Have you ever thought about cannabis as an alternative to alcohol consumption?
Cannabis, in low doses, can be an excellent alternative to alcohol. Low doses of cannabis can provide relaxation, stress relief, better sleep, pain relief, inflammation reduction, and neuro-protection, all at a greater cost efficiency than alcohol, and with better health benefits.
While alcohol has been shown to provide some health benefits when used moderately, such as raising HDL or “good” cholesterol, and improving heart health, especially with red wine, there are also many side effects of alcohol, even with moderate use.
And when we talk about cannabis as an alternative to alcohol, we mean in low doses, sometimes called “microdoses”.
What is low dosing of cannabis?
A low-dose cannabis product has no more than 5mg of THC per dose. THC is the molecule in cannabis that traditional gets you “high”. A low dose offers greater control and mitigates side effects. Using products that contain CBD, another well known molecule in cannabis that has no “high” effect, can help dampen the effects of THC. If using a THC-only product, keep it to less than 2.5mg of THC per dose, especially when starting out.
How does cannabis affect the body?
Cannabis contains endocannabinoids that react with the body’s endocannabinoid system. The function of the endocannabinoid system in the body is to create homeostasis. The ECS has receptors placed throughout the body, and cannabinoids “speak” to those receptors to create changes. Our bodies produce their own cannabinoids (endocannabinoids) or you can affect changes in the ECS with phytocannabinoids, like those found in cannabis. To date scientists have identified over 100 cannabinoids present in the cannabis plant, with THC and CBD being the most well known and well studied.
SHORT TERM EFFECTS
Let’s start first with short-term effects. Sure, does a glass of wine produce a state of relaxation? Absolutely. And so does cannabis in low-doses.
But what about the night ahead?
Even one alcoholic drink in the evening negatively affects sleep. A recent study found that the physiological recovery from sleep after one drink decreased by 9%, moderate intake (say, 2-3 drinks) by 24%, and high intake almost 40%. Americans are spending over three billion dollars a year on medicinal and herbal sleep aids, and shockingly, many people mix alcohol with a prescription medication for sleep.
Sleeping pills are being linked to depression and next-day impairment, including crashes and falls. Even over the counter sleep aids can cause damage to the liver over time, especially when mixed with alcohol. Who has taken Benadryl or Nyquil to help yourself sleep? How about over multiple nights? Medical sleep aids are even worse for side effects and are not meant for long-term use, yet people are routinely take them.
Cannabis, by contrast, is a natural substance that has been used for sleep for centuries. There are recordings dating back hundreds of years identifying cannabis and hemp as a solution for sleep issues.
By using cannabis instead of alcohol, you get the “double effect” – 1) relaxation in the moment and then 2) a more restful night’s sleep. Recent research shows that cannabis is helping people fall asleep faster, stay asleep longer, and have a more restful night of sleep. While it is true that heavy cannabis intake with a high amount of THC can actually have a disruptive effect on sleep and cause next day grogginess, no studies suggest any negative effect with a low amount of THC.
How about the next day?
Drinking alcohol can actually increase anxiety and compromise your general wellness. When your body starts to remove alcohol from your system, your blood sugar drops. Your body is focusing its energy on removing the alcohol instead of maintaining your blood sugar levels. Evidence shows this process can cause anxiety, inflammation, and even temporary memory issues.
Even though many turn to alcohol when feeling anxious or depressed, it only offers temporary relief. Drinking is linked to an overall negative effect on your mental health, increasing anxiety and depression.
Most of us have experienced the dreaded hangover from a night of drinking. Heavy drinking has much more serious effects, both short and long-term. Even the day after a night of drinking, people experience impaired cognitive function. Performance of everyday tasks is affected, including driving, hours after drinking and returning to the legal BAC limit.
When considering the cost of alcohol versus cannabis, there is really no contest. Let’s consider a very modest consumption of alcohol. According the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average person spends around $500 a year on alcohol. If you live in a big city, and enjoy relatively good quality wine and spirits, we’d say a more reasonable estimate for home consumption is $20/week for a total of $1040. That’s not counting any time you go out for drinks.
Compare this cost to cannabis in low doses. One of our favorite low-dose products is a sugar-free, cannabis-infused mint, which offers 2.5mg of THC per dose. Even if you took one every single day for a year, you’d only be spending around $200. If you were to consume cannabis by smoking the flower of the plant, the cost would be much lower.
Next, there’s our friend calories. A glass of wine will have at least a hundred calories, beer around 150, while your favorite mixed drink, such as a margarita, will set you back at least 500 calories. Many low-dose tinctures and capsules are available without any calories at all.
Ah, but what about all those extra calories you get from the munchies?
Well, that’s the great thing about using cannabis in low doses. When you microdose cannabis, you do not get all the disruptive side effects typically associated with using marijuana in higher doses such as coordination issues, drowsiness, paranoia and appetite stimulation.
No Risk of Lethal Overdose
If that weren’t enough, consider the fact that there has never been one case of lethal overdose that can be attributed to cannabis, worldwide. Not one. You can die from drinking too much water, and you can certainly die from drinking too much alcohol. Lachenmeiera and Rehm published a comparative risk assessment in 2015 of alcohol, tobacco, cannabis and other illicit drugs and demonstrated that alcohol is the most risky substance of them all because the threshold between the typical intake and lethal intake is so small. This same publication showed, by a wide margin, that cannabis is the least risky recreational drug.
LONG TERM EFFECTS
Still not convinced? Let’s look at the long-term effects. A recent study published in August 2018 in The Lancet concluded there is no safe level of alcohol consumption.
Brain and Memory
Even moderate alcohol consumption can affect the brain. In a recent study, moderate drinkers (about 5-8 drinks per week) were found to be three times more likely to experience mental decline compared to those who never consume alcohol. Heavier drinkers were twice as likely as moderate drinkers to experience mental decline. Heavy users of marijuana can also experience memory loss and mental decline, but many of these losses have been shown to last only days or at most weeks, and very few side effects have been noted with cannabis in low doses.
As of 2016, the seventh leading risk factor for deaths was alcohol, and as mentioned previously, while there have been zero documented deaths from marijuana use alone. A study in the American Journal of Public Health found that marijuana users were not more likely to die earlier than healthy people. However, here were over 30,000 deaths from alcohol in 2014, not including alcohol-related accidents or homicides, which would increase that number to almost 90,000.
The addiction rates for marijuana are very low, with only about 9% of marijuana users become addicted, compared to 15% for alcohol. Most of the data around marijuana addiction is also based on heavy, daily consumption. In addition, marijuana has no physical addiction characteristics, meaning any addiction is psychological or use based.
There is a suggested link between alcohol and violence. Alcohol intoxication reduces function in the prefrontal cortex, which moderates social behavior. Alcohol is a factor in 40% of all violent crimes. Higher rates of abuse between couples when they drink. No such relationship has been documented for cannabis users. In fact, abuse rates actually decreased in couples who used cannabis.
Taking a Night Off
We have a lot of friends who say they relax at night with a glass of wine because they LOVE drinking wine and other types of alcohol. They love the taste. The ritual. The experience. While there are a few cannabis-infused wines on the market, we’re talking about substitution effect here. We know even moderate alcohol intake worsens sleep and increases anxiety, not to mention the calories, so why wouldn’t you want to try a night off and see what you think? With low-dose cannabis tinctures now widely available, it’s easy to mix a cannabis tincture into a sparkling water or other non-alcoholic mixer and enjoy an infusion discretely, all while fitting into your specific social situation.
In summary, low dosing cannabis has far more beneficial effects and fewer adverse effects than consuming alcohol. That is not to say that there is no role for alcohol in your life… but maybe try it one night and see what you think?
In states where the use of cannabis for recreational purposes is legal, you can get started by walking into your local dispensary, and asking for a product that has no more than 5mg of THC per dose. Remember we recommend new cannabis consumers start even lower at 2.0-2.5mg of THC per dose or less.
States with medical use programs are a bit more complicated and you can research your local state guidelines for more details. CBD-only products, derived from hemp, are also now legal in all 50 states, so you can also start with a CBD only product and see what you think (we sell lots of well researched, effective CBD products on our Shop or you can buy products with THC on EAZE for delivery to your home).
Start low and slow and remember that everyone’s body chemistry is different!
You can download a free guide to getting started with low dosing at www.rebalan.com/guide.
Kristie Amobi, Founder, Rebalan
Shari Boyer, Founder, Plant Society