With marijuana legalization a reality in 23 states and in Washington DC–and an inevitability in many other states–it is poised to become one of two legal intoxicating substances, with alcohol being the other. This brings up the question: which is safer to use…marijuana or alcohol? Both substances actually have their health risks, but the facts as to which one is safer may surprise you.

Keep in mind that these results were involved in subjects who used alcohol or marijuana for several years.

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Immediate effects of marijuana:

  • Impairs judgment
  • Slows down reaction time
  • May affect coordination and motor skills
  • Increases the risk of accidents
  • Causes changes in mood and behavior

Immediate effects of alcohol:

  • Impairs judgment
  • Slow down reaction time
  • May affect coordination and motor skills
  • Increases the risk of accidents
  • Causes changes in mood and behavior

Marijuana’s effect on the brain:

  • Reduces the flow of blood to the brain
  • May impair with learning, memory, and attention
  • Thought to increase the risk of developing schizophrenia and other mental conditions

Alcohol’s effect on the brain:

  • May result in anxiety and depression
  • Impairment in brain that effects the ability to control movement, speech, judgement, and memory
  • Long term use can shrink the frontal lobes- impairs cognitive skills

Marijuana and cancer risk

  • Has been linked to precancerous changes in the lungs
  • May increase the risk of developing testicular cancer in young male adults

Alcohol and cancer risk

  • May increase the risk of developing the following types of cancer:
    • Breast
    • Esophagus
    • Liver
    • Throat

Marijuana’s effect on the liver

  • Marijuana has no known effects on the liver

Alcohol’s effect on the liver

  • May increase the risk of developing the following conditions:
  • Fatty liver disease
  • Alcohol-related hepatitis
  • Cirrhosis

Marijuana’s effects on the lungs

  • Contributes to precancerous changes in the lungs
  • May exacerbate coughing and wheezing

Alcohol’s effects on the lungs

  • May cause damage to the tissues of the lungs

Prenatal effects of marijuana use:

  • May result in low birth weight
  • May cause developmental and behavior problems in infants
  • (No evidence of other birth defects)

alcoholPrenatal effects of alcohol use:

  • May result in low birth weight
  • May cause learning and behavior problems in the child
  • May result in birth defects
  • May increase the drinker’s risk of experiencing the following:
  • Miscarriage
  • Preterm birth
  • Stillbirth

Driving under the influence of marijuana:

  • Causes impairment of judgment
  • Slow down reaction time
  • May affect coordination and motor skills
  • Increases the risk of accidents

Driving under the influence of alcohol:

  • Causes impairment of judgment
  • Slows down reaction time
  • May affect coordination and motor skills
  • Increases the risk of accidents

As you can see, both marijuana and alcohol may cause a number of significant health risks. That being said, alcohol does seem to be slightly riskier than marijuana, which does not discount the risks associated with chronic or long-term marijuana use.

That being said, it should be noted that there remains much research yet to be done on the long-term effects of marijuana use. It is also notable that marijuana–primarily the ingredient cannabadiol (CBD) has been linked to a number of significant health benefits. Again, much research remains to be done with regard to whether or not marijuana is actually a healthy substance. But when you compare it to alcohol–which has proven negative effects and very little health benefits–it would seem that marijuana has the edge over alcohol when it comes to safety and benefits.

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