuries were connected to alcohol use. When that many hospital visits are connected to one drug, it's time to stop calling it "safer".



While many of you might assume marijuana to be the brain killer of the two (thanks to public perception), this is surprisingly not the case. In fact, according to[7] Dr. Gary L. Wenk in an article for _Psychology Today_, it’s the opposite!

He quotes research from Scripps Research Institute, which found that binge drinkers, even after they’ve stopped, lose out heavily on neurogenesis (the formation of new brain cells). In contrast, recently performed studies found that the stimulation of cannabinoid receptors _activates_ neurogenesis.


Weed has an advantage over alcohol in that it actually helps some people. Aside from many individuals using cannabis for general therapeutic reasons, those suffering from issues like chronic pain and nausea are often prescribed cannabis or cannabinoid therapies in regions where medical use is legal. When was the last time (after the 1870s) a doctor wrote a whiskey prescription? Exactly.


While overuse of cannabis can exacerbate these very issues, many anxiety and depression patients find relief in medical marijuana. Admittedly, research in this area is underdeveloped, and cannabis is only infrequently prescribed for mental health issues. However, that hasn't stopped individuals from self-administering with various ratios of THC and CBD.

CBD in particular is being examined for its anxiolytic potential. One study[8] administered CBD to social phobia patients before a simulated public speaking exam, finding the cannabinoid to significantly reduce subjective anxiety.

When it comes to alcohol in this domain, things are pretty grim. Alcohol is a known central nervous system depressant, and chronic use is associated with a host of mental health issues including depression, anxiety, and more.


Yes, many weed smokers end up being hungry when they’re high, experiencing what’s known as "the munchies". However, contrary to what one might expect, cannabis users tend to fall on the lower end[9] of the body mass index spectrum than non-users. So you can throw that “lazy stoner” stereotype out the window.

Alcohol, on the other hand, innately contains calories, and doesn’t contain any viable nutrients. Chronic binge drinking in particular is associated with higher rates of adipose tissue[10], and therefore higher rates of obesity.


We touched on this earlier; alcohol has the potential to cause many types of cancer. On the other hand, while cannabis is not currently considered a treatment for cancer itself, it has long been used to relieve symptoms of chemotherapy, and other uncomfortable physiological symptoms associated with the disease.


Interestingly, there is a body of preliminary research[11] that shows cannabinoids to “slow growth and/or cause death” of cancer cells in vitro. However, this is far from being considered a viable treatment. Still, the fact that cannabis has any potential in this realm is positive if you consider the highly detrimental effects of alcohol.


Alcohol has been associated with the development of neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s for some time, and a recent study supports this scientifically. Published in the _Journal of Neuroinflammation_, researchers found that “alcohol effects on phagocytosis could contribute to the development of Alzheimer’s disease”.

What about cannabis? Well, preclinical studies[12] have found small amounts of THC to reduce beta-amyloid protein production, a key contributor to Alzheimer’s. It’s important to note that, here too, it’s much too early to consider cannabis a treatment for the condition. But these results, along with other studies that highlight potential neuroprotective qualities, show that cannabis is indeed versatile in its action.

External Resources:
  2. Alcohol Poisoning Statistics - Alcoholism Solutions | A New Way To Deal With Alcoholism
  3. Alcohol Poisoning Deaths | VitalSigns | CDC
  4. Marijuana vs Alcohol | Is Marijuana Safer Than Alcohol?
  5. Patterns and correlates of drug-related ED visits: results from a national survey. - PubMed - NCBI
  6. Alcohol consumption greatly increases serious injury risk for heavy and moderate drinkers -- ScienceDaily
  7. Alcohol vs. marijuana in the brain | Psychology Today
  8. Cannabidiol reduces the anxiety induced by simulated public speaking in treatment-naïve social phobia patients. - PubMed - NCBI
  9. Reduced Body Mass Index and Obesity Rates in Cannabis Users
  10. Alcohol Consumption and Obesity: An Update
  11. Marijuana and Cancer
  12. The Effects of Medical Marijuana on Alzheimer’s Treatment
This content is for educational purposes only. The information provided is derived from research gathered from external sources.

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