Is alcohol better than weed, or is it the other way around? It’s a debate that’s gone on for decades.

Generally speaking, weed tends to come with fewer risks than alcohol, but there are a lot of factors to consider. Plus, they’re unique substances that produce different effects, which makes side-by-side comparisons difficult.

That said, we’ve rounded up the basic effects and risks associated with each substance to see how they measure up to each other.

Before getting into comparing alcohol and weed, it’s important to understand some of the factors that make the comparison tricky.

Lack of research

We know much more about alcohol than we do about weed. Sure, research on the topic is ramping up a bit, but there’s still a lack of large, long-term studies.

Weed may appear to be safer than alcohol simply because we aren’t yet aware of certain risks.

Variety of products

There are countless cannabis products on the market and a number of consumption options, from vaping to edibles.

The way you consume weed can have a big impact on its short- and long-term effects. For example, smoking is rough on your lungs, but this risk doesn’t apply to edibles.

Individual biology

Reactions to weed and alcohol differ from person to person.

For example, one person may have a very low tolerance for weed but be able to tolerate alcohol well. Another person might not have any issues with misusing alcohol but still find it hard to function without weed.

The short-term effects of weed and alcohol differ from person to person.

Getting drunk or high can feel similar to some people, while others describe the sensations as very different. Of course, the way you feel when you’re intoxicated also depends on how much of the substance you consume.

Alcohol

The feeling of intoxication is different for every person. While one person might feel relaxed while drunk, another might feel restless.

Other short-term effects include:

  • coordination and reflex issues
  • impaired cognitive skills
  • impaired judgment
  • relaxation
  • giddiness
  • drowsiness
  • restlessness
  • shorter attention span
  • nausea and vomiting

And, of course, there’s the hangover the next day. If you do get hungover, you might experience other effects, including headaches and diarrhea.

Weed

The immediate effects of weed can vary quite a bit from person to person.

Some of the most commonly reported effects include:

  • altered perception of time
  • coordination and reflex issues
  • impaired cognitive skills
  • impaired judgment
  • relaxation (though it can also make others feel anxious)
  • giddiness
  • drowsiness
  • nausea
  • pain relief
  • dry mouth
  • dry, red eyes
  • increased hunger

Keep in mind that these effects don’t include those associated with different consumption methods, such as smoking or vaping.

As for the hangover aspect, weed can have some lingering effects for some people, including:

  • headaches
  • drowsiness
  • brain fog

The verdict

While being intoxicated with weed feels different than being intoxicated with alcohol, the two have roughly the same effect on your cognitive abilities, reflexes, and judgment.

Both can also leave you feeling a bit worse for wear the next day, though this is more likely to happen with alcohol.

As with the short-term effects of alcohol and weed, the long-term effects differ from person to person.

Alcohol

When consumed heavily or over a long period of time, alcohol can have several long-term effects, including:

  • Liver disease. Excessive drinking can cause chronic liver disease, which can affect your body’s ability to process substances and detox itself.
  • Pancreatitis. Alcohol misuse is a leading cause of pancreatitis, a disease of the pancreas.
  • Heart damage. Heavy drinking can take a toll on the cardiovascular system.
  • Stomach and digestive issues. In large amounts, alcohol can irritate the stomach, causing ulcers, pain, bloating, and irritation.
  • Central nervous system damage. This could lead to numbness and tingling sensations in the limbs.
  • Erectile dysfunction. Long-term alcohol use can lead to erectile dysfunction.
  • Infertility. Long-term or heavy alcohol use may have an impact on both male and female fertility.

Weed

The long-term effects of weed aren’t quite as clear. Plus, there’s the issue of varying methods of consumption.

So far, the general long-term effects associated with weed include:

  • Brain development issues. A 2014 study suggests that consuming weed as a teenager can lead to brain development issues at a later stage. However, the study couldn’t confirm whether these issues are permanent or not.
  • Schizophrenia. The link between weed and schizophrenia is complex and not fully understood. However, some experts believe that weed use can trigger the onset of schizophrenia in certain people, particularly those with a family history of it.

Again, these effects don’t include those associated with consumption methods.

It’s also important to remember that there aren’t many high-quality, long-term studies on weed and its effects.

Comparing the two

The verdict

Weed seems to have fewer long-term risks than alcohol, but again, there’s a huge discrepancy in the amount of research on weed compared with alcohol.

Both alcohol and weed have addiction potential. It’s possible to develop an emotional and/or physical dependence on both substances.

Alcohol

Alcohol use disorder is a relatively common issue. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), 15 million people in the United States deal with it.

Signs of alcohol misuse can include:

  • being unable to cut down on alcohol use
  • having to change your schedule because of drinking and hangovers
  • dealing with strong cravings for alcohol
  • having withdrawal symptoms when you don’t drink, including nausea, sweating, shaking, and headaches
  • getting into trouble at work or school due to your alcohol use
  • having arguments with loved ones due to your alcohol use

Weed

There’s a common misconception that weed isn’t addictive. Cannabis addiction is surprisingly common, however, according to 2015 study.

The data suggests that 30 percent of those who use weed may have some degree of “marijuana use disorder.”

The verdict

Both weed and alcohol can carry a potential for misuse and addiction, but this appears to be more common with alcohol.

There’s no easy answer to the weed versus alcohol debate. On the surface, weed appears to be safer, but there’s simply not enough evidence to declare a winner.

People’s responses to each substance can vary greatly, so what seems safer for one person might not work for someone else.


Sian Ferguson is a freelance writer and journalist based in Grahamstown, South Africa. Her writing covers issues relating to social justice and health. You can reach out to her on Twitter.