Alcohol and caffeine are the two most widely used psychoactive substances in the U.S., but as marijuana legalization progresses on a state-by-state basis, the popularity of cannabis is also quickly growing. About 3 million Americans use medical marijuana to treat symptoms like pain, inflammation, nausea, insomnia, anxiety,depression, and spasticity. And many others enjoy the fun side of cannabis to relieve stress and socialize—all without the hangover.
But as pot’s availability grows, you may be wondering about how it stacks up against alcohol for your health. You may also have questions about whether medical marijuana can help ease alcohol addiction, and what’s important to know if you use both substances. We’ve got you covered on all bases—read on for details.
In the U.S., alcohol abuse trails only smoking and obesity as a leading cause of premature death. In fact, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 88,000 people in the U.S. die each year for reasons related to alcohol. Compare that to cannabis: while overusing the herb is never recommended, even the DEA says that there have been no fatal overdoses of marijuana.
Alcohol is a known neurotoxin, meaning that it damages tissue in the brain and spinal cord. Abuse or dependence can lead to a condition known as “fatty liver,” which may progress to life-threatening cirrhosis. Those who drink heavily also have higher rates of heart disease, dementia, and certain kinds of cancer. But cannabis is associated with fewer negative health consequences; for instance, even marijuana smoking isn’t a significant risk factor for lung cancer. And numerous positive health outcomes like reduced pain, better sleep, and improved mood are reported by those who use cannabis responsibly.
Beyond physical health, alcohol abuse is strongly associated with risky behaviors like drunk driving, unprotected sex, and increased aggression. Of course, it’s also dangerous—and illegal—to drive while under the influence of pot, but marijuana isn’t generally associated with high-risk behaviors. For instance, a 2015 study found lower rates of domestic violence between couples who both regularly use cannabis. What’s more, statistics show that alcohol is far more likely than cannabis to cause dependence.
Marijuana and alcohol tend to boost one another’s effects—mixing the two can quickly cross the line from a pleasurable experience to an extremely uncomfortable one. Alcohol may increase the body’s response to THC and thereby up the possibility you’ll experience unwanted side effects like dizziness, nausea, and paranoia. Your judgment may also be off when consuming both substances—easily leading to drinking or smoking too much.
All in all, whether you’re a medical or recreational cannabis user, it’s best not to combine pot and alcohol. The possible exception here may be cannabidiol, or CBD; a high-quality CBD oil with low to no THC may not only help people with alcohol dependence drink less overall, it may provide some protection from alcohol’s damaging effects on the brain and liver.
Medical marijuana can help ease some of the most common symptoms of alcohol withdrawal like nausea, poor appetite, insomnia, and mood issues. It may also lessen alcohol cravings and provide a healthier buzz—prompting some people to tout it as an “exit drug.”
If you’re curious about how medical marijuana can help you with alcohol dependence, or need advice on the safety of combining alcohol and cannabis, click here to find a medical marijuana doctor or dispensary in your state.