Can Cannabinoids and Terpenes Treat Alcoholism?

How cannabinoids and terpenes can be used to treat alcoholism

Image Credit: By Abscent on shutterstock.

Alcohol, like cannabis, can be great for many things. Holidays, parties, the joy of cooking, appreciating the terroir of a particular vintage of wine, or flavor of your favorite strain cannabis. Alcohol, and cannabis, both, have been an indivisible part of our society throughout history. The first roots of farming cultures might have broken the earth to produce grain used to brew alcohol. Plants of the Cannabaceae family, have molded our geopolitical landscape for nearly as long, if not even longer than alcohol.

If you ever drank a beer, you are likely already familiar with a plant that is closely related to cannabis. The hop plant-if you prefer binomial nomenclature-Humulus lupulus, like Cannabis, hails from Cannabaceae. The inflorescence of H. lupulus are prized for giving beer its bitter flavor and hoppy aroma. And like the flavors of Cannabis per se are due to terpenes, potent compounds which I’ll bring up later, that have potential healing properties.

The history of hops introduction to alcohol is a fascinating story in and of itself, in the middle ages, like cannabis nowadays, hops, were considered “a wicked and pernicious weed (4).” Not entirely unlike some of the jargon, you might be hearing from anti-MMJ proponents of the present. The truth is, that they are both useful for a variety of reasons, other than direct consumption. Both cannabis and alcohol provide important industrial and practical services, hemp, fuel, medicine, jobs, recreation, and even enjoyment.

Cannabaceae is a boon to economic growth more than ever with marijuana legalization entering the mainstream. The alcohol industry has shown a history of being anti-cannabis. Are they concerned that it might cut into their domination of the legal intoxicant market? Yes. Alcohol sales are down in counties with access to legal cannabis which have seen a 15 percent decrease in alcohol sales. Constellation Brands, who sells recognizable alcohol names like Corona and Svedka vodka, just dumped $194 million into becoming the dominant shareholder of Canopy Growth Corporation, a Canadian cannabis company.

They might be treading dangerous ground with the precarious niche legal cannabis is at in the US, Constellation Brands have announced that they won’t sell any products till cannabis is legal at all levels. Largely conservative alcohol giants, already comfortable with hops, are quickly starting to rethink positions long held on Cannabaceae.

Cannabis, one of the most controversial plants throughout history, is finally being researched for its medicinal potential to treat a variety of diseases. Some of the diseases in question are actually diseases of dependance, one in particular. Alcoholism.

Can Cannabis be Used to Treat Alcoholism?

Abstinence-based recovery programs are only one way to go about a difficult road to recovery from alcoholism. They might work for some and not for others. Did they work for me? No way, but they have for a lot of my friends, so I haven’t entirely written them off. Despite the fact that I fundamentally disagree with the concepts underlying 12 step ideology.

That aside, If you are one of those people who is looking to escape alcoholism, through means other than abstinence, cannabis might be an option. The reality is that cannabis use is much safer in comparison to dangers posed by alcoholism. This concept is not fictional even if you haven’t heard of it yet. A 2012 study conducted in British Columbia of 404 medical marijuana patients showed that 41 percent of patients actually used it as a substitution for alcohol (3).

Chemical dependencies can be developed by excessive use of cannabis and alcohol. If you have ever used either in excess, you’d know that it can lead to undesirable health effects.

Ever heard the term crossfaded? Its mixing cannabis and alcohol and if you have ever done it in excess, you’d know that it really sucks. After building a tolerance to either of the substances the risk of getting “crossfaded” and sick at the same time is probably less. Often cannabis has been grouped with other substances that have been classified as extremely addictive, the subjects, opiates, cocaine, and alcohol to name a few.

The reality is that this is an over exaggeration, the grouping of cannabis with these substances is in-part due to cannabis being mixed into concoctions with these dangerous drugs, before prohibition of course.

The prohibition movement largely succeeded in getting cannabis completely removed from the US medicine. If you happen to be interested in the story behind potential interests that proliferated this idea, Jack Herer, in his book The Emperor Wears No Clothes, implicates corporate and government interests quashing the development of the American hemp industry. And we almost completely lost cannabis as medicine. In the US in 1930, there would have been about 20 pages of cannabis within US Pharmacopeia, in 1940 these pages were actually removed (5). And this was action not entirely unfounded, often these drug-cocktails were prescribed by doctors and handed out to children, who would have been at a considerably greater risk to overdose than an adult. Historically arsenic was even used in medicines, what seems impossible now, was common practice then.

Terpenes Cannabinoids and Science

Nowadays we know the LD50 for compounds found in marijuana poses a minute risk, if any at all, unlike some of the other narcotics aforementioned. Luckily science and medicine have advanced considerably. By mixing some of the historical medical uses for cannabis we might even illuminate a path from alcoholism through cannabis or compounds found in cannabis.

Excessive alcohol use leads to steatosis-in which-cells malfunction by abnormal retention of lipids. Increases in oxygen-related cellular stress have been directly correlated to steatosis caused by excessive alcohol consumption.

Evidence has supported the fact that opiates and cocaine are actually quite addictive, unlike cannabis, in which addiction actually appears to be quite rare. Though, cannabis dependence may pose a bigger risk than alcohol for individuals under the age of 19. In 2007, 40 percent of people in treatment for cannabis dependence were under 19 years old, as compared to alcohol dependency, which was 11 percent.

CBD a compound found in cannabis has also shown to have a number of other positively correlated actions on health. It stimulates apoptosis, or programmed cell death, which plays a role in replacing faulty cells, this is one of the many reasons that cannabis is being researched for its revitalizing and anticarcinogenic properties.

Acute alcohol use can result in neurodegeneration and cognitive issues, like chronic pain, these problems might contribute to a behavioral relapse that is characteristic of individuals suffering from alcoholism. Research suggests that CBD has neuroprotective properties. It is being researched for treatment of a variety of neurological conditions.

Knowing that we might infer that cannabinoids like CBD could be used to protect brain cells from alcohol-induced damage or, help with recovery from alcoholism.

Researchers stated consumption of alcohol causes a decrease in cellular autophagy, a process in which cells disassemble dysfunctional or unnecessary components. The researchers concluded that,

Their results suggest that CBD might be used to protect the liver from damage due to excessive alcohol consumption, something one might suffer from in the case of alcoholism. That’s good news for cirrhosis conditions associated with drinking. I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s one of the reasons that some alcohol companies are investing in cannabis, for they are a significant contributing factor to communities health ailment associated with alcohol.

Cannabis contains a variety of plant chemicals, known as phytochemicals. Some of these are important to mention due to their medical applications. Cannabinoids and terpenes. Cannabinoids are phytochemicals like THC and CBD to name 2 of the more than 100 that have been identified. Others compounds include terpenes, flavonoids and more.

The terpene linalool might even be able to upregulate liver metabolic loads. If CBD, as well as linalool, have positive effects on the liver, cannabis might provide the mixture of effects needed to help deal with liver damage, which can be caused by acute alcohol consumption.

Another study using multiple experiments was conducted to access the viability of a transdermal CBD patch to treat ethanol-induced brain damage. The unfortunate subject of the experiments, rodents.

There is another terpene that might be able to help with depression, which can definitely be felt by individuals trying to get off nervous system depressants, like alcohol. Limonene has shown to be helpful in treating depression. Researchers studying the effects on mice discovered that lemon oil vapor-which contains high amounts of limonene-increased brain activity of dopamine in the hippocampus and serotonin in the prefrontal cortex and striatum (6). The lemon oil vapor actually had anti-anxiety and antidepressant effects on the mice brains. Cannabinoids and terpenes, both, can be highly medicinal, and we are learning more about the mechanisms behind how they affect health constantly.

The Players in the Debate that Keeps on Going

There are some pretty big players in the marijuana and alcohol debate. Governments, alcohol giants, even big-pharma is throwing in to the debate.

Let’s try to look at this from the perspective of big-pharma to provide some context. Juxtapose cannabis with all its pain killing potential to modern opiate-based painkillers. Cannabis legalization might even be seen as a risk to big-pharma who saturate our communities with opiate-based painkillers. Which are often expensive and proven to be more addictive than cannabinoid based painkillers. More customers, more money.

Although cannabis is not so much of a painkiller, I saw someone call it a “pain distractor” and thought that made a lot of sense. Cannabis has shown to be effective in treating chronic pain associated with neurological conditions. Have a hangover from a heavy night of drinking? Do you feel sick cause you are detoxing due to alcoholism? Marijuana might actually help with it.

Think about it a little, marijuana has a great potential to distract. I encountered a study stating in no uncertain terms, that it actually makes you less motivated to acquire money. The title of this study, “Cannabis reduces short-term motivation to work for money”. Funny to think when you consider the great clandestine lengths people have gone to access marijuana, as well as the history of growing cooperatives that have arisen, its really that popular. Cannabis is a popular and useful substance, the pro-marijuana citizens have spoken in a great many states in the US. Cannabis is here to stay, despite that the US federal branch seems almost completely out of touch.

California and Washington continue to have the support of both of their governors in relation to state marijuana legalization. The scientific evidence is mounting that suggests cannabis is not a dangerous drug. Though the current DOJ Jeff Sessions just claimed that the federal government will start prosecuting state-legal marijuana users and business-simultaneously-WHO has called for complete legalization of CBD for medical purposes. This certainly illuminates disjointed policy by the US federal government. Ignorant of scientific evidence-as well as from citizens and people who need, or enjoy cannabis in its various fashions. Who knows, maybe someday the novel idea of using it to cure alcoholism will be a reality. With the way they are taxing legal marijuana, like it has been historically, buying cannabis is a patriotic act.

Editorial Staff
Editorial Staff
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