Cannabis May Be Just as Harmful as Alcohol

Joint leans against shot glass of alcoholAdvocates of marijuana decriminalization and legalization have long argued the drug is less dangerous than alcohol, which led to an average of 88,000 American deaths each year between 2006 and 2010. A new study published in Clinical Psychological Science researched the risks of cannabis use, comparing the results to previous data about alcohol dependence to compare the effects of the two. The results suggest neither substance is fully safe, and both can spur socioeconomic problems.

Socioeconomic Effects of Cannabis, Alcohol

To explore the effects of long-term marijuana use, researchers from the University of California-Davis and Duke University studied 1,037 participants in the Dunedin Longitudinal Study. The study followed participants ages 18-38, gathering information about marijuana use, socioeconomic status, and life events.

Alcohol use is linked to significantly more deaths than marijuana use. Cannabis also produced a lower risk of traffic accidents than alcohol. Alcohol users had high health care costs, but cannabis users experienced no such increase.

Heavy marijuana use—four or more times per week across many years—was associated with several negative outcomes. By middle age, users dependent on marijuana had an increase in career problems and relationship conflicts. They also experienced downward socioeconomic mobility, attaining jobs with lower status and lower pay than their parents. Though these effects are similar to the negative outcomes heavy drinkers experience, cannabis users had more financial problems than alcohol users.

Differences in beliefs or experiences among cannabis users did not account for these differences. The negative effects of marijuana dependence remained even when researchers controlled for childhood mental health issues, low IQ, family structure, socioeconomic problems in childhood, drug convictions, early use of marijuana, and dependence on other drugs.

The Changing Landscape of Marijuana Laws

Four states—Alaska, Colorado, Washington, and Oregon—have legalized recreational use of marijuana, with 15 more considering similar legislation. Washington, D.C., decriminalized personal possession of the drug in 2015.

For now, marijuana remains less accessible than alcohol, though decriminalization efforts are rapidly changing this reality. The study’s authors say their research points to fewer issues associated with cannabis use, but they also emphasize this may be because alcohol is more accessible. Until both drugs are widely available on a similar scale, it will be difficult to compare their effects.


  1. Cerda, M., Moffitt, T. E., Meier, M. H., Harrington, H., Houts, R., Ramrakha, S. . . . Caspi, A. (2016). Persistent cannabis dependence and alcohol dependence represent risks for midlife economic and social problems: A longitudinal cohort study. Clinical Psychological Science. doi:10.1177/2167702616630958
  2. Fact sheets – Alcohol use and your health. (2016, February 29). Retrieved from
  3. Is cannabis “safer” than alcohol? (2016, March 29). Retrieved from
  4. Newman, T. (2016, March 29). Cannabis vs. alcohol: Economic and social impacts. Retrieved from

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  • michael


    March 31st, 2016 at 12:03 PM

    This debate is so old news. There is not nearly the amount of harm that comes form smoking pot as there is for drinking and alcohol. That is insane to think that there are those who think that just because they put this little crumb out there every now and then that they hope will eventually catch on and someone will start to believe the lies. That’s all this is, a way to make people think that it is harmful so that fewer states will legalize. It’s all just a bunch of lies.

  • Herbalist


    March 31st, 2016 at 10:02 PM

    The evidence is crystal clear. Dr. William Courtney, who has extensively researched ingesting raw cannabis via juicing, says it’s a vegetable, and cites several benefits, such as helping with:

    – Inflammation
    – Diabetes
    – Free radicals
    – Cancer
    – Arthritis
    – Lupus
    – Hydism
    – Infection
    – Asthma. A comparison of alcohol and cannabis:

    MORTALITY (yearly deaths in the U.S.)

    87,798 deaths – Alcohol (overall) – [CDC. 2013]
    not detected* – Cannabis (overall) – [Sidney et al. 1997; Andreasson & Allebeck. 1990]

    12,460 deaths – Alcohol – [CDC. 2013]
    not detected* – Cannabis – [Compton and Berning. 2015; Elvik R 2013]

    2,221 deaths – Alcohol overdose [Kanny et al. 2015]
    0 deaths – Cannabis overdose [Calabria et al. 2010; Hall 2014]

    *Differences from controls did not reach statistical significance

    Safety ratio (the ratio of the amount amount one needs to consume to likely cause death over the amount typically consumed):

    Alcohol – 10:1 [Gable. 2004]
    Cannabis (THC) – over 1000:1 [Gable. 2004]


    Lifetime Use Rate:

    22.7% – Alcohol [Lopez-Quintero et al. 2011]
    8.9% – Cannabis [Lopez-Quintero et al. 2011]

    First Decade of Use Rate:

    11.0% – Alcohol [Lopez-Quintero et al. 2011]
    5.9% – Cannabis [Lopez-Quintero et al. 2011]


    It should be noted that cannabis does not cause the kind of dependence that we typically associate with the term, like that of alcohol or heroin, it is more like that of caffeine, with less symptoms. Cannabis dependence is uncommon, relatively mild, not medically serious and usually not a significant issue or something that requires treatment, unless of course it is court ordered. [Joy et al. 1999]

    Alcohol withdrawal can result in death, seizures, hallucinations, disorientation, anxiety, tachycardia, hypertension, palpitations, agitation, persistent sweating, insomnia, tremors, gastrointestinal upset, headache, and anorexia. [Bayard et al. 2004]

    Cannabis withdrawal can result in dysphoric mood (anxiety, irritability, depressed mood, restlessness), disturbed sleep, gastrointestinal symptoms, and decreased appetite. [Danovitch and Gorelick. 2012]

    For added perspective:

    Caffeine withdrawal can result in dysphoric mood (anxiety, irritability, depressed mood, decreased well-being, difficulty concentrating), fatigue, headache, decreased alertness, nausea/vomiting/upse
    t stomach, flu-like symptoms, and muscle pain/stiffness. [Ozsungur et al. 2009] Over 30% of current caffeine users are dependent. [Catherine et al. 2011]


    Cannabis tends to make its users more cautious and aware of their impairment. Drivers are known to compensate for its effects. Alcohol tends to do the opposite, making people less aware of their impariment, overconfident, aggressive, and wreckless. [Robbe and O’Hanlon. 1993; Robbe. 1995]

    In 2015 the U.S. government completed the largest case controlled study to date regarding DUI of cannabis. It involved over 9,000 cases and controls spanning a 20-month period. It found that cannabis use while driving is not associated with increased crash risk once adjusted for confounding variables such as age, race, gender, and the presence of other drugs, including alcohol. [Compton and Berning. 2015]

    Relative Crash Risk [Compton and Berning. 2015]:

    23x – 0.20+ Breath Alcohol Concentration
    12x – 0.15 Breath Alcohol Concentration
    5.5x – 0.10 Breath Alcohol Concentration
    2x – 0.05 Breath Alcohol Concentration
    1x – Cannabis

    This study agrees with an extensive 2013 review of 66 studies regarding crash risk and drug use which found that cannabis was associated with minor, but not statistically significant increased odds of injury or fatal accident. The study concluded “Compared to the huge increase in accident risk associated with alcohol, as well as the high accident rate among young drivers, the increases in risk associated with the use of drugs are surprisingly small” [Elvik. 2013]

    In general cannabis use reduces risk of injury, whereas heavy alcohol use increases risk 25 times:

    “The most surprising result of our study was the inverse relationship between cannabis use and injury. Possible explanations and underlying mechanisms, such as use in safer environments or more compensatory behavior among cannabis users, were discussed”. [Gmel et al. 2009]


    This extensive review of studies which examined the long-term cognitive effects of using cocaine, (meth)amphetamines, ecstasy, opiates, alcohol, and cannabis, sums it up:

    “All substances of abuse, except cannabis, were associated with sustained deficits in executive functioning, especially inhibition…”
    “There was little evidence for sustained cognitive impairments in adult abstinent cannabis users.”
    van Holst RJ and Schilt T. Drug-related decrease in neuropsychological functions of abstinent drug users. Curr Drug Abuse Rev. 2011. Review.


    According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, alcohol is a contributing factor in 40% of all violent crime.

    Cannabis use itself is not associated with violence or crime, however overall there is an association with crime due to the black market in which prohibition forces its trade. [Pedersen & Skardhamar. 2010]


    -Andreasson S, Allebeck P. Cannabis and mortality among young men: a longitudinal study of Swedish conscripts. Scand J Soc Med. 1990.
    -Anthony et al. Comparative epidemiology of dependence on tobacco, alcohol, controlled substances, and inhalants: Basic findings from the National Comorbidity Survey. Experimental and Clinical Psychopharmacology. 1994.
    -Bayard et al. Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome. Am Fam Physician. 2004.
    -Calabria et al. Does cannabis use increase the risk of death? Systematic review of epidemiological evidence on adverse effects of cannabis use. Drug Alcohol Rev. 2010. Review.
    -Catherine et al. Evaluating Dependence Criteria for Caffeine. J Caffeine Res. 2011.
    -Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Alcohol Related Disease Impact (ARDI). 2013.
    -Compton and Berning. DOT HS 812 117. Drug and Alcohol Crash Risk. U.S. Department of Transportation – National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. 2015.
    -Danovitch I, Gorelick DA. State of the art treatments for cannabis dependence. Psychiatr Clin North Am. 2012. Review.
    Gmel et al. Alcohol and cannabis use as risk factors for injury–a case-crossover analysis in a Swiss hospital emergency department. BMC Public Health. 2009.
    -Elvik R. Risk of road accident associated with the use of drugs: a systematic review and meta-analysis of evidence from epidemiological studies. Accident Analysis Prevention. 2013. Review.
    -Gable RS. Comparison of acute lethal toxicity of commonly abused psychoactive substances. Addiction. 2004. Review.
    -Hall Wayne. What has research over the past two decades revealed about the adverse health effects of recreational cannabis use? Addiction. 2014. Review.
    -Joy et al. Marijuana and Medicine: Assessing the Science Base. Institute of Medicine. 1999.
    -Kanny et al. Vital Signs: Alcohol Poisoning Deaths — United States, 2010–2012. CDC. 2015.
    -Lopez-Quintero et al. Probability and predictors of transition from first use to dependence on nicotine, alcohol, cannabis, and cocaine: results of the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions (NESARC). Drug Alcohol Depend. 2011.
    -Ozsungur et al. Fourteen well-described caffeine withdrawal symptoms factor into three clusters. Psychopharmacology (Berl). 2009.
    -Pedersen W, Skardhamar T. Cannabis and crime: findings from a longitudinal study. Addiction. 2010.
    -Robbe. Marijuana’s effects on actual driving performance. HHMRC Road Research Unit, University of Adelaide. 1995. Robbe and O’Hanlon. DOT HS 808 078. Marijuana and actual driving performance. U.S. Department of Transportation – National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. 1993.
    -Sidney et al. Marijuana use and mortality. Am J Public Health. 1997. Alcohol is much more likely to cause serious, life threatening health issues, it is a contributing factor in 40% of all violent crime (cannabis itself is not believed to cause violent crime after confounder adjustment, especially prohibition related), alcohol is much more likely to cause accidents, alcohol is more likely to cause dependence and that dependence is significantly worse. Alcohol is significantly worse by just about every measure.

  • Jess


    April 2nd, 2016 at 12:00 PM

    How many times have you probably had to fight with a drunk person and take away their keys when they think that they can drive and are clearly impaired? Me? Plenty of times.
    Not with friends though who smoke pot and get high. They do not care one bit about getting behind the wheel of the car.
    Now you tell me which is more dangerous.

  • Laura


    April 3rd, 2016 at 1:38 AM

    I smoked marijuana pretty much daily for about 3 years. From the ages of 18-20. Those years are a blur and were spent very unprofitably. Wasted really. I totally agree with the article and I see the defensiveness of marijuana users as a clear sign for how deluded and dependent they are on this drug. Sure it is a plant, call it a “vegetable”, sure it has medicinal value. Poppies are plants specifically flowers. Opioids are medicine. Being plant and having good medicinal use, does not make recreational use OK. I live in AK. We already have a huge problem with child abuse and neglect. Think of all the stoned parents who will smoke up their kids food money. Sad.

  • Wendy


    April 4th, 2016 at 10:51 AM

    See, it’s always the same old things.
    Those who support the use of drugs will never even allow a counter argument to hold water with them.
    They are determined to fight it even though the clear evidence is that it actually can be very harmful for repetitive users.

  • Herbalist


    April 5th, 2016 at 5:22 AM

    Aside from the fact that cannabis is a vegetable with many of the same nutrients as other leafy greens (like fiber, iron and calcium), it is jam-packed with beneficial cannabinoids that are unique to the cannabis plant. In other words, juiced cannabis is a nutritionally-dense, very potent medicine.

    The high concentration of cannabinoids in juiced cannabis coupled with the perfect balance of fatty acids could help improve cell function and reduce damage caused by free radicals. Additional benefits of raw, juiced cannabis include reduced inflammation and the facilitation of two-way cellular communication. Many cannabinoids also have anti-tumor properties which are readily available through the consumption of raw marijuana. The N° 6 630 507 United States patent states that some cannabinoids have useful therapeutic effects, which are not activated by cannabinoid receptors and, consequently, don’t have psychoactive effects. Furthermore, this absence of psychoactivity allows very high doses without non-desired side effects.

    Dr. Courtney claims that these cannabinoids help the regulatory system of our body to be more efficient. In summary, they are nutrients that help to better regulate the performance of our 210 types of body cells. We are not talking here about their use as a medicine, but simply as essential nutrients

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