People love to alter their consciousness. We have been doing it for so long that humans have evolved a genetic propensity to seek out consciousness altering substances. For most of recorded human history, the chosen substance has been alcohol—a choice that has been a disaster of gargantuan proportions.
As a RN providing care in hospitals, I hardly had a single shift in which I was not providing care to at least one patient in a hospital bed due to their use of alcohol—more than one was par for the course. Cirrhosis of the liver, deteriorating heart muscle, pancreatitis, cancer and dementia are just the tip of iceberg of over 60 diseases related to alcohol consumption.
“All patients reported benefit, indicating that for at least a subset of alcoholics, cannabis use is associated with reduced drinking.”
In addition to killing 88,000 people a year, the cost to society for health care, loss of productivity and motor vehicle accidents due to alcohol consumption in the U.S. is $249 billion a year, which amounts to about $2.05 per drink. Worldwide, the costs easily exceed a trillion dollars annually.
Prohibition, prayer, meditation and the exhortation of healthcare and religious officials has failed to curb humanity’s appetite for this debilitating substance. Although cannabis consumption by humans dates back before recorded history, its use as a substitute for alcohol is absent from historical writings. In Muslim countries, where alcohol is forbidden, the rapid spread of hashish throughout 12th century Persia (now Iran) and North Africa could be attributed to its qualities as an alcohol substitute, but nowhere is that written.
There were numerous references in 19th century medical literature for using cannabis to treat opioid addiction. Dr. Ethan Russo noted that the 1902 treatise by Thomas Crothers, Morphinism and Narcomanias “described all of the addictive substances, from cocaine to caffeine, morphine to nicotine. The only context in which cannabis was mentioned was as a treatment for addiction to other drugs.”
The first mention of cannabis specifically as a substitute for alcohol was in 2003 when medical cannabis pioneer Dr. Todd Mikiyuria reported in a study published in the medical cannabis journal O’Shaughnessy’s that 92 Northern Californians had successfully used cannabis to treat their alcoholism. Dr. Mikiyuria stated that “All patients reported benefit, indicating that for at least a subset of alcoholics, cannabis use is associated with reduced drinking.”
In November 2011 Mark Anderson from Montana State University and Daniel Rees from University of Colorado Denver published research documenting that following the enactment of Montana’s medical cannabis laws there was an increase in cannabis use of 19 percent from the pre-legalization average mean for 18 to 25-year-old males. Anderson and Rees concluded the increase was directly correlated with a 5.3 percent decrease in beer consumption.
The authors found “that traffic fatalities fall by nearly nine percent after the legalization of medical marijuana” and concluded that “The negative relationship between legalization of medical marijuana and traffic fatalities involving alcohol is consistent with the hypothesis that marijuana and alcohol are substitutes.”
Confirming their conclusion that increasing cannabis use leads to decreasing alcohol use was reported in December 2016 by Cowen and Company, a firm specializing in research for industry. The report found that as a result of the cannabis legalization laws in Colorado, Oregon and Washington, beer consumption had decreased by up to 6.4 percent.
Further substantiating these findings, a survey of over 1,500 medical cannabis dispensary members published in the May 2017 Journal of Psychopharmacology reported a 42 percent reduction in the use of alcohol due to their use of cannabis.
It is long past time for healthcare professionals to tackle the disastrous consequences of alcohol consumption with a program to re-orient people to consuming cannabis when they seek the pleasurable, socializing, mind numbing, stress reliving and inhibition relaxing effects of alcohol. With none of the debilitating effects of alcohol and many health positive attributes, doctors should recommend cannabis as a substitute. People listen to their doctors.