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The Pros and Cons of Substituting Marijuana for Alcohol

Steven Gans, MD is board-certified in psychiatry and is an active supervisor, teacher, and mentor at Massachusetts General Hospital.

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Some people choose to substitute marijuana for alcohol if they are trying to stop drinking—a controversial practice referred to as marijuana maintenance.  

Those who support the practice argue that marijuana is far less hazardous to a person’s health than alcohol (the same argument is often used when comparing marijuana to cigarettes). Those who are opposed to the practice argue that the goals of sobriety are never truly achieved if a person replaces one mind-altering drug with another.

Here are the pros and cons of replacing alcohol with marijuana, as well as resources you can turn to if you are trying to quit drinking or using substances.

Potential Pros of Marijuana Management

Supporters of marijuana management programs are often quick to point out that the evidence on the effectiveness of traditional recovery programs like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is largely split.

The findings from a 2006 Cochrane review of studies demonstrated no significant difference in the results achieved by people in AA compared to other treatment models.   Furthermore, even the studies that attributed benefits to the AA methodology concluded that successful sobriety was more associated with the frequency of meeting attendance than the 12-step model itself.

Alternative to Abstinence-Only

For those who are unable or unwilling to regularly attend AA meetings, the rate of failure was high. Supporters argue that it is these individuals who might benefit from using marijuana management. The model recognizes that for some people, abstinence-based programs are unrealistic and unachievable.

Those who are in favor of the practice argue that many of the ill-effects of alcohol detoxification might be softened if a person is able to taper off alcohol gradually while using marijuana.

Harm Reduction

Supporters of marijuana management programs often argue that the drug has been demonized. Those in favor of its use argue that unlike alcohol, marijuana can be used without the risk of death from binging. They also point out that it has fewer drug interactions than alcohol and possibly has much less of an impact on one’s long-term health.  

Health Benefits

Additionally, proponents argue that marijuana might have some inherent benefits compared to alcohol. While there is ongoing debate about whether moderate drinking has possible health benefits, the effects of alcohol misuse can be catastrophic, contributing to an increased risk for breast cancer, birth defects, and other health issues.  

Marijuana, on the other hand, is purported to have some health benefits that can make it useful in certain situations. For example, marijuana is frequently used to alleviate pain, stimulate appetite, and enhance moods.   For an individual who is recovering from alcohol use disorder, these properties could be beneficial.

Potential Cons of Marijuana Management

Those who are opposed to marijuana maintenance argue that it is founded on the premise that marijuana is not only safer than alcohol but that it is tacitly safe. They argue that because there is no evidence to support that premise, it is unfounded and even unconscionable to advocate for marijuana management.

Marijuana Dependence

The foundation of alcohol recovery is based on recognizing that alcohol is harmful and that a person has no control over their use of the substance.   Softening the blow inherently suggests that marijuana is something over which a person can have greater control. It also infers that the self-awareness a person is meant to achieve during recovery can wait until they are stronger and no longer need marijuana or alcohol.

One of the most significant potential pitfalls of using marijuana as a replacement therapy is the possibility of dependence. Research suggests that 30% of people who use marijuana develop cannabis use disorder to some degree.  

Negative Health Effects

Detractors say that the practice only aims to replace one habit with another under the guise that marijuana is the less-harmful alternative. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, this may not be the case.   There are several concerns associated with marijuana use, including:

  • Marijuana can have a long-term impact on a person’s health. For example, it has been associated with bone density loss, reduction of exercise tolerance, impairment of memory and cognitive skills, and an increased risk of lung conditions.  
  • Marijuana might contribute to underlying mental health conditions that are common in people who misuse alcohol.  
  • Marijuana might have the potential to act as a gateway drug. In theory, it could lead people with addictive behaviors to use other dangerous drugs like cocaine and heroin.  

Reduced Treatment Effectiveness

Some evidence also suggests that marijuana use can actually interfere with efforts to stop using alcohol. One 2015 study found that concurrent marijuana use lowers a person’s odds of achieving abstinence from other drug or heavy alcohol use.  

If you or a loved one are struggling with substance use or addiction, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

Learn about the pros and cons of substituting marijuana for alcohol and why some people in recovery use the controversial practice.

How Marijuana Can Help You Cut Your Alcohol Consumption

Currently, the times are uncertain as a result of the global crisis. Many are losing their jobs every day, and eking out a living is becoming a serious challenge. As a result, most individuals are suffering from stress, depression, and anxiety. The solution for such issues for most individuals is taking to the bottle, which provides an escape from the senses.

The problem is that most people believe that beer has stress-relieving qualities, and over time, they become alcoholics as a result of drinking too much. That is when they discover that the bottle has enslaved them. The good news is that marijuana can be your gateway to recovery. Here are details on how medical marijuana can help you drink less alcohol.

The Effectiveness of Marijuana in Treating Alcoholism

Marijuana-friendly states are now providing a new tool for recovery programs for addiction since weed is proving useful in eliminating opiate addiction. Replacing alcohol with medical cannabis is also helping those in addiction treatment to manage their alcohol withdrawal symptoms successfully. Some of the reasons why various alcoholics are substituting the bottle for medical pot include;

  • It is reducing the effects of withdrawal symptoms.
  • Promotes better symptom management.
  • Mitigates negative side effects.

Additionally, cannabis does not destroy brain cells, kill the liver, or cause permanent damage to your body organs. The reason is that cannabinoids protect neural cells from cell death during the “drying out” period after quitting the bottle. Alcoholics who choose to withdrawal alcohol from the body at some point will ordinarily suffer the effects of the death of multiple body cells. That is where marijuana comes in handy to address the issue.

Medical Marijuana and Dependency on Alcohol

Part of the things that make quitting habitual drinking a challenge is the craving that alcoholics experience on various occasions. That implies that living alcohol-free is a deliberate decision, which begins by resisting the urge within you for the bottle. Taking medical marijuana during the recovery process can ease the discomfort and protect your brain cells as you withdraw.

You also need to ensure that marijuana is legalized within your state to stand a better chance of trying this remedy if you are an alcoholic. Additionally, the support of forward-thinking medics who are positive about the idea of prescribing medical marijuana will prove instrumental for those with a drinking problem.

That is because recovering from alcohol addiction will require all the right factors to be in place. Otherwise, patients may never realize the benefits of medical marijuana when they start their withdrawal journey. On the other hand, the fact that most alcoholics already smoke to “get high” implies that transferring those sensations to the pot will not be a problem.

In that case, the transition can be quite smooth, and eventually, it becomes cheaper than alcoholism and liquor. Note that vaporizing marijuana and inhaling it into the sinus passages to provide direct contact with the brain may be necessary for medical marijuana to protect neurons in the brain during withdrawal.

Such insight is worthwhile, especially for alcoholics who can access a marijuana doctor and are willing to discuss the idea of taking the prescription to address their drinking problem. Cannabis and alcoholism treatment can also be a solution to chronic alcoholics. The reason is that cannabinoids can act as neuroprotective shields to prevent the brain damage that such patients may suffer during withdrawal.

Additionally, cannabinoids can ease alcohol cravings when they become a replacement for alcohol. As a result, patients struggle less during recovery and achieve complete sobriety over time. Cannabinol (CBD) has anti-oxidant effects as well. Since alcohol causes oxidative stress in the liver, inducing medical marijuana in alcoholics undergoing recovery can prevent steatosis of the liver.

Also, medical marijuana can treat such alcohol disorder symptoms like;

  • Nausea.
  • Anxiety.
  • Controlling cravings for alcohol.
  • Stress.
  • Depression.

The psychological conditions above represent what most drinkers use alcohol to medicate for especially during difficult times, as is the case at the moment. Responsible use of marijuana can provide relief for the emotional ailments in that list while eliminating the dangers of addiction and withdrawal that are characteristic of alcohol and prescription drugs.

What Are The Ideal Strains of Marijuana for Alcoholism Symptoms and Treatment of Side Effects?

Several helpful marijuana strains for alcoholism are available, including OG Kush and Pure OG Kush, which are the two potent Indica strains that can offer relief with just one hit through smoking. Below are details on some alcoholism symptoms and other strains of marijuana that can help combat the same.

Cravings for Alcohol

  • Wild Cherry (Indica).
  • Critical Kush (Indica).

Anxiety

  • Jack Herer (Sativa).
  • Granddaddy Purple (Indica).

Nausea

  • Death Star (Indica).
  • Sage (Hybrid)

Depression

  • Pineapple Express (Hybrid).
  • Harlequin (Sativa).

Stress

  • Northern Lights (Indica).
  • Blue Dream (Hybrid).

Engaging a budtender to help you choose the strain that addresses your symptoms and needs best is advisable in this case.

Marijuana Treatment Methods for Alcoholism Side Effects and Symptoms

Taking one or two hits of medical marijuana in the morning or the evening is a sufficient dosage for those seeking to recover from alcoholism. You can either make a cannabis tea or vaporize the herb if smoking is not an option for you. Other marijuana treatment methods include;

  • Dabbing.
  • Edibles.
  • Cannabis Oil.
  • Tinctures.
  • Topicals.

Conclusion

Whether you are already an alcoholic or your lifestyle is tending towards becoming one, it is not too late to start the recovery journey. It all starts by embracing self-discipline, and medical marijuana can help you through the process. For instance, you can begin by driving yourself to adopt a healthy lifestyle for 30 days with the help of a marijuana doctor.

Over time, it will be easier to make the habits you cultivate part of your everyday living. Remember successful recovery for alcoholics does not lie in ending the program, but rather in long-term positive habits that stick. Opting to substitute alcohol for cannabis can impact your life for the long haul by making it better.

The health benefits that marijuana avails alcoholics are part of the reasons why more states, as well as nations, are considering legalizing it for medication.

Many people believe alcohol has stress-relieving qualities, and as a result, they drink too much. How medical marijuana can help you drink less alcohol.