Which Is Worse For You: Drinking Alcohol Or Smoking Weed?

A new study says drinking alcohol may be worse for your brain than smoking weed is. But does that mean marijuana is safe? | Source: ShutterStock

A new study says drinking alcohol may be worse for your brain than smoking weed is. But does that mean marijuana is safe? | Source: ShutterStock

You’ve probably heard that drinking alcohol and smoking weed are pretty bad for you, but is one worse than the other? Turns out, the answer is yes. And it’s probably not what you think.

A new study says that for teens, smoking weed is actually not as dangerous in terms of brain damage as drinking alcohol is. Researchers did a bunch of tests on 92 people between the ages of 16 and 20. Half of them already drank alcohol and used marijuana regularly, while the other half either abstained completely or kept their use down to a minimum.

Here’s what they found through brain scans over time: Teens who drank five or more alcoholic beverages twice a week or more–essentially binge drinking–had damage to their brain tissue that could cause memory loss, attention deficit problems, and issues with decision making not only immediately, but also later in life going into adulthood. (Ruh roh!) One of the researchers explained that it becomes a pretty vicious cycle when that happens: “If teens decrease their tissue health and cognitive ability to inhibit themselves, they might become more likely to engage in risky behavior like excessive substance use.” Yikes!

A separate study showed that drinking alcohol lowered test scores, and it happened differently for girls and guys. Girls had a harder time with reading comprehension and interpreting visuals, while guys just struggled to pay attention to what they were doing. (So if you planned on boozing up, we’re not going to tell you what to do–but you just might want to wait until after you take your SATs.)

Meanwhile, the test subjects who kept on smoking weed showed very little to no brain damage. Pretty interesting considering one is legal when you’re 21 and the other isn’t (depending on where you live, that is), isn’t it?

Still, don’t get too excited about the effects of marijuana (or the apparent lack thereof) just yet. The scientists in the study said that a lot of research results on marijuana haven’t been consistent because there are a lot of variables involved. “One reason is that marijuana can really vary. Different strains contain different levels of THC and other marijuana components,” one researcher explained. “For example, some studies have suggested one component, cannabidiol, may actually have neuroprotective effects.” (Basically, different types of marijuana can affect you differently–and one component of marijuana may actually be good for you, but they’re not sure.)

One could argue that if marijuana were legalized, it could be regulated the way alcohol is, so that the different ingredients and components could be recognized and understood better, but that may not happen. And while smoking weed may not have shown brain damage in this particular study, another showed that using marijuana for a long time can actually lower your I.Q., which is pretty scary.

Do you think drinking alcohol is really more harmful than smoking weed? Do you think smoking weed has long-term negative effects? If you drink alcohol or smoke weed, have you noticed a difference in your grades? Tell us in the comments!

Is smoking weed really so bad?

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  • depressed5

    Alcohol promotes violence, and pot does not. Alcohol is physically addicting and pot is not. Every concert, party, sporting event I go to someone is falling down drunk, loud, or obnoxious. The tokers are not. I wish the medical community would explore more uses for pot. It is really a crime that it’s fulll medicinal uses are being overlooked, beacause of predudice toward the drug. Let’s help some people! Our population is aging. Let’s all relax and get HIGH!!!!!!!

  • hailey

    k honestly weed and stuff is not that bad

  • Ricco24

    It’s weird how we live in the “land of the free” but are told what we can do with our bodies from what smoke drink eat. If you are not hurting anybody i say do whatever you want.

  • Bob

    When I first started smoking pot it was fun & I laughed a lot & had fun.The first time I drunk it was different so I thought it was fun,not realizing I was doing things I wouldn’t do like destroying things and destroying peoples property and having fun doing it.Then waking up the next morning feeling like crap trying to remember what I did the night before,”That’s not a fun way to wake especially when you found out you did some awfully stupid things.Also smoking pot never seemed to put me in oblivion like alchohol. with pot I just felt very tired nothing a cup of coffee seemed to help. After I my 20′s I got into a serious motor cycle to which I landed on my head,after that the fire chief of Pinole revived me.After being in a coma for 2 weeks I woke up with the worst headache,and the pain was’nt going anywhere unless I took some kind of pain releaver and taking anything orally would eventually damage my stomach.In the mean time I smoke a joint once in a while .Like always I smoked a joint once in a while and I would feel fine,always thinking just being high would make me forget the pain.After an hour or two the pain and pressure would come back.After having this headache since 1976 I wish there was an affordable way to rid this pain

  • ANONYMOUS

    aww, i cant edit my other comment?

    what i consider a stoner: smokes because he enjoys feeling high a lot. does it very often, usually many times a day, every day. sometimes likes to sit and get stoned out of his mind. smokes good weed and knows his stuff. will sometimes get excited and express how he loves weed and shows off his knowledge.

    what i consider a pothead: smokes weed to get high. does it pretty often, a few times a week or every day. will smoke any weed, usually mids. shows off the fact that he smokes weed. brags about weed to almost everyone he sees. dosnt know much about weed but dosnt care as long as it gets him high.

    some people smoke weed because they occasionally like to chill and enjoy getting high with friends, or they do it for the benefits and it helps them in some way.

    i had some people in mind while i typed this.

  • ANONYMOUS

    i do beleive alchohol is more harmful. i can see why a lot of people will think otherwise though. i can drink a beer with someone like my dad with no problem but if i pulled out a joint than OMG! i rarely do either but probably will more often in the future. i think weed is healthier and i would rather be fried than be drunk. i just did both at the same time on thanksgiving.

    weed is considered an illegal drug, so troublemakers are more likely to do it. most troublemakers dont care about school and grades so theyre obviously going to get lower grades. i dont beleive the weed is whats effecting their grades. i have personaly met some really intelligent people who smoke weed, aswel as some pretty idiotic people who also do it (usually troublemakers), ive met smart people who do not, and some really stupid people who dont.

    i did get bad grades and couldnt stand school, so i dropped out, but it wasnt until after that when i started smoking weed. i went back and just got my GED.

    ill smoke weed if i get the opportunity under certain sercomstances. i know people who smoke weed frequently and are fine. i know people who really like getting high enough and are always baked. i think some people just choose follow a stoners lifestyle.
    i dont think i see a long term effect in even the people who do it regularly execpt stoners are just act stoned :P. no health problems.

    i dont see much of a long term effect in drunks besides maybe health and the ones i know dont seem very smart. by drunks i meen people that party to get drunk a lot. alchoholics are a different story.

  • Not Kiddin’

    Thats not a stoner, thats a jr. speed freak.

  • Eff That

    Google “Cannabis Neurogenesis” and “Cannabidiol anti-pasmotic”. This plant is symbiotic with humans like a lot of plants are, it grew up WITH us. Harry Anslinger and William Randolph Hearst decided in 1937 to trick the legislature and the people by using abject racism to fool the them into prohibiting it. It is a great plant, with myriad uses and there’s nothing wrong with getting high. This is nothing like alcohol. Cannabis is NON-TOXIC. It will never kill anyone, why? Because the Basal Ganglia, Hippocampus and Cerebellum do not control the 2 vital functions associated with deaths and “narcotics (misused word)” such as Opioids (Morphine, Heroin, Oxycontin, Oxycodone, Codeine). Please go to the site Wolfram Alpha and look up the molecular makeup of Heroin, then look up Oxycontin, put them side by side and count the differences in the atomic structure. They are nearly identical. And you’re worried about a plant humans have enjoyed for tens of thousands of years. If that’s the case, you’ve been fooled, just like most of the world. Thanks a lot Harry Anslinger, you won sir, you were able to police our states of consciousness. Slowly but surely, we’ll take it back from you through education.

    • Claude

      People who drink occasionally are normal and if you drink more than that you are an alcoholic so same as pot, if you smoke pot occasionally it would be normal but more than that you are a pothead or a stoner, and let me tell you, there are a lot more potheads in this world than alcoholics.

    • Not Kiddin’

      My father developed emphysema from weed alone. Smoking *period* is harmful for the lungs, they aren’t meant to process drugs into the bloodstream that way. If there were more available ways to ingest mary orally, there wouldn’t be any harmful effects, but they’re there if you’re inhaling smoke.

    • randell

      your an idiot for the simple fact that weed raises your heart rate and blood pressure it increases your chances of having a heart attack by 5 times with in the first hour of consumption

  • Sarah

    Owned? Pot causes Cancer? People are more likely to get in an accident high then drunk? The people that made these comments are IDIOTS. I am a med marijuana user. I have Crohn’s disease, and if it wasn’t for smoking marijuana I would not be able to eat a meal because I get so nauseated and I would not be able to function normally due to the amount of pain I am in daily. I would not be able to take my kids to the park or go to their soccer games. I am tired of people trying to say that people that smoke pot are just “Pot Heads” and that we are worse then alcoholics because what they do is legal. My mom almost killed herself when I was 3 because she was an alcoholic, my dad threatened to leave her because of it. Alcohol is what should be illegal, even cigarettes should. They both are proven to cause cancer. While marijuana is given to those same people for a treatment for that cancer they got from cigarettes and alcohol. I live in one of the states that has made if legal for 21 yrs and over and I believe that all states should do this. As well as the government should legalize it for adults. Like one of the other people wrote in there comment, this whole thing with marijuana being illegal started because of a politician who wanted to get rich off of making paper with trees. Did you know that the Declaration of Independence is written on Hemp Paper? For those of you who are idiots and think marijuana is bad. Do some actual research. Talk to people that have life debilitating diseases, the parents down the road that there child is a med user because she has cancer and may die or hey talk to your grandma. Cause she probably smokes it for her Glaucoma. Either way get your facts straight dumb asses.

    • Michael .D. Martine

      I agree with ya! Cause i also used it since when i waz 16 up to 18 but i didn’t face any trouble with my memorization.

    • Jong

      In a way this is true. The first few drafts were written on hemp paper but the final copy was not. It was actually written on a hide cured with lemon juice, that’s how we can still see it today because it has not deteriorated the way hemp paper would.

  • Danica

    Being involved to vices such as smoking and drinking alcohol is never a good practice. It can cause several health issues to an individual. Smoking of weed for instance can lead to serious mental problem.

    • Jim

      Citations, please?

    • jwak

      really danica; indians smoked weed, they lived long healthy lives; it is not manufactured like the prescription drugs by companies that own Wal Street; if senior citizens could smoke weed instead of all the prescrips that doctors put them on with all the side effects, their quality of life would be quite higher than it i now – it seems like a no brainer to me.
      Im sure my mom would still be around today and happy ….

  • Enlightenmenthascommeth

    Why has the word ”drug” itself recieved such bad stigma?
    Why is the truth behind pot such an unfathomable enigma?
    Why do people not understand the implications of it’s uses,
    And that only the government is the one that abuses?

    But seriously, I am a 15 year old that has anxiety, paranoia, Insomnia, stomach ulcers (from anxiety) and an IQ of 140+. It infuriates me that society worships alcohol which has not one true medical benefit (aside from maybe being a topical anasthetic), and yet society scorns people like me that use marijuana to soothe anxiety and to improve the quality of my life (whilst simultaneously getting a good sleep).

  • Rachel

    Okay, weed is only found to harm you if you smoke it excessively while your brain is still developing; then yes, it can possibly lead to problems. But for adults it’s pretty much harmless in moderation. The reason it is illegal is due to a political scandal , no joke. I think there would be way less problems if people started using pot instead of alcohol. Alcohol causes you to do dangerous things and is all around dangerous to use, especially since you can overdose on it, while you actually cannot overdose on weed. Pluss when you smoke weed, you do not feel the need to cause danger to others, you just feel dreamy. Look up and watch the dcumentary “The Union” to see what I’m talking about…

  • Bunnyfluff

    Just to add something….
    Just so all you kids know.
    Hemp is a very safe product for the land and is pretty bio-degradable. The production of it is low pollution and its fairly cheap. There are so many uses for it and hemp is from a Marijuana plant.
    AND—>ABRAHAM LINCOLN OUR FOUNDING FATHER SMOKED MARIJUANA.
    duhh…”yeah your middle school and high school text books didn’t teach you that did they?”

    • Jim

      You’ve never smoked cannabis before have you?

      • Jim

        Sorry, that previous comment was meant for somebody else. I agree with you.

  • Brianna

    Honestly I think all drugs should be illegal and correction to the girl who said pot hasn’t killed anyone, actually it has. Example: if someone smokes pot and and drives they could get away with it : fumes, they air out the car,: red eyes, can get eye drops. Then if they get stopped the cops would know so they could continue driving and while they’re driving, their so high they don’t know what their doing, so they get into wrecks and kill people. But if people drink and drive they could get stopped, and the police would smell the alcohol in the persons breath and beer bottles. I rest my case. OWNED!!!!!!!

    • Ted

      For one, nobody does that when they are high. They will stop and talk to the cop. If you do that it’s not because your high, but because your dumb as hell and don’t know how to handle weed. If I was drinking and driving I would be more likely to not pull over than if I were high. You didn’t own anyone, you just made yourself look dumb. You should find out what your talking about before saying it, and if your gonna try to dis pot, use proper grammar to do it.

    • Rick

      You are right when you say that the other girl was wrong, but not in a specific way. A lot of things could be the cause of death or another person’s death due to marijuana, but the key word is directly. Weed has never in the history of its use (over 6000 years) been a direct cause of death (ex. smoking weed and doing nothing else cannot kill you, not matter how hard you try). So it’s impossible to overdose. Yes people make mistakes and drive while high, but it’s nowhere near the killing power of alcohol behind the wheel. Studies on individuals who smoked weed before driving, and others who drank before showed that the ones who smoked marijuana were more cautious and anxious behind the wheel, and only seemed to slow down what they did. The ones who drank were the complete opposite, saying they were all right to drive, when they drove erratically and failed the tests provided. I personally think that driving should be limited to sober people, but there’s no chance that you could ever abolish intoxicated driving. Too many people do it. What is the best choice in this case (and for ALL drugs, even heroin and cocaine), is to LEGALIZE every drug there is. It may sound insanely stupid, but prohibition is the only reason we have a drug problem in society. The correct path to take is to legalize and educate people. Take alcohol prohibition in the 1930′s for example. It was completely against the law for anyone to have alcohol (unless they were prescribed, sometimes illegally), yet people still found a way to get around the rules. The same thing with drugs. If they are illegal (prohibited), then people will always find a way to get them. Illegal drugs today are stronger, easier to get, and cheaper than ever before, and prohibition is the cause of it. When the black market is opened in the drug trade, there is no limit, as there are no laws on regulating, producing, or controlling the substances in any way. It’s a free-for-all. The only choice to make is to have them all legal, and have strict laws against who can use them (minors), where they can be used (public intoxication), and how they’re regulated (control on the substance, instead of mass production for profit through the black market). And jails would be used for actual criminals instead of non-violent criminals (drug traffickers, producers and users), as well as a huge tax income on the sales of drugs to the users (more money for the government). Stop having the government telling people how to live their lives, and start the incline to a better economy. I rest my case.

    • george

      You are such an uneducated, and moronic fool……. In such a case you provided that pot has the potential to kill someone it is extremely important for you to understand that the impact of a moving vehicle would be the real cause of death. For someone to say that it is DIRECTLY the marijuana’s fault that the person is dead is completely erroneous. Anybody with common sense would know that a person intoxicated with ANY substance has just as much potential of taking place in a fatal accident or crash than a person using any other substance. In fact, a person who is drunk is MORE likely to crash than a person who has smoked pot, and saying that there is always going to be a cop to catch every drunk person in the world is even more of an idiotic statement. Also, it is very easy to cover up the smell of alcohol and any other “red flags” of intoxication. You need to go to school little girl, fucking dumbass.

    • jenna

      owned? you’re argument uses false logic. people kill people while driving sober as well. Truth is, anything that requires mental focus and coordination is FAR less impaired by marijuana than alcohol. it’s just that simple. Drug abuse is bad no doubt, But the only real, immediate harm in smoking weed is getting caught and being indoctrinated to the jail system.

    • Chibblywipwop

      Stupidest thing anyone has ever said

    • Hannah

      Get some lessons in English granmar before you start making stupid comments. If marijuana was legalised, obviously the same precautions would be taken to ensure it is not dangerous to others as alcohol. Some kind of device to detect THC levels would be created and used on the roads, the same way it is for alcohol.
      And when do you ever hear of someone driving high and killing someone? If anything it makes you a better driver because you concentrate more. Alcohol impairs your judgement, leading people to a) think they can drive in the first place, and b) have slower reaction times, causing accidents.

    • Jim

      You’ve never smoked cannabis before have you?

    • Matt

      You really shouldnt say OWNED!!! when you make a statement with no proof behind it. You think all drugs should be illegal ? Say goodbye to caffiene, birth control pills, flu shots etc

      Think before you type..

  • LittleRedWolfGirl

    This isn’t really news. It’s been known for a while now that smoking weed really isn’t that bad. The only reason we’ve had it in our heads that it is is because of all the stupid propaganda from way back when (‘Reefer Madness’ pretty much says it all).

    • maya

      Why do people get this idea that pot is this harmless fun substance? Yes, it’s not as bad as say coke or meth, but it’s a drug, no matter what studies say. It affects your brain development and makes you susceptible to mental diseases like schizophrenia, it’s been proven. It’s worse than cigarettes and gives you lung cancer, like any smoke does. Also, driving while stoned is worse than drunk driving. I’ve seen potheads in my school, they’re all idiots.

      • dani

        Actually pot is way better then cigarette’s. There isn’t any pesticides or additives or preservatives in pot. Have you ever fully researched what’s in cigs? Totally disgusting. No one has died from smoking pot and it does not or hasn’t been linked to certain cancers. Now pot in little doses is good for you can even help with certain brain disorders sub as dementia. Pot should be legal if cigarettes are allowed to be. If we legalized pot it would also help our eceonomy.

      • Bunnyfluff

        Actually, drunk driving is way worse than high flying. I mean i guess its your opinion but your vision is definitely not impaired after smoking weed, sure you may feel a bit light headed but its no where near pounding 5 beers and than driving. Hmm, maybe there has been some accidents caused by being high while driving but its definitely under 50. How many accidents and deaths have been caused from drunk driving -research it. And HAHAHAHAHA to your comment about “I’ve seen potheads in my school, they’re all idiots.” Well if they are all idiots apparently to you then you must be a genius. I used to be a regular smoker and now I don’t touch the stuff, only because of my job. It is legal in my home state as of this year and I agree with it. It is my opinion but i am pretty smart, I have a good grade point average and I have had jobs since i was 15 years old. I work at a car dealership and I certainly don’t believe they would hire a dummy. Maybe the people at your school are just naturally idiots, I don’t think its the marijuana making them stupid. I know math, computer, sports, and many more…GENIUSES that have been smoking for more than a decade.

        • Not Kiddin’

          My vision is impaired from mary, I took a bit of LSD in my time, and that mind high blows me away now.

      • Rose

        While I applaud your active research, you are completely wrong about cannabis causing brain development problems. And cannabis does not cause schizophrenia or mental illnesses, that is not a debatable fact anymore. You have clearly displayed that you have no experience with the substance. Driving while stoned is actually not difficult for the majority of responsible adults- your friends are most likely newer drivers and wouldn’t be that great at the wheel while sober.
        I would urge you to rethink your position about marijuana. It is not the scary thing that you have been lied to about due to the framework of the culture we are surrounded by in the US.

      • Rick

        “Why do people get this idea that pot is this harmless fun substance?”

        Because it is. Marijuana, pot, weed, cannabis, whatever you want to call it, is the most used substance in a lot of places around the world. It’s nowhere near the harm that cocaine or methamphetamine can cause, and yes it is a drug, along with alcohol, caffeine (coffee), and any prescription. It does affect your brain development in the stages when it is developing, but not nearly as much as alcohol, and even the food we put into our bodies due to the pesticides and preservatives used to produce them. Weed does NOT make you schizophrenic, although if someone had a genetic makeup for schizophrenia, or is predisposed to it (meaning they might get it anyways), weed can unveil schizophrenia in those people, not cause it. It’s been proven. It’s nowhere near the cancer causing level of cigarettes, as there would be a definite explosion in cancer rates among weed smokers, which there isn’t. Look up a study done by Dr. Donald Tashkin looking at the connection between marijuana smoking and lung function. He found that there was no direct link between the two. Marijuana smoking does not cause lung cancer, and may even kill old cells that can become cancerous. A friend of mine started smoking cigarettes last year, and he has more lung problems than he’s ever had. He has a disgusting thick cough, spits out whatever he’s coughing on, and is horribly addicted to them. I started smoking weed around the same time, and I feel that my lungs are in perfect condition. I don’t cough, I don’t have a lessened lung capacity. All fine. A 125 year old woman from India said that she smoked marijuana nearly daily, and lived to her amazing age with zero serious health problems, as well as attributing her health to her smoking habits. Another man on reddit (72 years old) said that he smoked on a regular basis, and said his lungs were horrible, until he quit cigarettes at age 30. Then his lungs returned to normal, even while smoking weed on a regular basis. You may have seen the potheads at your school, but you haven’t seen the people who know what they’re doing, and the ones who realize the potential of smoking. Rather than doing it because they have no better way to spend money and spend time.