Many things that are okay for adults may turn out damaging for the developing bodies of teenagers. It is known that binge drinking is harmful to adolescents. But what has a worse effect on them—alcohol or cannabis consumption?
Unfortunately, we need years to gather more data that will give an accurate answer to this question. However, there are some studies that provide us with some insight on the matter.
First of all, we need to highlight the common qualities that both substances share. Alcohol and marijuana have depressant effects on the brains of adolescents. A teenage brain differs from an adult's one. It is more excitable and has more developed pleasure, reward, and anxiety centers. It is partially the reason why kids cannot restrain from pleasures like an adult would.
Another trait that alcohol and weed share is that they quiet our excitability and make us drowsy. Taking into account that teens are more active in this aspect to begin with, they require greater amounts to get the same effects as adults.
This issue was studied in 2016 by the researchers from the UK. This study, published in Translational Psychiatry, shows that teens experience less psychoactivity and get stoned harder than adults when given the same amount of weed.
Considering that binge drinking and cannabis consumption are so popular among adolescents, they resort to using enormous amounts of the substances.
Now, let us focus on the peculiarities of binge drinking and its impact.
One thing that distinguishes alcohol from the cannabis plant is that the former can cause a complete memory blackout. Heavy drinking results in the temporary loss of ability to record memories. According to the neuroscientist Dr. Frances Jensen, teenage binge drinking can lead to the death of brain cells while the same amount of alcohol causes only bad sedation in an adult body.
Besides, liquor also harms teens' motor skills, which may lead to physical injuries. Thus, car accidents, increased risks of violence, and unsafe sexual encounters are the common consequences of drinking. There is also the danger of alcohol poisoning and loss of consciousness, which are harmful to the brain's long-term health.
A crucial factor of this comparison is that teenage cannabis consumption has been studied less than binge drinking. However, there is evidence that the plant has some side effects. Once ingested, its components bind to our own cannabinoid receptors. Through them, the herb can calm down our brains. There are two sides to this impact. On the one hand, it can be beneficial for children with epilepsy and some other ailments. On the other hand, long-term use disturbs the process of learning and memorizing. Besides, cannabinoids stay in the child's body longer. It does not mean that teens stay high for a longer time. After the initial euphoria, they start feeling fatigued, unfocused, and groggy.
There are still debates over whether cannabis impacts cognitive learning or not. There is a study that suggests that teens who start consuming weed before they turn 16 show increased impulsivity and brain changes. Another study, in its turn, has found no correlation between teen's IQ and pot.
In general, the existing research suggests that binge drinking is more damaging for teens' brains than cannabis consumption.
However, there is a risk group that may suffer from both of them especially severely. Chronic consumers who have a predisposition to psychotic disorders have greater chances to develop early-onset psychosis.