by Trey Reckling (originally published in The Fresh Toast)
Could cannabis be a helping hand to alcoholics? If possible, it could be a watershed moment for the many as 33 million Americans who struggle with alcohol use disorder. Alcohol is the most commonly used addictive drug in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control estimate that approximately 88,000 Americans die as a result of excessive alcohol use each year.
Researchers are paying attention to an economics principle and how it may be relevant regarding people and drug choice. When prices rise or people have less income they naturally substitute more expensive items for less expensive ones. Economists call that the substitution effect. Could people exhibit the same behavior when choosing an intoxicant? Would they choose one that is less dangerous just as they choose a product that is less expensive?
It’s not a pipe dream. Afterall, Medicare records have shown that in states with medical marijuana, prescription medicine use is down significantly. Additionally, death from opiate overdose is down by 25% in states with medical marijuana.
Studies have shown the same substitution happens in the relationship between alcohol and marijuana. One Canadian study surveyed over 400 medical marijuana patients and found that over 41% substituted cannabis for alcohol. The three reasons they gave were less withdrawal, fewer side-effects, and better symptom management.
In another study, of 350 medical marijuana patients in California, 40% said they had substituted cannabis for alcohol. Ironically, nearly half of those “reported using cannabis to relieve pain that they suffered as a result of an alcohol related injury.“
Alcoholics Anonymous and thousands of private treatment centers nationwide that believe true sobriety is the answer may argue that encouraging cannabis to someone with alcohol use disorder is just offering a new vice and potentially a new danger to their lives. Afterall, nearly 9% of cannabis users may develop substance use disorder.
However, not all people will connect with the religiosity of AA or be able to afford the cost of 28 days off of work and ‘drying out’ in a treatment facility. Maybe this will be an invaluable option for those who don’t connect well with other approaches.
While not perfect, marijuana isn’t known to cause or contribute to liver disease, heart disease, stroke, sleep disorders, depression and a whole host of other problems associated with heavy drinking. Some people who have had the opportunity to compare the two different user experiences understand, cannabis is 100 times safer than alcohol. It may be simple economics that help make the decision.