The truth is this: alcohol and cannabis really don’t have a whole lot in common.
So why do we compare the two?
Because one is perfectly legal yet capable of causing all sorts of social issues and health problems (including death).
And the other – cannabis – is still widely restricted, prohibited, stigmatized, and subject to taboo, despite mounting evidence that it’s actually a good thing, especially when used properly.
When it comes to overall safety and public harm, cannabis wins hands down.
Not only can the herb help someone overcome addiction, but it reduces aggression and may even kill cancer cells.
For those who love crunching the evidence, here are 10 scientific reasons why cannabis is safer than alcohol:
1. Alcohol is filled with empty calories
Ever hear of the phrase “beer belly”?
At seven calories per gram, alcohol is a major source of empty calories with virtually no nutritional value.
It’s no surprise that excess alcohol contributes to weight gain.
Conversely, cannabis may be a safer than alcohol due to its impact on body weight.
Research has found that regular cannabis consumers are less likely to be obese, have smaller waistlines, and decreased risks of diabetes compared to nonconsumers.
2. Alcohol can cause nutrient deficiencies
Severe vitamin deficiency is uncommon in Western cultures.
However, diseases that have been more or less eliminated, like Wernicke/Korsakoff, are still a side effect of alcoholism.
Wernicke/Korsakoff is a temporary condition caused by a severe vitamin B1 deficiency. It can cause short-term memory loss and severe impairments in muscle coordination.
Similarly, serious deficiencies in vitamin A, vitamin B12, and folate.
Because alcohol can interfere with the ability to absorb nutrients in the small intestine, it’s important to consume a nutrient-dense diet after even one night of binge drinking.
Even chronic cannabis consumption is not associated with these deficiencies.
3. Alcohol kills
One major reason cannabis is better than alcohol? Fatalities.
Cannabis has yet to be conclusively linked to a single death.
Yet, as the Centers for Disease Control report, alcohol contributes to 88,000 deaths per year in the U.S., including alcohol-related traffic fatalities and accidents.
This makes alcohol the third leading cause of preventable death in the United States.
4. Alcohol promotes violence
According to a report published by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), of the 11.1 million acts of violence reported each year, alcohol is a contributor to 2.7 million.
Alcohol causes a phenomenon called disinhibition, which means that it depresses the central nervous system and causes feelings of elation.
This disinhibition may make you feel good, it impairs judgment and affects reasoning.
If someone makes you angry when you’re drunk, for example, you have less of an ability to make safe judgements about your actions.
Thus, alcohol is a frequent contributor to violence.
When it comes to cannabis vs. alcohol, in this case, a 2016 study published in Pharmacology found that the herb had the opposite effect.
The research found that alcohol increased aggression while cannabis decreased aggression in both alcohol and cannabis consumers.
5. Alcohol increases domestic violence and sexual assault
While alcohol is a contributing factor to violent crime in general, alcohol most intimately affects close relationships at home. According to a report by the World Health Organization:
“Alcohol use directly affects cognitive and physical function, reducing self-control and leaving individuals less capable of negotiating a non-violent resolution to conflicts within relationships.”
The report also cites evidence that alcohol increases both the frequency and severity of intimate partner violence throughout the world.
In addition, a study put out by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism suggests that at least 50 percent of all sexual assault cases involve alcohol consumption by either the perpetrator or the victim.
Cannabis, on the other hand, has been associated with lower instances of domestic violence and assault among married couples.
Coupled with the above study which found that the herb decreases aggression overall, cannabis is far safer than alcohol due to its ability to reduce aggression and promote peaceful behavior.
6. Alcohol causes brain damage
Research on cannabis has increased over the past three decades. Yet, thus far, studies have yet to prove that cannabis causes any substantial or lasting brain damage.
Alcohol, on the other hand, is a different story.
Research suggests that alcohol impairs the process of neurogenesis.
Neurogenesis is the body’s ability to develop new brain cells in adulthood.
These new brain cells are crucial for the development and maintenance of memory.
Neurogenesis is also important for the prevention of neurological disease.
Alcohol’s interference with neurogenesis can create long-term deficits in crucial parts of the adult brain.
Neurogenesis is another reason that cannabis is safer than alcohol.
Preliminary research suggests that cannabis compounds may actually promote neurogenesis.
This theoretically improves long-term memory and functioning in aging adults, preserving brain health.
Cannabis is also a well-known antioxidant, improving neurological health by protecting the brain and nervous system from stress-related damage.
While alcohol harms the brain, emerging evidence suggests that cannabis protects the organ.
7. Binge drinking costs the U.S. economy $249 billion per year
According to the CDC, binge drinking is defined as four or more drinks per sitting.
When taking into consideration the health care costs, loss of worker productivity, criminal justice costs, and traffic accidents, alcohol takes $249 billion from the U.S economy each year.
According to 2010 data, local and state taxes on alcohol generate a mere $5.6 billion in total revenue.
8. Alcohol causes fatty liver disease
As many alcohol consumers are already aware, excessive alcohol consumption does some serious harm to the liver.
Overconsumption of alcohol can cause fat buildup in liver tissue. If this fat buildup persists, a person can develop chronic liver inflammation.
Eventually, at least 10 percent of alcohol-dependent individuals can develop liver failure, which can eventually cause death.
Interestingly enough, cannabis compounds are already being researched for their potential to reduce inflammation in those with liver disease.
Thus far, a non-intoxicating cannabis compound, cannabidiol (CBD) has shown success in treating inflammation and scarring from liver failure in rodent models.
Should these models prove successful in humans, this adds one more reason why cannabis is safer than alcohol.
9. Alcohol is more addictive than cannabis
Taking the harms reduction approach, long withstanding research suggests that cannabis is less addictive than alcohol.
While between 9 and 10 percent of cannabis consumers meet the definition for cannabis addiction, that number is 15 percent among alcohol consumers.
The number rises to 35 percent among tobacco consumers, making cannabis one of the least addictive intoxicants available.
Further, there is emerging evidence which shows that cannabis may help people overcome harmful addictions. How? Certain cannabis compounds may reduce addictive behaviors.
This includes addiction to opioid painkillers as well as addictions to other drugs of abuse like alcohol, tobacco, and heroin.
10. Alcohol increases your risk of developing cancer
Long-term alcohol abuse is linked to increased risk of colon, breast, esophagus, liver, and mouth cancers.
In fact, almost 50 percent of esophagus and mouth cancers are associated with excess alcohol consumption.
In contrast, an accumulation of recent studies and small pilot trials have shown that cannabis compounds have anticancer effects.
While more research is needed, cannabis compounds have been found to kill tumor cells in animal and laboratory models of breast cancer, glioma, liver cancer, colon cancer, and more.
The link between alcohol and cancer, however, is fairly clear.
Why is cannabis still illegal?
So, there you have it.
Why is cannabis safer than alcohol?
Cannabis is less addictive, improves memory in aging adults, is associated with lower risks of cancer, decreases aggression, positively influences weight, and, most importantly, does not cause overdose deaths.
In the battle of cannabis vs. alcohol, cannabis wins hands down.
Now, why isn’t it legal?