Cannabis and Alcoholism

The information in this blogpost comes from Martin Lee, Alcoholism and the Endocannabinoid System.

Cannabis decreases damage to our bodies associated with ingesting alcohol.

1. Cannabis is a neuroprotectant: Cannabis minimizes cell death in the brain associated with overconsumption of alcohol.

In 2009, the journal Neurotoxicology and Teratologypresented clinical data indicating that compounds in marijuana helped to “protect the human brain against alcohol-induced damage.” This study, conducted at the University of California in San Diego, found that adolescents who smoke marijuana may be less susceptible to brain damage from binge drinking.

Five years earlier, researchers at the National Institute of Mental Health demonstrated that cannabidiol (CBD), a significant nonpsychoactive component of marijuana, functioned as an “in vivo neuroprotectant ... in preventing binge ethanol-induced brain injury.” CBD reduced alcohol-induced cell death in the hippocampus and the etorhinal cortex of the brain in a dose-dependent manner by 60 percent.

2. Cannabis mediates stress: Long-term use of alcohol reduces endocannabinoid system tone in the brain. One results is that heavy drinkers are less able to cope with stress. Cannabis helps heavy drinkers better deal with stress. 

Long-term alcohol abuse depletes endocannabinoid tone, and this, in turn, has an adverse impact on a plethora of physiological processes that are modulated by the endocannabinoid system. The endocannabinoid system interacts with other neurotransmitters (serotonin, dopamine, glutamate, etc.) involved in the regulation of mood, fear, and impulsive behavior. Endocannabinoid deficiency is associated with a reduced ability or inability to adapt to chronic stress, a systemic dysfunction that becomes more pronounced during alcohol withdrawal. Alcohol dependence is linked to the down-regulation of 2-AG and CB1 brain receptors. Prolonged alcohol exposure induces deficits in the brain’s endocannabinoid signaling, which, in turn, contributes to maladaptive stress coping and a renewed desire for booze consumption in a self-destructive attempt to boost CB1 receptor activity. The vicious cycle of addiction feeds on itself.

3. Many people use cannabis as a substitute for alcohol as a coping device because they find it less toxic.

To assess the extent to which medical marijuana patients are using the herb as a replacement for alcohol and/or prescription pharmaceuticals, Amanda Reiman, a lecturer at the University of California’s School of Social Welfare in Berkeley, surveyed 350 members of the Berkeley Patients Group (BPG), a city-licensed medical marijuana dispensary. Reiman, BPG’s research director, presented her findings at the 2009 ICRS conference, which was attended by a BPG activist contingent. Forty percent of respondents said they used marijuana as a substitute for alcohol.

“When addressing the efficacy of cannabis as a substitute for alcohol, all participants reported cannabis substitution as very effective or effective,” Reiman noted.

In conclusion,

Rather than being a so-called gateway to hard drugs and addiction, marijuana is an exit drug for many self-medicators. Reiman and others have found that cannabis enables people to minimize or eliminate their use of more harmful substances, including prescription meds, opioids, and alcohol.

“The fact that alcohol causes so many problems in our society is not a reason to keep pot illegal; rather it is the reason we must make it legal,” assert the authors of Marijuana is SAFER —so why are we driving people to drink?

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