With the legalization of marijuana coming to fruition in another 2 states (Michigan and Illinois), 11 states plus Washington D.C. have now legalized adult use of marijuana. More and more states and their constituents are voting to legalize weed, in part because many argue that smoking herb is less addictive (and safer) than alcohol.
Is Weed Harmful?
While it is harder to study the effects of an illegal drug (marijuana) than legal ones (like alcohol), there are plenty of marijuana studies in the last few decades. Because of its medicinal value to treat cancer and pain, and without the terrible withdrawal symptoms caused by heroin or other opiates, weed doesn’t have the same stigma as just about any other drug.
Marijuana is the dried leaves and flowers of the Cannabis sativa or Cannabis indica plants that contain the psychoactive chemical THC. Most often, it is smoked in joints, blunts, bongs, or pipes, but it can be consumed by eating foods infused with marijuana – called edibles.
Besides getting people high, marijuana can also produce several other short term effects including:
- Altered senses (i.e., when colors appear brighter)
- Altered sense of time (i.e., when time “moves” slower)
- Changes in mood
- Impaired body movement
- Slower reaction times
- Memory impairment
- Trouble with thinking and problem-solving
When unusually high doses of marijuana are consumed, the effects can be more debilitating:
- Strong hallucinations
- Delusions (like paranoid obsessions)
- Psychosis (the loss of contact with reality)
Besides that, people who smoke habitually are at increased risk for lung disorders, breathing issues, and increased heart rates (especially during the first 3 hours after smoking).
It is nearly universally accepted that marijuana is the least destructive illicit drugs, but that doesn’t mean that it is not harmful. And while it does have some medical uses, so do other prescription drugs that can cause addiction (like Prozac, Adderall, Morphine, Percocet, and others).
How Dangerous Is Alcohol?
Consumed as beer, wine, or liquor, ethanol is the psychoactive chemical that alters people’s minds when drinking. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), an estimated 88,000 U.S. people die each year from acute or chronic alcohol causes.
Aside from the fatal consequences of over-use and misuse of alcohol, the short-term effects of alcohol on a person include the following:
- Lowered inhibitions, which can lead to compromised judgment
- Trouble concentrating
- Inability to concentrate
- Blurry or dulled vision
- Mood swings
- High blood pressure and lower body temp
- Nausea and vomiting
- Loss of consciousness
If used habitually over a long period of time, a person can become physically dependent on alcohol. Once dependent, a person who quits “cold turkey” can experience alcohol withdrawal syndrome, which can become life-threatening if not treated with medical supervision.
Driving High or Drunk
Drinking and driving are notoriously dangerous, with alcohol-related crashes responsible for 29 deaths every day in the United States. On the other hand, states that legalized marijuana have seen a sharp increase in car accidents, according to a 2017 study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s Highway Loss Data Institute.
It’s challenging to determine marijuana’s effect on driving or to enforce laws for driving while high because there is no reliable test for weed like there is for alcohol. Everyone knows that a BAC of 0.08 or higher results in a DUI, but no such threshold is clearly or reliably established for people who drive while high.
Which Is More Addictive?
If we’re talking merely physical dependence and risk of death, alcohol is far more addictive. However, substance use disorders are defined as “when a person’s use of alcohol or another substance (drug) leads to health issues or problems with work, school, or home.”
Asking which substance is more addictive is like choosing the lesser of two evils – no one wins. Marijuana addiction is a very real thing, and about 9 percent of people who use marijuana will develop a marijuana use disorder (compared to 15 percent of alcohol drinkers and 32 percent of nicotine users).
The addictive quality of marijuana is also changing as the potency of weed is much higher now than it was even just 20 years ago, and there is no reliable way to know how much THC is in pot, but the potency of alcohol is strictly regulated.
Both substances, when abused, can be addictive and lead to social, health, and personal consequences. So instead of asking which is more addictive, it’s probably a good rule of thumb to consider getting help for yourself or a loved one if quality of life is getting worse because of the use of marijuana or alcohol.