Is Weed Really a Good Alternative to Alcohol? –

Posted: December 16, 2019 at 6:46 am

Jason, 32, has never been a big fan of alcohol.

I drank a couple times in my early 20s and it was not for me from the beginning, he said. It wasnt very fun; it didnt taste good at all.

But Jason who asked that we not use his last name has Crohns disease. With that comes chronic pain, and theres no cure.

About five years ago, he developed a resistance to his medicine and could no longer take it. Thats when he started self-medicating with cannabis.

Jason lives in Minnesota, where medical cannabis is legal for his condition. But it comes with an annual $200 registration fee, and isnt covered by insurance.

It is so much cheaper to buy off the street, he said. Since Im such a lightweight thats about every three months, and its about $40 to $80.

Since he started regularly using the drug three years ago which is illegal recreationally in his state he says his symptoms have gone back into remission.

He smokes weed three or four nights a week. He still has no urge to drink. But he likes the way weed makes him feel. Its much more relaxing, he says.

Just as young adults are drinking less alcohol than previous generations, theyre using more marijuana.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuses 2018 Monitoring the Future survey, marijuana use is the highest its been in three decades. Eight percent of folks aged 19 to 28 use cannabis daily, more than triple the percentage in 1992.

Meanwhile, binge drinking in the same age group dropped nearly 4 percent over the past five years, a decrease the researchers called significant.

Most recently, this phenomenon has been documented in the media as a calculated lifestyle choice: Cali sober.If youre Cali sober, youuse cannabis, but dont drink alcohol.

There are lots of reasons people choose to go Cali sober. Somecant stand the hangoversthey get and prefer the feeling of being high to the feeling of being drunk.

Others, like Jason, use it to self-medicate for chronic pain, or sleep disorders, or anxiety.

Cannabis is more legally accessible than it was in 1992. Since 2012, 11 states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for recreational use.

Some believe cannabis to be a safe, natural alternative to other drugs.

But researchers like R. Lorraine Collins say its not that simple.

People have embraced the use of cannabis because its got this reputation for being natural, said Collins, associate dean for research at the University at Buffalos School of Public Health and Health Professions.

But the fact that its natural doesnt mean it would not produce harm if used in certain kinds of circumstances.

Collins was part of a landmark report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine on the health effects of cannabis.

The key areas where the National Academies review of cannabis showed health benefits were related to reducing chronic pain, reducing nausea related to chemotherapy in cancer treatment, and helping with some forms of spasticity, she said.

The review found moderate benefits related to improving short-term sleep, for sleep apnea, fibromyalgia and some symptoms of multiple sclerosis.

The medical conditions that qualify for medical marijuana are much broader than that list and vary state by state.

Of course, most people who use cannabis dont do it for the health benefits. They do it for the high.

In 2013, just 17 percent of folks who used cannabis did it medically.

Eleanor, 27, is one of the 83 percent who use cannabis strictly for fun.

For the past year and a half, shes been almost completely alcohol-free, save for a drink or two, like when her boss handed her a glass of wine at a social function without asking.

But she uses marijuana about once a month.

For me, the feeling of being high and buzzed are sort of comparable, but with weed I dont experience the nasty side effects that I get with alcohol, she said.

Eleanor says she has a sensitivity to alcohol that causes painful stomach cramps and digestive issues. Its only gotten worse as shes gotten older.

I tend to be an over-thinker, and weed helps me calm down and get out of my head, which is an effect that isnt as present with alcohol, she said.

Eleanor asked to use a pseudonym for this article. Shes an American living abroad, in a country where cannabis is not legal.

I really dont like to think that Im self-medicating through substances, so I try to use only recreationally and not because I need to, she said.

I do occasionally catch myself thinking Oh man, I would really like a joint after a long week, but I dont have my own supply or anything.

That means she only uses it with friends, which isnt often. She likes that its not attached to her mental, physical or emotional state.

[ICYMI: Why Some People Are Getting Sober-Curious]

For Eleanor, weed is a good alternative to alcohol at social gatherings.

But Collins says there are still health concerns that come with using the drug that folks might want to take into account.

Long-term, smoking weed is linked to breathing problems and, over time, lung damage. Pregnant folks who use cannabis areat risk of delivering a baby with a low birth weight.

And though cannabis overdoses arent fatal, too much can still send you to the emergency room especially with the ascent of edibles, which can pack a punch. Sometimes, the serving size isnt clear.

In adolescents and young adults, cannabis has been linked to poor memory and attention span. And for people who already have a history of psychosis, marijuana can trigger psychotic episodes.

Just as folks who overuse alcohol can develop alcohol use disorder, folks who use cannabis can develop marijuana use disorder, characterized by craving, withdrawal, lack of control and negative effects on personal and professional responsibilities.

The other challenge? We dont know nearly as much about cannabis as we do about alcohol. While we focus on THC, which provides the high, and CBD, there are more than 100 other unique chemical compounds called cannabinoids in the plant.

CBD, the cannabinoid that exploded in popularity after the 2018 farm bill loosened restrictions on hemp, has been touted by sellers as a miracle oil for everything from chronic pain to acne to depression. But there isnt research to back that all up.

For many years there was little or no funding for cannabis research, Collins said. And I dont know, maybe the feds thought, if we ignore it, it wont happen.

What it means is that were playing catch up. We have policies that have opened up medicinal and adult use of cannabis. And we dont understand many facets of the drug.

Theres no standard cannabis product. So when there is funding for cannabis research, the drug that is studied is different than many versions of the drug that might be on the street, or sold in stores. There might be a different ratio of THC to CBD. Or the studied drug might be less potent.

And, because recreational legalization of the drug is new, many folks dont get the same education about dosage and serving size that they might get about alcohol. Theres no one shot = one glass of wine = one glass of beer equivalent in the cannabis world.

Typically what is provided in a public health message is to start with lower THC and smaller amounts until you have a sense of how you react, Collins said.

Despite all the unknowns, the stigma around cannabis use has toned down. Public opinion has turned.

In 1969, just 12 percent of folks believed marijuana should be broadly legalized. In 2019, that number is 67 percent, according to the Pew Research Center.

Jason and Eleanor say most of their friends dont give their smoking a second thought.

Ive gotten more pushback for not drinking than for smoking weed, Eleanor said. I guess because the drinking culture is so ingrained.

Gretchen is an editor for Rewire. With past stints in public radio and at a rural daily newspaper, shes passionate about public media as a public service. Shes also into music and really good coffee. Follow her on Twitter @gretch_brown.

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Is Weed Really a Good Alternative to Alcohol? -

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