Updated on January 3, 2019. Medical content reviewed by Dr. Richard Koffler, MD, Board Certified Physiatrist
Alcoholism isn’t just a craving for alcohol, it’s a potentially debilitating condition. People who have the disease can’t help but prioritize drinking over everything else, including work, school and family. The more alcohol someone drinks, the higher tolerance they build. So, alcoholics often have to raise their consumption to dangerous levels.
Some medical professionals and patients have found an unexpected solution for alcoholism in medical marijuana. Alcoholics trying to stop their drinking deal with withdrawal symptoms that make it hard to stick to treatment. But, by using marijuana medicine, they can reduce their cravings.
In 2009, Amanda Reiman collected survey data from 350 patients of a medical dispensary in Berkeley, CA. She wanted to determine how many of the patients used their marijuana medicine to replace the use of drugs like alcohol. Also, she aimed to find out why these patients replaced their drug use with cannabis medicine.
Reiman adapted her survey from a patient survey created by Dr. Frank Lucido, a local medical practitioner. It contained questions about demographics, medical history, cannabis use, drug and tobacco use and prior addiction treatment. The survey also requested the reasons patients used cannabis as a substitute for other drugs.
Most of the patients surveyed used medical marijuana to take the place of at least one kind of drug. Forty percent took it to replace their alcohol use. Out of the entire population, 65% used cannabis due to safer side effects, 57% cited better symptom management and 34% mentioned less withdrawal potential.
In 2012, Reiman joined a team led by Phillipe Lucas to survey patients from four dispensaries in Canada. Lucas et al. wanted to investigate the substitution effect in substance use further. In the substitution effect, the use of one substance changes due to the use or accessibility of another.
The team developed a 44-question survey that asked patients to report how medical cannabis affected their use of other drugs. It also included questions about the patients’ demographics and lifetime substance use. In total, 404 medical cannabis patients completed the survey, providing a large sample size.
This survey’s results turned out similarly to Reiman’s previous survey. Forty-one percent of the patients in the study reported they used cannabis medicine to replace their alcohol use. Overall, 75.5% of the participants used it to substitute another drug. They said they replaced their substance use with cannabis use because of less withdrawal, fewer side effects and better symptom relief.
Tod H. Mikuriya, a psychiatric medical consultant and advocate for medicinal cannabis, reviewed the records of 94 of his patients. His goal was to determine the effectiveness of a harm-reduction approach to alcoholism involving medical marijuana. Since alcoholism impacts so many people, he wanted to investigate a potential alternative to typical treatment.
He looked at 94 patient records to understand how effective his treatment methods were. He also had an initial consultation with each patient to figure out the nature of their alcohol problem, where he asked about their demographics, drug usage and other medications.
Every patient who participated felt their treatment was “effective” or “very effective.” Nine of them hadn’t had a drink in over a year thanks to their marijuana medicine. Patients who had to stop treatment often went back to drinking. This trend indicated medical cannabis’ ability to reduce relapse.
As you can see, medical cannabis works as a great alternative to standard alcoholism treatment. To learn more about alcoholism and how to treat it with medicinal marijuana, check out our condition guide. If you would like to begin medical marijuana treatment for your alcoholism, book an appointment today.