We joke about pot and booze killing brain cells, often as we take another hit or order another drink. But are they actually corrupting your precious grey matter and which can do the most damage?

It’s an interesting question, particularly given that the federal government still lists marijuana as a pernicious Schedule-1 narcotic while allowing alcohol distribution to adult customers.

Despite the government’s stance, the science is clear here: Alcohol is worse for your brain than pot. Alcohol does not kill brain cells. That’s urban legend. It can, however, inhibit the communication between brain cells. You’re familiar with the short-term, limited version of this—it’s called “getting drunk.” According to almost all sources, drinking less than 15 drinks a week for men or eight drinks a week for women will have no serious effects on the brain (though that may differ person to person).

The same science, however, says that pushing beyond the moderate limit consistently may kill neurons and prevent neural cell regeneration, affecting both higher-order cognition and more basic, essential functions—ie cause brain damage.

Like alcohol, weed does not kill brain cells. Indeed, the active ingredients in pot have naturally occurring analogs in the brain and receptors ready to accept them.

That said, pot is not without potential neurological or neuro behavioral risks. Persistent weed intoxication—the result of smoking more than twice a day—can cause changes in mood, judgment, coordination and awareness. Generally speaking, though, there is not a persuasive body of evidence to argue that pot harms the brain long term at all or is harmful in any serious way.

Add to this the fact that, compared to pot, booze is far more addictive and the transition from moderate to excessive use can happen more easily and quickly, and alcohol use is a far greater risk factor for permanent brain damage than weed any day of the week.

By Gabriel Bell

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