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Which Drug Is More Harmful: Cannabis Or Alcohol?


Overall, it seems that alcohol is probably worse than pot. Joshua Resnick/Shutterstock

It is a question frequently and endlessly debated, often with quite a lot of vitriol: is alcohol or marijuana more harmful?

The question is actually quite a difficult one to answer. There are many conflicting factors that make it hard to do a direct comparison between alcohol and marijuana, not least the differing legal statuses of the two drugs. While decades of research examine the effects and dangers of alcohol, the illegality of weed means that studies looking into its impact are incredibly limited.


Then there is the problem of what “worse” or “dangerous” actually mean, which is not as easy to define as you might assume. Are we referring to how addictive something is? Or perhaps the damage it does to a taker's own body? What about how particular drugs harm society? These are all factors to take into consideration, and quantifying them is not an easy job.

But that does not mean people have not tried, and you can probably guess what the results are.

For a start, marijuana seems to be much less addictive than alcohol. In one survey about the drug habits of 8,000 Americans, researchers found that while 15 percent could be classed as addicted to alcohol, just 9 percent could be diagnosed as addicted to pot. In fact, for those smoking weed mixed with tobacco, the nicotine is far more likely to get you hooked, with 32 percent of users showing signs of addiction.

Healthwise it's a tricky one. We’ve known for a long time that alcohol is linked to a whole host of different types of cancer, from mouth to liver, to possibly even pancreatic. On the contrary, there are many who argue that cannabis does the opposite, suggesting it can actually be used to cure cancer. Unfortunately, the evidence for this latter claim is still not conclusive, with many studies carried out on cancer cells in the lab giving limited insight into how it would work in the body.


But one of the most comprehensive studies looking into the harm of the drugs found overwhelmingly that alcohol was the most harmful. And that’s not just between booze and pot. No, in fact, mainly due to the wider issues associated with it, alcohol has been rated by far the most harmful drug, even when compared to heroin and crack cocaine, which ranked second and third, respectively. On this scale, which included both individual and societal risks, marijuana makes an appearance at number eight.

In fact, globally it's thought that alcohol contributes to a pretty terrible 3.3 million deaths each year, which equates to one person dying every 10 seconds. Yet due to the quirks of history and society, it's still the one that ended up legal. 


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