How addictive are each, what harm do they do to your body, and are there any benefits?
One is illegal and one isn’t.
But some studies have suggested there could be significant therapeutic benefits of cannabis use for people suffering from a range of conditions.
How cannabis and alcohol can harm society
But the health issues relating to cannabis and alcohol is a rarely touched upon topic.
Alcohol is a huge part of British culture – and while heading to the pub is waning as the national pastime, that can be attributed to rising drinks prices and, in some areas, the smoking ban.
In contrast, many people frown on illegal drug use.
But the evidence suggests the overall effects of alcohol on individuals and society could be far more harmful than cannabis.
Here’s what researchers found out:
How cannabis can harm the body
Many people believe both alcohol and cannabis do them little harm, but experts say both can pose serious risks.
The potential long-term effects of regular cannabis use include impaired memory and attention, damaged or diseased lungs and airways, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).
The NHS also highlights the increased risk of psychotic illness from cannabis use and potential links to fertility problems, as well as other illnesses if smoked with tobacco.
How alcohol can harm the body
Alcohol has been linked to a far higher number of potential health problems than cannabis, reports the Hull Daily Mail.
These include seven types of cancer to strokes, nervous system damage, heart disease, liver disease and brain damage, according to the NHS.
Potential benefits of alcohol and cannabis
Drinkers and smokers often say they feel much better after a drink or a smoke in the short-term, but the evidence is less clear about any long-term benefits.
Many experts used to think some alcohol could have benefits including for the heart, but NHS chiefs these days are less convinced.
The current government advice is now that “there is no safe drinking level”, just a lower risk if you drink less than 14 units.
There is no similar advice about a “safe” level or otherwise of cannabis use.
The effects of cannabis oil
The effects of drugs are clearly not limited to those who take them, with potential knock-on effects for families and society as a whole.
The World Health Organisation says they can both cause problems like road traffic collisions as they impair how the brain works.
But many experts think alcohol leaves a much bigger toll on society, linking it to an extraordinary 3.3m deaths every year across the world.
They highlight violence, suicides and accidents among the deadly consequences of drink, while another study points out links to unemployment.
How addictive alcohol and cannabis can be
One huge survey compared rates of dependence for users of different substances.
It found around 9% of cannabis users who had smoked it at least once were dependent.
The figures for alcohol were significantly higher, with 15% of those surveyed classed as dependent on drink.
The survey was carried out in the USA and in the 1990s though, so the results may not be exactly the same in the UK today.
Which causes most harm overall?
A 2010 study in the Lancet and a 2015 one by EU drug experts took into account both the individual and the wider effects of alcohol and cannabis use.
They both found alcohol was the most harmful drug overall, with heroin and crack cocaine in second and third.
The 2015 paper said: “EU and national drug policy measures should focus on drugs with the highest overall harm, including alcohol and tobacco, whereas drugs such as cannabis and ecstasy should be given lower priority including a lower legal classification.”
The damage caused by alcohol or cannabis to an individual can depend significantly on how much they take and their circumstances.
But the overall picture appears to be clear – alcohol looks much worse for society than cannabis.
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