Alcohol versus marijuana: which is safer? It’s a debate that has really heated up over the past decade as more and more states have legalized marijuana, first for medicinal use and now for recreational purposes in Colorado and Washington.

BuzzFeed writer Andrew Gauthier has taken it upon himself to explore the issue as it relates to cognitive performance by getting drunk one night, stoned on another, and then performing the same series of coordination and mental challenges over both.

And the winner is…


But why?

Both drugs obviously impair short-term cognitive performance, but marijuana — and its active compound tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) — affects a smaller portion of the brain. Only neurons with special proteins called cannabinoid receptors can respond THC. These receptors are concentrated in the brain’s pleasure and memory centers — the basal ganglia and hippocampus, respectively — which explains the euphoric and forgetful effects of weed.

In contrast, ethanol targets glutamate and GABA receptors, which are broadly distributed throughout the brain. Obviously, the final impact on cognition depends on how much alcohol or marijuana is consumed, but booze is linked to a wider variety of immediate neurological changes and ensuing long-term impairments.

However, the weed-trumps-beer ethos, which is pervasive in some parts of the U.S., is based on a society steeped in the heavy and regular consumption of alcohol, but way less reefer. As marijuana becomes more commonplace, a verdict may finally arise over which vice is less harmful.