Dec 152012
 December 15, 2012

alcohol marijuana drugs studyBy Mitch Earleywine, Marijuana Policy Project

I remember one of the clients I had on internship. He’d been drinking a fifth of bourbon a day for years. As you’d guess, his liver was a mess, and his thinking was clearly impaired. I couldn’t help but wonder how much better his health would have been (and how much money he could have saved) if he’d used cannabis instead. Of course, if I’d suggested that he switch to a safer drug, my supervisor would have berated me so loudly that everyone in the clinic would have had to cover his ears. There was little evidence to support this practice, no matter how much I thought it might help.

Although the idea remains controversial, substituting cannabis for drugs that cause more harm has a ton of advantages. It can certainly be cheaper, easier on the body, and less impairing. Harvard professor Lester Grinspoon mentioned this idea decades ago. I must get two e-mails a week from people who swear by the practice, but individual cases hardly count as compelling evidence. Fortunately, real people with real problems do everything that they can to tackle their troubles, no matter what the published research might say.

Years after I left internship, Dr. Amanda Reiman showed that many patrons of the Berkeley Patients’ Group used the plant to decrease or stop their consumption of other substances. The obvious next step would be a randomized clinical trial. Folks with drug problems would be randomly assigned to receive treatment as usual or to use cannabis exclusively instead. We’d follow up with them later and see how they were doing. Then we’d know if the treatment was helpful. It would take some money to give them the treatment they needed, but no matter how the experiment turned out, we’d know something very valuable.

If I’d called the National Institute of Health to pitch this idea, they’d probably have laughed their heads off. They’d have said that everybody knows that you can’t treat alcoholism with cannabis. I’d have mentioned Dr. Reiman’s study. They would have said that it was just one sample, and they were all from the same place, so no dice.

For this reason, we wanted to know if more medical cannabis patients made comparable claims. My esteemed colleagues contacted over 400 medical cannabis patients who were patrons of four different dispensaries in British Columbia. (I was just the data monkey on this project. Once New York state becomes more enlightened about medical cannabis, I’ll be more help.) Over 75% of these folks said that they used cannabis in place of some other drug. Replacing prescription drugs was the most common practice (68%), but many used the plant instead of alcohol (41%) and illicit drugs (36%). (Participants could report more than one drug for substitution, so the totals don’t equal 100%.)

We now have literally hundreds of people reporting that they can use cannabis instead of drugs that cause more harm. People who use alcohol or other drugs problematically often balk at treatments that demand complete abstinence. Who might show up for treatment if patients knew that they could use cannabis as part of the program? Maybe they’d run into trouble with the plant. But maybe they’d have healthy, productive, fun lives. They’d certainly have fewer problems if they laid off stimulants, alcohol, or opiates. So, how about it? What will it take to get a harm reduction program going where folks can use cannabis instead of hard drugs? I hate to think that the world might never know.

Source: Marijuana Policy Project

About Johnny Green

Johnny Green is a marijuana activist from Oregon. He has a Bachelor's Degree in Public Policy. Follow Johnny Green on Facebook and Twitter. Also, feel free to email any concerns.
  • Anon

    It’s a fascinating proposal. I assume that if cannabis is rescheduled (which I am hoping that the ASA case goes that way), you could potentially run a clinical trial where you use cannabis(the medicine) as needed for 3,6,12 month study and see if patients relapse back to their drug of choice.

  • piepaw

    I, for one,drink about a six-pack of beer a week. I know that doesn’t seem “problematic” to most people. My “problem” is that, as a responsible adult, I would simply prefer to smoke 6 joints per week. Sigh.
    Your plan should be seriously considered by the drug recovery programs. What will it take? Cannabis legalization at both the State and Federal levels.

  • http://twitter.com/revraygreen revraygreen

    here in Iowa, the ‘Drug Apes’ are feeding us smelly black bananas from Govn’a Grinchenstad….Today smoking a joint can be like drinking a keg.” said Iowa Office of the Governors Drug Control Policy Chief Steve Lukan. twiitter: @SteveLukan 12/5/12-MUSCATINE, Iowa — A panel consisting of the state’s top drug-fighter, local law enforcement officials, a treatment provider, a local legislator and the county atto
    rney shared their thoughts Wednesday on how to make Iowa a safer and healthier place, especially for its residents under 18

    * Muscatine County Attorney Alan Ostergren ““I may go home tonight and have a glass of bourbon,” Ostergren said. “I’m not going to get drunk. Plenty of people use alcohol responsibly. The whole point of marijuana and other drugs is to get impaired.” People who think legalizing marijuana will reduce the crime rate are “hopelessly naive,” Ostergren said.

    • piepaw

      My reply to Ostergren would be something to the effect of, “Take a good long look in the mirror to see the truly “hopelessly naive.””
      Prohibitionists that swallow the blatant propaganda without the benefit of critical analysis of all available evidence cannot expect to be taken seriously.

    • BCD4095

      Then why drink a “glass of bourbon”?
      For the delicious taste?
      Any amount of alcohol is going to “impair” an individual to some degree, so a person who uses cannabis can do the same thing.
      Also good cannabis is a tasty smoke, when compared to tobacco or “grapevine”.

  • incogneatow

    Alcohol is a poison. Tobacco is… obvious. Cocaine & opiates are physically addictive. Caffeine, unnecessary heart rate increase during a normal resting state is a longterm problem. Prescription drugs are more of a problem than they are temporary solutions. More powerful psychedelics (LSD, psilocybin, mescaline, Salvia Divinorum, DMT, etc.) are not normally used daily or weekly; longterm use not an issue. MDMA is an anomaly…

    Cannabis is in a category all its own. Where else can you get healthy benefits of a conscious expanding plant rich in health promoting endocannabinoids that promote a healthy state of mind which in tern results in healthy physical state of being? Raw plant juices contain a panacea of substances that help heal the body. Raw, dried or processed plant matter offers more for mankind than any other natural or synthetic substance. Smoke, vaporize, eat, cannabis tinctures, infused edibles, many ways to begin your journey toward enhanced health and well being.

    Since I started consuming cannabis I have stopped using everything else. It is as if I found what I was looking for. This makes sense since the human body has cannabinoid receptors that other substances can use to mimic (but, not always satisfy) the chemical and emotional responses of the receptor sites. Cannabis is the key that unlocks the redeeming qualities of the positive cognitive states or significant states of well being (not specifically dopamine or anandamide). When the body receives what it needs (much like food) it becomes satiated until the substance is required later.

    Once legalization is the norm, we will begin to discover a lot more of the vital relationship between human kind and this important plant. With all substances there should always be a level of respect for oneself and a chosen substance. Too much of anything (save one, love) is never a good thing.

    The evolution of humankind may be dependent upon the subsequent evolution of the plant and its many strains. I can’t wait to see what awaits us after global legalization. Consciousness is the limit…

    Pass the dutchie…

  • http://www.facebook.com/bob.w.knight Bob William Knight

    i read a high times story where heavy drug userssaid they never would have used these drugs if weed was cheap and good and always around. stands to reason some people will quit blow and that and smoke weed instead ! we’ll see

  • W.D. Kmentt

    A recent study conducted in Norway and documented in the British Journal of Psycho-pharmacology showed remarkable promise in the treatment of chronic alcoholism with a single 50 mic. dose of LSD. The results for short and mid term success was noted, with results for long term still out. Personally, I quit the insidious and highly addictive nicotine by smoking pot instead. I had smoked cigarettes since I was a teen.

  • ecv

    Cant use it If i do i wont get Interferon treatment Federal Gov Program I know someone who wouldt get a transplant if he used pot……..He died waiting

  • http://www.facebook.com/katjamspecialties Kathleen Haines

    Is there such a thing as marijuana abuse?? Most people use it to a certain level, then there are some that smoke until their eyes are red rimmed and they are incoherent. That want to do nothing more than sit around and get totally burned out and do nothing..I’m just curious are there different tiers to smoking pot? As with alcohol you have your social smokers, weekend bingers, daily after work relaxation tokes and burnouts etc.. So seriously I’m talking about the three foot bongs and smoke so thick it burns your eyes..Just fried kinda folk..is there abuse?? I’m sure if it ever legalizes in the states they will have weed snobs, tasters, testers etc..Anyway does anyone have a answer?

    • DarkerMatter

      People abuse food, sugar, coffee, alcohol, cigarettes, sex, power, and their spouses. What abuse would you trade for marijuana abuse? What would be the lesser of the evils?
      One thing is for sure, the abuse of marijuana propaganda is a fact, over the last 75 years.

    • http://www.facebook.com/KOOL2HANDLE Steven Allen Gibson

      yes you can abuse weed. I call them crack head for weed. They are people that know you cant get but so high but just keep on smoken to get higher. but they never do. You see you body makes its own thc. and a plants thc leval cant be but so much too. so you can smoke till you blue in the face but want get no higher. in fact you can smoke your self streight.and no matter how high you get. 5 min later your back to a safe leval. on weed, you can do any thing a streight person can do. even drive except you remain more calm for abought 2 hours when it comes to stress ready things. In fact you are better than a streight person because you can put up with a lot more stress than a streight person and less likely to fall off the handle. You are less likely to pick a fight and more likely to break up a fight. When a person drinks he is more likely to come home and beat his wife and kids for small trivey shit. while a weed smoker will sit back and rashenlize every thing. and will realize how trivey the problem really is. and not fight or harm any one. Lets bring kindness back to our world…Plase free the weed.

    • piepaw

      The obvious answer to your question is yes.
      Why do you ask?

  • Soul Rider

    I got off 23 medications and smoked instead. 8 years later, I am no longer bed ridden and sick to my stomach from all the ulcers I gained from all the meds for over 15 years. Sure I still have some pain but I can get out of bed today and do the things I couldn’t do before like clean, cook, write, travel. I only smoke when I need it and it works better than any of the 15 pain killers they had me on.

  • http://www.facebook.com/KOOL2HANDLE Steven Allen Gibson

    This is so true. 40 years of weed use and im more heathy than most people my own age. What is it going take for peple to know that they made a big mistake out lawing a plant that can help save lives, give us much needed jobs, food cloth and paper and fuel. What is it going to take?

    • piepaw

      It’s going to take legalization at both the State and Federal levels. Then, and only then, will the full benefits of Cannabis be realized.

  • http://www.facebook.com/terry.pepper.18 Terry Pepper

    yah remember when a dude ran down 33 people from smoking a joint ? what do u mean u havent . ur rite it didnt happen . what is the worst thing that has happened when a person was high ? we were in elkheart indiana in 79 working the railroad their r some operaters that smoke weed but that day nobody was high when a track was sopposed 2 be open was live it had a amtrack cars on it & we were taking equipment off 2 tracks over the live line we were told no trains were coming 4 3 & a half hours this came from the switch yard in chicago where all trains come from . i have never seen anyone move a petybone crane so fast in my entire life . so as far as pot being hard or 2 slow reaction time down u coulnd prove it by me .