Alcohol and Marijuana: Which is More Dangerous?

The discourse about the dangers of drugs in the United States, particularly social drugs such as alcohol and marijuana, which can easily become very dangerous when abused, is ongoing and remains unresolved. There are many studies that strongly favor one substance over the other, but in a podcast posted by Freakonomics, data is used to dispel myths and present evidence addressing the dangers of alcohol and marijuana on the individual and on society.

Is marijuana safer than alcohol?
Alcohol Versus Marijuana

Effects of Alcohol on the Individual

Alcohol causes many diseases including hepatitis B virus (HBV) - also known as liver disease - which can lead to cirrhosis, jaundice, liver cancer, and even death. Alcohol has also been shown to cause brain damage and, according to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, "difficulty walking, blurred vision, slurred speech, slowed reaction times, impaired memory." According to a study by British psychiatrist and neuropsychopharmacologist, David Nutt, alcohol is a significant factor in heart damage and is the most damaging drug to the brain.

A study by the University of North Carolina attests to the many effects of alcohol on the body, including short-term and long-term effects. Short-term effects on the body and the mind include, but are not limited to poor judgment, anxiety, depressed mood, hangovers, headaches, memory loss, and loss of consciousness. Potential long-term effects of alcohol may include, but are not limited to sexual impotence, weight gain, cancer, liver disease, high blood pressure, and difficulty regulating mood.

For women who are pregnant, "drinking during pregnancy can lead to a range of physical, learning, and behavioral effects in the developing brain, the most serious of which is a collection of symptoms known as fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS)," which can lead to "long-term problems in learning and behavior."

Effects of Marijuana on the Individual

The National Institute on Drug Abuse, marijuana has many of the same harmful effects to one's health as tobacco such as lung disease, difficulty breathing, and potential for congestive heart failure. There are also studies that suggest that marijuana leaves burn more slowly than tobacco leaves and therefore do not allow as much toxic fumes into the body as quick burning tobacco leaves. Marijuana, unlike alcohol, also has many health benefits, particularly for individuals suffering from diseases that cause seizures, nausea, sleep deprivation, chronic pain, and a lack of appetite, to name a few.

According to the Alcohol & Drug Abuse Institute of University of Washington, evidence suggests that women who use marijuana during pregnancy are more likely to give birth to babies with a multitude of issues including, but not limited to:

  • Lower birth weight
  • Delayed commencement of breathing
  • Exaggerated startle response
  • Tremors
  • Poorer eyesight
  • Poorer adaptability
  • Ventricular Septal Defect - a whole in the heart
  • Asthma, chest infections, and other repertory related issues
  • ADD / ADHD
  • Memory loss

Effects of Marijuana and Alcohol on Society

According to a study by British psychiatrist and neuropsychopharmacologist, David Nutt, alcohol was proven to be the most dangerous drug to society.

Alcohol's cost to society may include:

  • Violence - the consumption of alcohol leads to violent acts such as DUI's and traffic fatalities; DUI's account for one-third of vehicle related deaths
  • Criminal Activity - the consumption of alcohol may lead to erratic and dangerous behavior including breaking the law, domestic violence, and child abuse
  • Half of drug arrests are for marijuana, 42% for possession and 6% for the sale or manufacturing of marijuana
  • Individual's loss of productivity at work or at school
  • Individual's work / school work is negatively effected
  • Individual becomes unreliable

Marijuana's cost to society:

  • Individual's loss of productivity at work or at school
  • Individual's work / school work is negatively effected
  • Individual becomes unreliable
  • Violence - while the use of marijuana does not lead to violence, the sale of marijuana may lead to violence
  • Cost for police intervention
  • Cost for maintenance in prisons

Alcohol Arrest Verses Marijuana Arrests

Though neither alcohol nor marijuana is good for the individual or society, studies show that alcohol is the more dangerous drug across the board. Alcohol has claimed more lives - either through death or through ending relationships - than marijuana, or any other drug for that matter. Though marijuana has many health benefits and has proven to be far less dangerous than alcohol, alcohol is legal while marijuana remains illegal for recreational purposes in 48 of the 50 states, and 20 states have legalized marijuana for medicinal purposes. For the 700,000+ people who have been arrested or served jail time for possession of marijuana, the only way to have the offense removed from your criminal record is to have the arrest and/or conviction expunged.