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A Scientific Look at Whether Marijuana or Alcohol Is Safer

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Does alcohol or marijuana harm your body more? Dozens of factors play a role in making a determination, but the science can’t be denied. Scientists have studied the effects of alcohol for decades. But with marijuana still being federally illegal, researching it is a bit more difficult.

No one has ever died from using just marijuana, but statistics from 2014 show that some 30,700 Americans died from an alcohol-related cause, Business Insider reports. Homicides and alcohol-related car accidents were not included in this statistic. But it is estimated that if those two factors were included, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention believe it would be closer to 90,000 deaths. Interestingly enough, the American Journal of Public Health says that people who use marijuana aren’t likely to die younger than those that do not use marijuana.

In regards to addiction, those that develop a marijuana dependency or addiction are estimated to be a mere 9%. When it comes to alcohol, it is estimated (from old data) that about 15% of those consuming alcohol become addicted. Addiction rates for other drugs are higher with cocaine being 17%, heroin at 23% and nicotine being the highest at 32%.

What about cancer risk? Alcohol is classified as a carcinogen by the US Department of Health. Heavy drinking may increase the risk of receiving a cancer diagnosis. A January report suggests that marijuana use isn’t connected to an increased risk of lung cancer or cancers of the head and neck, which is seen in many tobacco users.

Driving after drinking poses a bigger risk. The National Highway Safety Administration researched intoxication via THC and alcohol. Those consuming alcohol with a blood-alcohol level of at least 0.05 are 575% more likely to be involved in an accident.

In 2009, the American Journal of Addiction review said, “The risk from driving under the influence of both alcohol and cannabis is greater than the risk of driving under the influence of either alone.”

Alcohol consumption can bring out the negative in people and has been noted to increase occurrences of domestic violence. In marijuana use, it isn’t likely to induce any violent behavior. The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence shows that, statistically, alcohol is a factor in 40% of violent crimes. When couples drink at the same time, cases of mental and/or physical abuse increase.

What about the effects on memory capacity? Both temporarily impair the memory. Alcohol can lead to blackouts when used heavily. During those moments, it’s difficult to impossible to form a memory. Longtime heavy drinkers are more likely to develop long-term memory problems along with an inability to pay attention, improper emotional responses and difficulties in social cognition. When it comes to marijuana use, memory is affected in the short-term. Heavy users may have mild, but longer-term memory issues.

Both alcohol and marijuana can have an effect on psychiatric disorders. When it comes to marijuana, some strains may promote psychosis or schizophrenia. Those with psychiatric disorders should avoid marijuana strains that induce anxiety, paranoia, dizziness and confusion. Research hasn’t caught up with marijuana yet, so it is unknown whether marijuana use is linked to long-term psychosis.  Regarding alcohol, binge drinkers and heavy drinkers are more likely to suffer from depression. They are more likely to commit suicide or self-harm. Scientists can’t determine whether consuming alcohol excessively causes depression and anxiety or whether those people are drinking that much to deal with depression and anxiety symptoms.

Now, some marijuana strains may produce “the munchies” but drinkers are more likely to gain weight. Studies indicate that marijuana users have a lower risk of obesity than drinkers. When it comes to alcohol, weight gain is likely. Alcohol contains carbohydrates and can slow the metabolism.

Taking all of these factors into consideration, the general consensus is that alcohol is much worse for humans than marijuana because alcohol has the likelihood of increasing the risk of more health conditions, violence and impairments.