Cannabis Vs. Alcohol

20 Feb

Cannabis is a widespread and commonly used drug. It is mostly smoked but can also be consumed.  According to the Royal College of Psychiatrists (2011), two million people in the UK smoke it regularly, and half of all 16 to 29 year olds have tried it.  The legal status of this drug is a controversial topic, with many people claiming that alcohol causes more damage to society and individuals than cannabis does. In January 2009 Cannabis was made a class B drug, meaning that five years in prison, maximum, could be given for possession of the drug; and 14 years in prison if caught dealing.

The active ingredient in Canabis is delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), it acts by changing the activity of cannabinoid receptors in the brain. This leads to the most commonly associated side effect of cannabis; the affect on mental health. A tenth of individuals who started using cannabis by the age of 15, where found to have schizophreniform disorder by the age of 26 (Arseneault et al, 2002).  Cannabis users can also struggle to fund their ‘hobby’. The average user of cannabis goes through 10 grams a week (CLEAR UK, 2011). With the street price being ten pounds a gram, this equals one hundred pounds spent on the drug, on average, per week.  There are also links between cannabis use and an increased risk of heart attacks, development of head and neck cancers and an increased risk of lung infection (Macnair, 2010).

Alcohol can have immediate negative affects on the body; known as alcohol poisoning. Between 2007 and 2008, more than 30,000 people went to hospital with this (Prior, 2012). In extreme cases it can cause heart attack or death. Individuals under the influence of alcohol are more likely to take risks; which could potentially cause them and other injuries and possibly death. Long-term health risks of drinking alcohol are liver problems, reduced fertility, high blood pressure, increased risk of a large number of cancers and heart attack. Women, who are classed as high-risk drinkers, are 50% more likely to develop breast cancer (NHS, 2010). There are also mental health problems associated with drinking alcohol; it reduces the number of neurotransmitters in the brain, which can cause anxiety and depression. It also destroys the brains memory (Prior, 2012). There is also the risk of becoming alcohol dependent (Mental Health Foundation, 2008). These affects of alcohol use seem to be much more severe than that of cannabis use.

Unlike alcohol, Cannabis has actually been found to have positive affects. It helps to reduce the side effects of chemotherapy treatment. There are also claims it can help with migraines, headaches, asthma, strokes, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, epilepsy, alcoholism, cancer, HIV/AIDS, insomnia and vision disorders (Szulakowska & Milnerowicz, 2007).  Medical Cannabis has been legal in California since 1996, and is now legal in 12 other U.S. states.  Cannabis is less addictive than alcohol. In 2001, there were 331 alcohol overdose deaths and 0 marijuana overdose deaths (U.S. Centers for Disease Control, 2004), which shows that Cannabis is less toxic that alcohol. People who are intoxicated with Alcohol account for a lot more crimes than those intoxicated with Cannabis. The figure below states the comparison between Alcohol and Cannabis, and clearly shows the severity of drinking alcohol.

[Image above retrieved from:


Overall Cannabis is a safer for the user and better for society. The question remains as to why Cannabis is illegal when Alcohol is legal.

This link has more information on the debate:




Arseneault, L., Cannon, M., Poulton, R., Murray, R., Caspi, A., & Moffit, T. E. (2002) Cannabis use in adolescence and risk for adult psychosis: longitudinal prospective study. British Medical Journal, 325, 1212-1213. doi: 10.1136/bmj.325.7374.1212

Buddy, T. (2011). The Health Effects of Marijuana; Negative Health Effects Are Numerous. Medical Review Board. The New York Times Company. Retrieved from

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2004). Alcohol-Attributable Deaths and Years of Potential Life Lost — United States, 2001. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 53(37), 866-870. Retrieved from:

CLEAR Cannabis Law Reform. (2012). Retrieved from

Iversen, L. (2003). Cannabis and The Brain. Brain, A Journal of Neurology. 126(6), 1252-1270. doi: 10.1093/brain/awg143

Macnair, T. (2010). What is Cannabis. BBC: England. Retrieved from

Mental Health Foundation. (2008). Alcohol and Mental Health. Leaflet retrieved from

National Health Service. (2010). The Risks of Drinking too much.

Prior, K. (2012).

Szulakowska, A., & Milnerowicz, H. (2007) Cannabis sativa in the Light of Scientific Research. Adv Clin Exp Med, 16(6), 807–815. Retrieved from

Timms, P. (2009). Cannabis and Mental Health. The Royal College of Psychiatrists. Public Education Editorial Board: London.


9 Responses to “Cannabis Vs. Alcohol”

  1. liamjones33 February 21, 2012 at 3:09 pm #

    This is refreshing, seeing someone look outside of the parameters of law and societal acceptance and objectively looking at the statistics and drawing a valid conclusion, if alcohol is legal, cannabis and a lot of other drugs should be legal, it’s as simple as that. If these drugs arn’t to be made legal, than alcohol should be made illegal. If cannabis qualifies as a class B drug, than shouldn’t alcohol be a class A? Even LSD, MDMA and the like have been shown to be much safer than alcohol, and they are both class A drugs. Professor David Nutt was dismissed from his post due to his stance on drugs, following a controversial lecture where he posited that the governments policy on drugs was unscientific. This is a chart that displays the harmfullness of different drugs on a scale of comparison:
    He has recently started up his own commitee to ‘do the science’ and therefore spread the truth about drugs, or in his own words: “What this committee will do is provide to you the truth about drugs, unfettered by any political influence”. The suggestion here being that policy has taken over science and objective truth.

  2. psuf1d February 21, 2012 at 11:05 pm #

    Whilst Cannabis may not pose such a threat compared to alcohol, it seems that we are dismissing important factors. Alcohol’s availability, views on the drug within our society and how educated we are about its compared to cannabis
    Every social occasion, every supermarket, pubs, restaurants, clubs, off-licences, alcohol is more or less available to anybody, at anytime, if they want it. It’s becoming more available, more affordable and more readily consumed.
    This makes the availability of cannabis seem almost impossible.
    In society today, alcohol is more or less a regular part of everyday life, in fact for many; its consumption is alone a social activity and as a result of the above component is use is spreading among the younger generations rapidly. Cannabis, whilst it may be used to an increasing extent, this extent is know where near that of alcohol.
    Also, the vast majority of the population are aware of the effects alcohol has both psychologically and physiologically, due to the availability of information presented to us through the media, yet how many adverts do you see on the television that inform about the effects of cannabis, in particular the positive ones.
    My point, is that if cannabis was as available, affordable, abused and positively viewed in society as alcohol, the problems we have with alcohol at present would be the least of our worries.

    • annalouhope February 22, 2012 at 12:34 pm #

      I have really enjoyed reading your blog Jess! I have wondered for years why alcohol is legal when it is just as harmful and sometimes more harmful than other drugs. Unfortunatly even though the majority of the science points towards the fact that alcohol should be made illegal, right now I believe that it is too big a part of our society to be made illegal in a short space of time. However if a restriction was implimented (similar to the smoking ban in public places) then maybe society could be weined off alcohol and it could eventually be made illegal.

    • jessicabibby February 22, 2012 at 7:21 pm #

      ‘My point, is that if cannabis was as available, affordable, abused and positively viewed in society as alcohol, the problems we have with alcohol at present would be the least of our worries.’

      In my opinion Cannabis is pretty available; I think that everyone knows someone who smokes it. When individuals are intoxicated with Cannabis, it mostly causes them to relax. When they are intoxicated with alcohol, it can cause them to take more risks, and become aggressive. In the point of view of laws/ the society and social problems, if everyone took cannabis instead of drank alcohol, there would not be nearly as much trouble. I also know I said a cannabis user can spend, on average, 100 pounds a week on it. If someone was to go on a couple of nights out a week, this much could easily be spent. I understand that Cannabis is not as commonly mentioned in the media as Alcohol is, but if it was to be made legal and there were problems with it, i’m sure it would be. Surely the fact that it isn’t highlighter by the media as much as Alcohol is, shows that Alcohol is a much bigger problem.

  3. Cjh February 22, 2012 at 7:05 pm #

    This is a tough one I must admit I was shocked to see that there was NO deaths in relation to Cannabis overdoses but in relation to alcohol SO many.After thinking how I could critique in the nicest possible way I had to see it from another angle. If i remember from watching television,friends from my younger days.The procedure of smoking a “Joint” is the cannabis is rolled inside paper with tobacco and a tip is put at the end as a filter?

    According to Cancer Research UK the same chemical which is used in tobacco for cigarettes is used in tobacco for cannabis use. The problem they have in regards of research is they cannot tell whether numerous cancers are a result of the tobacco in the rolled “joint” or whether it is the cannabis, this is why there are no known deaths as no one just smokes pure cannabis it is mixed with tobacco.

    The reasoning why Cannabis is classed as more harmful drug is that it seems to be the start of the downward spiral.Hrd drug users will admit to smoking cannabis first before the
    journey went on to such drugs as cocaine or heroin. Yet after researching I cannot find such statistics to support that statement.

    I have got some interesting statistics for you though, In 2010 45% of 11-15year olds were more likely to of drank alcohol than smoked or tried drugs 27%. Also, 13% pupils had drank alcohol in the last week compared to 7% who had smoked and 7% had done drugs.

    However according to the world health organisation WHO 2.5 million people die a year from alcohol but 5.4 million deaths are because of smoking, So maybe there are NO deaths in relation to Cannabis use solely but in general mixed with Tobacco there are plenty.

    There is only one more reason I can think of why Cannabis is illegal and alcohol is not, tax of course but the effects on health are very widely known in relation to alcohol.
    Research is still very much on going in relation to Cannabis and the long term effects of it.

    • jessicabibby February 22, 2012 at 7:39 pm #

      This is a really good point. But in the case that it is using tobacco in a joint which causes the cancers; then surely tobacco should be made illegal as well. It is uncommon that people smoke pure cannabis; mainly as it does not burn very well, and would be very strong, but it can be done. There are also substitutes which can be used in a joint instead of tobacco ( So potentially these could be used if someone was worried about smoking tobacco.

      Please note: I know I sound pro Cannabis, but I am just debating and do not smoke it! 🙂

      • Cjh February 22, 2012 at 10:46 pm #

        I do appreciate that tobacco is legal and that if it going to be used within a joint then surely it must be made illegal as the cannabis is illegal which is what it is used to smoke it with, also other drugs are mixed with tobacco as well especially in the inhaling (smoking method) such as crack cocaine in the rock form, that is a class A drug and still cigarettes and tobacco are legal. I understand your point so thank you for re-commenting.

        Also I was unaware there were other subsitutes for tobacco. I really enjoyed thinking about and debating your Cannabis and Alcohol arguement I never would of thought about it in this much depth nor known all this information.

  4. sapphire93 February 22, 2012 at 7:10 pm #

    Cannabis and alcohol are both widely used drugs that have been around for a long time.While cannabis is a safer drug statistically for recreational use and has been shown to have medicinal positive outcomes, it remains a illegal drug while alcohol remains legal.This may be due to how alcohol is viewed by society, it is a drug that is used recreationally all the time whether it is to celebrate or commiserate.This may stem from the history Alcohol has much like Tobacco reaching further back in history, if you look to religious ceremonies such as communion, wine is used as the blood of christ.The problems with alcohol these days stem from the way it is used by people in the decade or more abusing alcohol to such an extent that it causes much more serious harm.For example rates of related deaths doubled from 4,144 in 1991 to 8,758 in 2006.

    However Alcohol does not have to be seen in an bad light,in many european countries children are introduced to it at a young age taught to drink in moderation.While i disagree it should be made illegal, it should be restricted to reduce the amount of alcohol related deaths each year.

  5. riggerb February 23, 2012 at 12:00 am #

    I would agree and say that cannabis is the start of using ‘harder’ drugs and leading to them being an addict. however the use of alcohol is not that different. people start of with a larger and get stronger to the vodka and absinth etc. I do think that there Should be more restriction on alcohol use and the freedom that this country has with it.
    Looking at the research done it does also seem that tobacco has alot more negative side effects than cannabis and leads to more negative ling term effects. I also think that there should be more restrictions on tobacco.
    At the age of 17 a person can drive, so buy the time a teenager has passed their test maybe aged 18 they can now drink, drive, smoke. This is find is just a recipe for disaster and more action should be taken for younger population on these issues. the effects drink have on people maybe the account for more deaths.
    this article from the bbc was quite a good read.

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