Dr. David Pompei, PharmD, MS
In this article, we will explore why so many people are replacing alcohol with weed, we will look at some everyday substances that you could replace with cannabis or CBD, and we will answer the question, “is pot healthier than alcohol?”
Alcohol is one of the most common and widely used psychoactive substances throughout human history. While alcohol has played an important role in human history, there is currently a worldwide decline in alcohol drinking due to widespread cultural shifts and increased awareness that alcohol can cause a range of social issues and health problems. As a result, many people are replacing alcohol with weed or using pot to stop drinking.
Beyond alcohol, humans have discovered many different drugs, plants, and substances that we use to regulate nearly every area of our life from our mood to our sleep, our energy levels to our creativity and focus. These substances could be naturally occurring compounds like caffeine, nicotine, or theobromine or pharmaceutical drugs like antidepressants, prescription pain killers, or benzodiazepines.
Did you know that you can replace a variety of natural substances and over-the-counter compounds with cannabis and CBD? Please note that we are not suggesting that anyone should stop taking their prescription medications. Any changes to your lifestyle or routine should be discussed with your doctor or licensed healthcare provider.
Humans have used cannabis for at least 5000 years for a range of purposes. People have used weed as a sleep aid, as a pain reliever, as a sedative to help relieve stress, and as a substance to stimulate creativity.
Modern medicine and pharmacology follow a standard path of developing “safer and more efficacious drugs than plants themselves.” As a result, humans have developed supplements and drugs that specifically targeted sleep or pain. However, sometimes these products carry risks or adverse side effects that make them less appealing than natural products like cannabis or CBD, which have been shown to be safe over thousands of years. You can think of replacing other substances with weed as a return to your ancient human roots.
So, what substances do people commonly replace with weed, and what is the benefit of replacing these substances with weed?
People have used weed to sleep for thousands of years. Medical encyclopedias from the 1920s described cannabis as a hypnotic, or a drug that directly induces sleep.
A variety of over-the-counter substances and prescription drugs have been developed to help people sleep. Prescription sleep medications include benzodiazepines, z-drugs like Ambien and Lunesta, and anti-depressants. Over-the-counter sleep aids include melatonin, antihistamines like Benadryl, or herbal products like Valerian root. Many people use these products to alleviate short-term sleep issues or insomnia. However, these products may also have drawbacks or side effects.
Melatonin supplements are often dosed far too high, making you feel groggy and drowsy the next morning. Some common herbal sleep aids like kava have been linked to liver injury in rare cases. And higher-than-recommended doses of antihistamines can cause significant health issues.
Cannabis doesn’t cause these same issues. Of course, some people may experience drowsiness from cannabis if they ingest too high of a dose or take an edible, but these side effects can be eliminated by changing your dose or ingestion method.
When you orally ingest cannabis in an edible or a tincture, you metabolize cannabis through your digestive system, which makes the psychoactive effects greater and longer lasting. To learn about how different ingestion methods can affect your cannabis experience, check out our article What Is The Best Way To Take Weed For Wellness Purposes?
So, is cannabis an effective replacement for over-the-counter sleeping medications? A recent study interviewed 1000 people about why they used cannabis. 74% bought weed to help them sleep. Of that group, 84% reported that weed helped them sleep. 83% said that they had reduced or stopped taking sleeping medications now that they were using cannabis.
If you want to reach for a natural product to improve your sleep, cannabis is highly effective and has thousands of years of demonstrated safety.
Cannabis relieves pain in ways that are distinct from prescription pain medications like opioids and over-the-counter pain relievers like non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). If you want to learn all about how cannabis relieves pain and how cannabis compares to common pain relievers, check out our article Is Weed Good For Pain Relief?
But here’s an overview:
Most over-the-counter pain killers are either acetaminophen or NSAIDs. These drugs work differently from one another. Acetaminophen works on the part of the brain that receives pain messages. NSAIDs relieve pain by reducing the production of hormone-like substances that cause pain and inflammation. However, both drugs can damage the internal organs when taken in excess. Cannabis doesn’t carry these same risks.
Cannabis reduces pain through a variety of mechanisms, including blocking pain signals at the site of injury, in the spinal cord, and in the brain, as well as decreasing the negative perception of pain by changing your mood and emotional state. Many people prefer natural pain-relievers like weed instead of over-the-counter pain killers for managing mild, daily aches and pains.
While many people use weed to relax, cannabis is also a stimulant that can boost your mood, energize your mind, and enhance your creativity and focus. While there are various prescription medications that serve these purposes, the most common energy and focus-boosting substance is caffeine.
Caffeine works by binding to the adenosine receptor in your brain. Adenosine is a chemical that builds up throughout the day and signals to your brain that it is time to transition to sleep. Caffeine attaches to the adenosine receptor, stopping adenosine from working its magic, and keeping you awake and alert. Caffeine also boosts dopamine.
Like caffeine, THC stimulates the release of dopamine in your brain. Studies have shown that “dopamine helps to enhance attention, especially in the context of making sure that you pay attention and shift your focus in a flexible and appropriate manner.”
According to Dr. Alice Flaherty from the Department of Neurology at Harvard Medical School, “Marijuana is a stimulant. And most stimulants, in the short term anyway, boost output of all kinds.”
If you want to replace your afternoon coffee with something that won’t keep you up at night, try a microdose of cannabis.
CBD is a non-intoxicating cannabinoid that many people use to replace calming herbal supplements or pain-relievers. CBD doesn’t get you high, and thus doesn’t carry the same risks of addiction or abuse as intoxicating substances.
Furthermore, animal studies have demonstrated that CBD has a wide range of “immunomodulatory, antioxidant, anxiolytic, and antiepileptic properties.” As a result, CBD could potentially replace a variety of natural substances. There are even studies that have explored whether CBD could be a viable part of treatment for alcohol use disorder (AUD).
A 2019 literature review found that “CBD reduces the overall level of alcohol drinking in animal models of AUD by reducing ethanol intake, motivation for ethanol, relapse, anxiety, and impulsivity.” Additionally, CBD reduced damage to the liver and the brain. The authors of the review concluded that “CBD could directly reduce alcohol drinking in subjects with AUD” and that the results warrant conducting human trials for this application. Please note we are not recommending that anyone use CBD to treat alcohol use disorder (AUD) or any other disease.
CBD also has pain-relieving properties, and many people prefer to use CBD rather than take over-the-counter pain relievers. The pain-relieving benefits of CBD can also be obtained through topical salves and creams.
Is pot healthier than alcohol? In many ways, yes. Many people prefer the effects of marijuana over alcohol because when they use cannabis they feel more in control, they sleep better after a night out, and they wake up feeling better the next day. But is alcohol worse than weed?
While consuming alcohol in moderation may be part of a healthy lifestyle and routine, excessive drinking leads to a range of health and social problems. Drinking too much alcohol can lead to liver damage, physical dependence on alcohol, high blood pressure, brain damage, and even death. While you can experience a THC overdose that may produce uncomfortable side effects like greening out or getting paranoid while high, you cannot fatally overdose on cannabis.
Additionally, alcohol is well-known to lower people’s inhibitions, which can lead to people acting in embarrassing or out-of-character ways. Alcohol caused such a battery of social ills in the late 1800s and early 1900s that it led to the temperance movement and eventually to Prohibition, which was the period in the United States from 1920-1933 in which the sale of alcohol was criminalized.
Weed does not carry the same risks or side effects as alcohol, so in many ways cannabis is better than alcohol. Some people like the Buzzfeed contributor Katie Herzog have found that weed was “the exit ramp from [their] addiction to alcohol.” We aren’t suggesting that you should attempt to treat alcohol addiction with cannabis, but a variety of studies have explored the benefits of alcoholics replacing alcohol with weed.
A 2001 study looked at 92 individuals who were using pot to stop drinking. The study found that cannabis use led to reduced drinking, suggesting that there is a population of people who would benefit from this swap. A literature review published in 2014 assessed the data about replacing alcohol with weed and found that cannabis met the seven points of criteria necessary for a medication to be considered a viable replacement for alcohol. However, there was not enough data to conclude that cannabis should be recommended to alcohol-dependent individuals who want to reduce drinking.
Many people who use alcohol to socialize or relax have discovered that they feel better when they replace alcohol with weed. There are many reasons someone might use pot to stop drinking. Maybe you sleep better when you use weed instead of alcohol. Maybe you feel more clearheaded when you are stoned instead of drunk. If you want to improve your health and well-being, we invite you to put down that glass of wine and discover the benefits of purposeful cannabis consumption.
What are the best strains to replace alcohol? In general, you want a strain that creates the uplifting and energizing effect of alcohol, along with the relaxation that allows for social lubrication. Strains with high CBD and THC, such as 8% THC and 14% CBD, would be suitable for these purposes. Additionally, combining cannabis products with companion foods could allow you to create a similar experience to alcohol.
If you have been inspired to add cannabis to wellness toolkit, you might be wondering what is the best marijuana strain to replace alcohol or other substances? Before you choose a weed strain, we encourage you to look at our article Why Jointly is Better than a Strain Finder. In that article, you will learn what strain names really mean and how to use Jointly to discover the highest rated products in your area.
Cannabis and CBD can replace a wide range of substances. If you want to see if cannabis or CBD can help you replace other substances, use the Jointly app to find your best products!
Additionally, the Jointly app allows you to track and optimize the 15 factors that can impact your weed experience. These 15 factors include your dose, the environment in which you consume cannabis, who you are with when you ingest, how hydrated you are, the quality of your diet, how much sleep you got last night, and more. You might find that on days that you do yoga, one puff of a sativa dab pen can give you the same effect as a happy hour cocktail.
Jointly is a cannabis discovery app that makes it easy to find and match with the best cannabis and CBD products for your goals. Your matches are calculated from the real product ratings and experiences of hundreds of thousands of people using the Jointly app.
With Jointly, match with top-rated products, and build lists of your favorites to save, share, and bring to your local dispensary to help guide your shopping experience.
Jointly also helps you track your cannabis experiences through reflections that help you understand what’s working, and what’s not. In fact, the quality of your diet, how much you slept, who you’re with, and the time of day are just some of the factors that can impact your experiences.