Booze or Pot: Which is Worse?

“The first answer always has to be neither,” says Dr. Allen Carroll, a professor of pediatrics at Indiana University School of Medicine. But Dr. Carroll recently wrote a provocative piece for the New York Times about the risks of these two popular but easily abused substances. While he doesn’t advocate underage consumers trying either one, he says that it is clear overall that alcohol causes a lot more harm. “After going through all of the data and looking at which is more dangerous in almost any metric you would pick, pot really looks like it’s safer than alcohol. So I guess if I had to choose, that would be the answer.”

Even though a lot of people associate drugs with crime, Carroll notes that most of the criminal activity related to marijuana has to do with illegal distribution, not violence committed by people who smoke it. A study published in 2014 looked at data from more than 7,400 high school seniors who said they had used alcohol or marijuana at least once, and found that drinking alcohol was associated with more unsafe driving, damage to relationships with friends and romantic partners, and regret about actions committed while under the influence of it, especially among females. In addition, about 1,800 college students die each year from alcohol-related accidents and almost 600,000 are injured while under the influence of alcohol, according to the National Institutes of Health. Violent assaults, in particular, are often fueled by alcohol; in contrast, research shows, according to Carroll, that rates of interpersonal or domestic violence are actually “lower in people who smoke marijuana than people who don’t.”