It’s Alcohol Awareness Week, which means there’s no better time to take a good look at our booze intake. Luckily, research reveals that consuming cannabis usually results in less alcohol intake.
How Cannabis Legalisation Affects Alcohol Use
The legalisation of recreational weed has provided public health officials with invaluable information regarding the association between cannabis and alcohol, with figures indicating that getting stoned often leads to less drinking. In 2019, for instance, investment banking firm Cowen & Co. crunched the numbers on booze sales and found that drinking took a nosedive in legal cannabis states.
According to the firm’s research, binge drinking rates fell to nine percent below the national average in states that had legalised recreational weed. Alcohol consumption in these states was 11 percent lower than in non-legal cannabis states[i].
A separate study conducted in 2017 revealed that alcohol sales dropped by 15 percent in states that allowed medical cannabis, while two studies published in 2018 found that college students tend to consume more cannabis[ii] and less alcohol[iii] in states where weed is legal.
Figures like these paint a pretty clear picture regarding the association between cannabis and alcohol, although it’s worth pointing out that some of the data is a little more ambiguous. A study that came out this month, for example, found that alcohol consumption in Colorado is 13% lower than in states where cannabis is illegal.
However, booze intake appears to be above the national average in Washington, despite weed being permitted there. The same study noted that people in Oregon, where adult-use cannabis is allowed, tend to drink less than those in states that continue to prohibit bud[iv].
Can Cannabis Help Treat Alcohol Addiction?
Further research has indicated that cannabis may be a significant ally to those battling alcohol addiction. For example, a recent study of 96 people with alcohol use disorders in Boulder, Colorado, found that individuals drank 29 percent less on days when they got stoned. They were also 2.06 times less likely to engage in binge drinking on days when they chose to use cannabis[v].
Separate research in Canada has revealed that alcohol consumption drops by an average of 44 percent once people start using medical cannabis. Those who do so with the specific intention of cutting their booze intake tend to experience an even more significant reduction[vi].
Meanwhile, studies on animals have shed light on some of how cannabis may repair the damage that alcohol abuse causes. Cannabidiol (CBD), for example, has been shown to alleviate alcohol-related steatosis and fibrosis in the liver by reducing lipid accumulation, modulating inflammation, and inducing cell death in activated hepatic stellate cells. Evidence also suggests that the cannabinoid alleviates alcohol-related brain damage by preventing neuronal loss[vii].
While all of this is excellent news for weed lovers, always remember moderation is key! If you’re lighting one up then save the booze for another time.
[ii] Bae H, Kerr DC. Addiction. 2020 Jun;115(6):1115-24. – https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/add.14939
[iii] Alley ZM, Kerr DC, Bae H. Trends in college students’ alcohol, nicotine, prescription opioid and other drug use after recreational marijuana legalization: 2008–2018. Addictive behaviors. 2020 Mar 1;102:106212. – https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S030646031930783X
[iv] Calvert CM, Erickson D. Recreational cannabis legalization and alcohol purchasing: a difference-in-differences analysis. Journal of cannabis research. 2021 Dec;3(1):1-0. – https://jcannabisresearch.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s42238-021-00085-x
[v] Karoly HC, Ross JM, Prince MA, Zabelski AE, Hutchison KE. Effects of cannabis use on alcohol consumption in a sample of treatment-engaged heavy drinkers in Colorado. Addiction. 2021 Jan 19. – https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/add.15407
[vi] Lucas P, Boyd S, Milloy MJ, Walsh Z. Reductions in alcohol use following medical cannabis initiation: results from a large cross-sectional survey of medical cannabis patients in Canada. International Journal of Drug Policy. 2020 Dec 1;86:102963. – https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0955395920303017
[vii] Therapeutic prospects of cannabidiol for alcohol use disorder and alcohol-related damages on the liver and the brain. Frontiers in pharmacology. 2019 May 31;10:627. – https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fphar.2019.00627/full