The grip of alcoholism, often ignored by individuals until it’s irrevocably damaged their lives, has been a recurring societal ill through much of the past century. But studies indicate that cannabinoid therapies are proving effective at combating multiple facets of the alcoholic mind, including curbing abuse and dependence, right down to alleviating the brutal symptoms of alcohol withdrawal. Other research indicates that a great deal of the population might choose smoking weed over the consumption of alcohol if it were made legal, potentially allowing marijuana — a substance proven to be less harmful than alcohol — to become a legal and reasonable substitute for the juice.
One of the more fascinating studies to surface in recent years is one published in a 2009 edition of “Harm Reduction Journal” entitled “Cannabis as a Substitute for Alcohol and Other Drugs.” The study, which was overseen by Dr. Amanda Reiman at the University of California in Berkeley, found that out of 350 medical marijuana patients, the majority reported using cannabis as an alternative to alcohol, prescription medication or illegal drugs. When presented with the question of “Are you choosing to use cannabis instead of something else?” over 50 percent of the respondents said they were smoking weed as a replacement for booze.
Reiman says that a number of her additional studies since then have uncovered comparable results, “We found similar rates in substitution for alcohol, illicit substances, and prescription drugs and the reason people gave for substituting were similar to the ones they gave in the original study.”
As for chronic alcoholics, there is also evidence that cannabis could prove beneficial during the recovery process. A study published in a 2014 issue of “The Journal of Neuroscience” found that because cannabinoids (the active compounds in marijuana) have the ability to act as a “neuroprotective shields,” cannabinoid therapies might be able to infiltrate the damage caused to the brain stemming during withdrawal. Much like Reiman’s study, researchers have concluded that cannabinoids used as a replacement for total sobriety, a philosophy associated with 12-step programs, might assist in easing the cravings for drink and make the road to recovery less of a struggle.
Nevertheless, some health experts have expressed concerns that treating alcoholism with cannabis is simply a scapegoat for the real problem and that cannabinoid treatment only replaces one habit for another. According to a recent “Global Health Risks” report – a comprehensive assessment of leading risks to global health put out by the World Health Organization – alcohol abuse ranks as one of the top three health concerns in the world, far above the consumption of illegal drugs. It stands to reason that even with the White House maintaining that prohibition is in the interest of “health and public safety,” the ban on marijuana is more of a detriment to the human condition than giving the population the ability to choose a less harmful substance.
On a historical note, cannabis was once considered a viable treatment in the United States for delirium tremens, a term that was once used to define the harshest stages of alcohol withdrawal – the “insanity,” as it is called in the halls of Alcoholics Anonymous. But this all came to a screeching halt after the federal government imposed a nationwide ban on the substance. By the 1950s a synthetic form of marijuana called Pyrahexyl was being looked at by the scientific community for taming the raucous and destructive nature of the American boozehound. It was proven successful in almost 90 percent of the cases studied in clinical trials. However, the drug was outlawed in 1982 by the U.N. Convention, though there was not any evidence that the drug was being abused by the population or distributed on the black market.
Statistics published by the U.S. government shows that alcohol kills 88,000 Americans annually. In addition, at least 1 in 10 people between the ages of 20 and 64 die every year as a result of excessive drinking – not simply due to alcohol dependency.
Meanwhile, marijuana has yet to claim any casualties. Medical doctors like Reiman continue to study cannabis and its efficacy treating alcohol abuse, not just for the hardcore alcoholic struggling with Alcoholic Anonymous’ rule of total abstinence, but for the average social drinker wishing to refrain from engaging in harmful behavior.
“As the stigma surrounding cannabis continues to dissipate, and as more localities and states support regulation as a model rather than prohibition,” says Reiman, “I think we’ll see more people from outside the cannabis world showing interest in the use of cannabis perhaps as a substitute for something else.”
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