In terms of harm, cannabis is much less harmful than alcohol, in both the short and long-term. There is an emerging trend towards people using medical marijuana as a replacement for alcohol.
A common perception of marijuana is that it is a lot more harmful than the scientific evidence suggests. Years of propaganda and misinformation from governments who opposed the drug have led to a widespread image. They portrayed cannabis as harmful as alcohol, heroin, or cocaine. This is far from true.
Alcoholism is one of the most damaging conditions to society. About 10% of adults have a drinking problem. 20% of hospital admissions involve alcohol use or abuse, and nearly 6% of all deaths worldwide caused by alcohol each year. The social costs are enormous. Jails are filled with people with substance abuse disorders, often alcohol.
Alcohol fuelled violence is one of the biggest threats to individuals. Governments spend billions of dollars a year treating the minds and bodies of alcoholics. Billions of dollars are lost from economies because of days of work missed due to alcohol related illness and the prohibitive costs of providing healthcare for alcohol related behaviors.
Drinking regularly or to excess can increase the risk of:
Drinking habits vary by person and culture, but it is consistently the case that regularly drinking to excess is one of the easiest ways to ruin your health and happiness. Excessive consumption of alcohol is the world’s third largest killer.
There are very few treatments that are widely effective and some people do not respond to any of them. In these desperate cases, the individual has to manage their condition the best they can. Abstinence is the only way for some and when it does not work, the individual simply has to find the best way to cope.
As marijuana has become legalized in some countries and states, the increased availability has led therapists and users to experiment with different applications of the drug with relative safety. One application that has been explored to some extent has been treating drinking problems with marijuana.
Because some people find abstinence or reduction impossible, replacing alcohol with cannabis products can seem like a relatively safe way of achieving a reduction in harm without giving up an addiction entirely.
It might seem surprising that a person can swap one addiction for another, but it is possible. Even though alcohol and marijuana affect the brain in very different ways, the brain seems to be able to cope with a regular input of cannabinoids instead of alcohol. This is not always the case. Currently, the scientific literature has yet to catch up with this form of therapy.
Because addiction is so often an all or nothing condition, many people fail to quit over the long term. The plethora of temptations, changing circumstances, and the pervasive and insidious nature of drinking problems make quitting alcohol extremely difficult.In light of these difficulties, the philosophy of harm reduction has become increasingly popular.
Instead of focusing on quitting entirely from the beginning, therapists and organizations are helping people to manage their addictions in ways that are less harmful to their bodies and their lives.
Substituting alcohol with marijuana is a very good example of harm reduction. Smoking pure marijuana is less harmful than regular excessive drinking, and is therefore preferable. New technologies such as portable vapes make consuming marijuana a much less harmful prospect than smoking it, meaning an addicted individual can get the required dose with very little direct harm to the body.
The long-term effects of marijuana are relatively mild. Consuming it to excess during adolescence may bring a higher chance of developing schizophrenia and depression. When someone has consumed cannabis for many years in their youth, there are some small deficits to people’s IQ, cognitive functioning, memory, and reasoning skills. However, compared to alcohol, these side effects are almost negligible. Alcohol is toxic, causes dozens of known diseases, ruins minds and memories, and hastens the deaths of millions of people every year.
Functioning while on marijuana is easier than when drinking alcohol. There are safe levels for driving and working with heavy machinery, unlike alcohol. Once a tolerance to marijuana has been built up, it can be regularly incorporated into someone’s routine and help them to maintain a job, social life, and stable mental health.
Marijuana rarely makes people violent. While some cases of induced psychosis have been recorded, it has a general sedative effect on most people. Alcohol is related to many violent incidents and deaths. If a person can replace alcohol use with marijuana, they are less likely to become a perpetrator of violence. It can help them keep themselves and those around them safe.
Obviously, using any drug regularly is bad for someone. Marijuana can affect mood, motivation, and the ability to function. The only real advantage is that it is much less harmful than alcohol. There have been no studies of any appreciable size on cannabis substitution for alcohol.
One small study with 92 patients found that about 10% of patients managed total abstinence for a year, attributing it to cannabis use. About half found that it was “very effective,” most of the rest found it “effective.” This study is promising, but this data is preliminary and more research is needed.
Currently, it is something that is being tried by individuals and groups in the hopes that it offers a viable alternative to alcohol. Certainly, there is enough anecdotal evidence to suggest that it is a successful drinking problem treatment for some people. Exactly how many, and how to go about making the switch is still unclear.