Which is worse, being a pot head or an alcoholic? It’s been a long debate among both critics and users, and throughout the years, different hypotheses have emerged. Luckily for us, science is starting to do long term and intensive studies on marijuana usage, and has brought some new information to the forefront.

There’s not much in life that isn’t okay if done in moderation, even marijuana and alcohol usage. But when use progresses to beyond occasional recreational use, things can become problematic. And that’s what we’re talking about here. This isn’t a comparison of those who toke on a joint after work or have a glass of wine to unwind after dinner. This is about those people who partake in their chemical of choice all day, every day.

Health Risks


Marijuana has an increased amount of tar , which is known to cause breathing difficulties, including persistent coughs and phlegm. Like cigarettes, weed contains carcinogens. Although some believe this can lead to an increase in certain types of cancers, the research is still unclear.

Smoking marijuana also increases a person’s heart rate and can put those with pre-existing conditions at a higher risk of heart attacks.


Alcohol consumption is known to cause liver disease, and can lead to cirrhosis. Alcoholics are also more likely to develop certain types of cancers, including cancer of the mouth, upper throat, esophagus, and voice box. There is also a correlation with breast, bowel, and liver cancer. Alcoholics also have an increased risk of developing Type II diabetes.

Excessive drinking has been linked with an increase in blood pressure and risk of strokes. Alcoholism can also cause digestive problems, including acid reflux and ulcers.

Impact on Mental Health

One of the most debated risks of marijuana and alcohol use are the impacts it can have on one’s mental health.

Alcoholics can experience neurological problems, including trouble with memory and learning. They are also more likely to develop dementia and are commonly diagnosed with anxiety and depression.

The effects of marijuana are a less clear. Research shows that there is an association between chronic pot smokers and specific brain changes, but it is unclear if this is just an association or if it’s a causal relationship. Smoking weed also increases the risk for psychosis, especially for those with a predisposition for schizophrenia.

Legal Aspect

One of the things that makes many look down more upon marijuana than alcohol is the fact that it’s illegal. But with 24 states allowing at least a medicinal level of use, this outlook may change over the next few years. When comparing crime rates, it becomes apparent that alcohol is much more risky. While marijuana users get into legal trouble because of distribution, alcoholics are more likely to commit crimes. Nearly 40 percent of all violent crimes are, in some way, related to alcohol use, including 37 percent of rapes and 27 percent of aggravated assaults.


Perhaps one of the most shocking results is the risk of fatality with both alcohol and marijuana. Unlike alcohol, marijuana, in and of itself, has no risk of death. You can not overdose on it and it is very unlikely you’ll die from it. On the other hand, you can overdose on alcohol and alcohol poisoning is not uncommon. Not only can too much alcohol at one time be fatal, but extensive use over a long period of time is also dangerous. In the US, 88,000 deaths a year, nearly one in ten deaths of working adults, is related to alcohol in some way.

The statistics are even more shocking when it comes to driving under the influence. Those who drive high increase the risk of a fatal car accident by 83 percent. For those who drive drunk, the risk increases by 2,200 percent.

The Better of Two Bads

While neither excessive drinking nor marijuana use are good for you, new research shows that if you have to choose one, marijuana is less dangerous. In a study published this year, researchers compared the risks of alcohol, nicotine, cocaine, opiates, amphetamines, benzodiazepines, and marijuana. The evidence was conclusive. Alcohol rated the highest risk on all levels, followed by nicotine, cocaine, and opiates. Marijuana came in last and was officially rated the least risky drug in the study.


We all know alcoholics and pot heads. In your opinion, who’s worse? Why or why not? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Additional Image: Cabrera Photo/Flickr



Molly Carter
Molly Carter
Molly is a freelance writer who talks about everything and anything from addiction, to sex. to skinning a deer. You can find her at MollyCarterWriter.com, or Facebook.