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The Great Debate: Marijuana vs Alcohol

You may have had the debate yourself—what’s worse? Alcohol or marijuana? With new studies coming out and more laws legalizing the recreational and medicinal use of marijuana, the conversation seems to come up again and again.

Even though we may all have different opinions, marijuana remains a Schedule I drug, while alcohol is legal to consume for people who are 21 years of age or older.

In a now famous New Yorker interview, President Obama said, “I don’t think it [marijuana] is more dangerous than alcohol.”

So, is alcohol or marijuana more dangerous? Here we present both sides of the debate so you can decide for yourself.

Risk of Alcohol Overdose Compared to Marijuana Deaths

In most cases, drinking alcohol is not life-threatening. However, when people consume too much alcohol, it can be fatal. The CDC reports that nearly 88,000 alcohol-related overdose deaths occur each year. Binge drinking accounted for about half of these deaths.

In comparison, the number of deaths caused by marijuana is almost zero. A study found that a fatal dose of TCH, the potent chemical in marijuana, would be between 15 and 70 grams. To give you an idea of how much marijuana that is, consider that a typical joint contains about half a gram of marijuana. That means that you would have to smoke between 238 and 1,113 joints in a day to overdose on marijuana. That’s a lot of joints.

Increased Crime Rates

When it comes to what substance will put someone at risk for getting hurt or hurting others, alcohol is considered to cause the most harm.

study on marijuana use and intimate partner violence found that couples who used marijuana had lower rates of intimate partner violence in the first 9 years of marriage. In fact, men who used marijuana were the least likely to commit an act of intimate partner violence against a spouse.

Dangers of Driving While on Substances

Driving stoned is considerably safer than driving drunk, but it is still dangerous.

Besides alcohol, marijuana is the most commonly detected drug in drivers involved in car accidents. One study found that marijuana increased the odds of being in car accident by 83%.

You may think that 83% is high, but when alcohol was involved, the odds of being in a car accident increased more than 2,200%!

When both alcohol and drugs are in the system, the risk of having a fatal car accident is especially high.

What’s the takeaway here? It’s never a good idea to drive under the influence of drugs or alcohol, but especially both.

Impact on Learning and Memory

After a long night of heavy drinking, you may not remember what happened the night before. This is often referred to as a “blackout.”

When you drink heavily, it can impair your ability to create new memories. Over 50% of frequent binge drinkers reported at least one time in the past year when they blacked out and forgot where they were or what they did when they were drinking.

In an email survey, college students reported that after a blackout they did things that they could not remember, like driving drunk, having unprotected sex, or engaging in risky behavior.

Along the lines of memory, recent studies have shown that adolescents who smoke marijuana may be at greater risk for problems with memory and learning later in life. The studies remain inconclusive about how much marijuana use causes impairments of learning and memory. However, studies have demonstrated that these types of changes in the brain may increase the risk of psychological difficulties later in life.

Controversy remains over what percentage of psychosis risk can be linked to marijuana use and how much depends on a person’s genetics.

Dangers During Pregnancy

Using alcohol even during the first few weeks of pregnancy can cause long-lasting effects on a child. According to the CDC, 3.3 million women are at risk of exposing their babies to alcohol.

If you drink during pregnancy, you are at risk for having a child born with physical, behavioral, and intellectual disabilities—these are called fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs). According to the CDC, there is no known amount of alcohol that is safe to consume during pregnancy.

But marijuana may not be safe either. Studies show there may be a link between marijuana use during pregnancy and low birth weight. Despite marijuana being the most commonly used illegal drug during pregnancy, it’s hard to tell what the effect of marijuana use is, since there are not many studies out there.

Learn more about the dangers of substance use during pregnancy.

How to Get Help for Drug and Alcohol Addiction

If you or someone you love is struggling with substance misuse, help is available and recovery is possible. Professional treatment can change the life of anyone willing to accept help. A caring admissions navigator with American Addiction Centers (AAC) can assist you in finding treatment centers near your location. Please contact us free at for help locating drug or alcohol addiction treatment programs that suit your individual requirements. You can also check your insurance coverage for rehab using the form below.

Levels of Care in Drug and Alcohol Addiction Treatment

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