You may have missed this study last month, possibly because you were drinking a tad too much in the lead up to Election Day. But Canadian researchers actually think you may have lowered your alcohol intake if you had just smoked a little marijuana.
“Reductions in Alcohol Use Following Medical Cannabis Initiation” was published in the International Journal of Drug Policy. It found 44% of participants who consumed marijuana reported decreases in alcohol intake or lowering the number of drinks they had over a 30-day period, and that those who intended to use cannabis as a substitute had a high chance of succeeding in reducing or stopping their alcohol usage.
The self-reported study could be a mini-game changer, because treating liver disease in the US costs about $32 billion annually, according to Science Daily.
The initial results show promise that cannabis might help individuals better control or even lower their alcohol intake, which adds to the growing body of evidence suggesting marijuana could be a healthier substitute for alcohol and prescription or illicit drug use.
Dr. Philippe Lucas has been interested in the use and impact of cannabis and prescription drugs for years. He co-founded the non-profit Vancouver Island Compassion Society medical cannabis dispensary in 1999.
He told The News Station he began hearing from patients suffering from HIV or hepatitis C who were using cannabis to help wean themselves from prescription drugs. It’s even got a name: The cannabis substitution effect.
“At the time, cannabis was considered a ‘gateway drug.’ But after hearing from more of these patients, I found that, for them it’s an exit drug,” Lucas says. “That was a fringe notion at the time. Now we have data that have found that cannabis is commonly used as a substitute for other substances. In US states that have legalized, you see subsequent declines in alcohol sales, auto injuries and suicide associated with alcohol abuse.”
Lucas and his associates developed a cross-sectional questionnaire given to patients at Tilray, a Canadian pharmaceutical and cannabis company with operations around the world. Questions included what substances each had used and whether they used alcohol. If they answered ‘yes’ to consuming alcohol, they were asked how many drinks per week they had when they started using cannabis and how much alcohol they used in the last 30 days.
“We found a significant decline in alcohol use,” Lucas says.
This builds on other studies that have found similar patterns. Lucas says this was the first study he was aware of that asked specifically whether patients were using cannabis to lower their alcohol intake.
“The questions were framed so we asked, ‘when did you notice changes in alcohol use,’ and ‘were you surprised?,’” Lucas says. “We also noted those that indicated intent had far better odds of lowering their alcohol use. That’s in keeping with a lot of the literature.”
The study’s main limitation, Lucas says, is that participants were self reporting their use.
“We’re not tracking use over time, so there’s the possibility of recall bias – when you ask about something that happened three years ago, how much they drank, they might not recall exactly,” Lucas says.
To that end, Lucas says he would like to be able to actually track participants over a number of months.
“That would be the next step,” Lucas says. “But this is consistent with other studies that have found reductions in alcohol use in cannabis users.”