Alcohol More Harmful To Brain Than Cannabis

Written by - Reviewed by Consumer Health Digest Team

Published: Mar 16, 2018 | Last Updated: Mar 18, 2019

Alcohol More Harmful To Brain Than Cannabis

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, about 86.4% of people ages 18 and older reported[1] they drank alcohol at some point in their lifetime. At the same time, 26.4% of American adults report engaging in binge drinking sessions.

Consequences of alcohol intake are numerous, yet alcohol is legal and one can purchase it everywhere. On the other hand, cannabis isn’t legal just about everything although people use it frequently. Both substances have been demonized, but which one is more harmful to your brain? The latest study has the answer.

The Study

Alcohol use is strongly associated with a number of negative health outcomes including reduction in gray matter, even among young adults. With the efforts to make marijuana legal across the country, there is a growing need to inspect all its positive and negative effects too. Since both alcohol and marijuana use is very common it was only a matter of time when someone will compare the two.

Professor Rachel Thayer and a team of scientists at the University of Colorado Boulder carried out a study whose primary objective was to test the strength of association between alcohol/cannabis use and gray matter volume and white matter integrity in adolescents and adults.

The study included brain images of 853 adults ages 18-55 and 439 adolescents ages 14-18. All participants had a history of alcohol and cannabis use, but the duration and severity of the use varied.

Co-author of the study, professor Kent Hutchinson, explained[2] that previous studies revealed marijuana use was associated with a reduction in the volume of hippocampus or some other brain regions.

However, all those previous studies showed conflicting results. There was no consensus about the true impact of cannabis on the brain. That’s why Thayer, Hutchinson and their team conducted a new analysis of existing brain imaging data.

The Study

The Findings

Results, published in the Addiction[3] journal, showed that alcohol use was strongly linked to a reduction in gray matter volume and a major decrease in white matter integrity.

These effects were the strongest in adults who have been drinking regularly for many years.

Interestingly, no associations were observed between structural measures and past 30-day cannabis use in both adults and teenagers.

Scientists concluded the study explaining that severity of alcohol use is related to widespread lower gray matter volume and white matter integrity in adults. On the other hand, adolescents only experienced lower gray matter volume due to alcohol use.

In other words, regular intake of alcohol (particularly for many years) is more dangerous for your brain than cannabis. Thayer and her team emphasize the importance of more studies that will inspect other effects of cannabis use.

Reasons to Stop Drinking Alcohol

Read Next: Cognitive Decline And Alcohol Abuse


The latest study compared effects of cannabis use and alcohol on the brain of adults and teenagers. Results showed that alcohol is far more dangerous for your brain than marijuana.

What’s more, alcohol use was strongly linked to a reduction in white matter integrity and volume of gray matter, particularly among adults who have been drinking for a few years. More research is needed to discover all effects of cannabis because current studies show conflicting results.

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