A common myth is that marijuana is less dangerous than alcohol.
“The misunderstanding stems from the fact that there is no reported overdose deaths from marijuana,” explains Teitelbaum, whereas you can die from consuming too much alcohol. He says the idea that marijuana is safer than alcohol is like saying breast cancer is better than ovarian cancer. Although they pose different risks, both can be dangerous to your health.
While it’s true that marijuana won’t kill you, the decisions you make under the influence can. Marijuana is the most common cause of drug-related traffic fatalities, according to NIDA neuroscientist Ruben Baler.
“You shouldn’t smoke marijuana and drive because your coordination and cognitive ability are heavily impaired.” Short-term effects of marijuana include memory loss, slowed reaction time, anxiety, depression and paranoia. Unlike alcohol, marijuana is fat soluble, so its effects can linger long after the high wears off, making users unaware of their impairment.
Many of the harmful effects of marijuana are overlooked because they become worse over time. Regular use is associated with early onset of psychotic disorders, learning and motivational problems and addiction. About 10 percent of users will become addicted. With daily use, the risk goes up to nearly 17 percent.
“There is definitely an association between early heavy use and lower IQ ratings,” says Baler. “If a kid is smoking marijuana once or twice a day or even three times a week, his ability to learn and to retain information is impaired.”
In terms of memory and learning, regular marijuana use can reduce performance levels by 10 to 20 percent, explains Baler. “People who use marijuana self-report lower levels of (academic) achievement, lower levels of economic achievement, socioeconomic status and satisfaction with life. People may not realize that the effects of marijuana are so bad because they are cumulative.”