The holidays can be a boozy blur of celebratory bevvies and festive cheer. But an almost month-long drinking binge can result in a hangover of whole-body proportions. Could cannabis help drink-lovers take a break from the tipple this Dry January?
Whether it’s sparkling wine at the office party or festive G+T’s with friends, the holiday season is often synonymous with well-deserved indulgence. One 2019 survey suggests that in the UK, almost two-thirds of drinkers imbibe more than usual throughout the month of December, and one in five experiences an excess of horrible hangovers.
Dry January — which also happens to be ‘Love your Liver’ month in the UK — is an opportunity to shake off the holiday haze and give your body and brain a break from booze. It can also be a time to reflect on the many (quite serious) dangers of drinking, the reasons why we drink in the first place, and if cannabis could be part of the semi-sobriety equation.
According to the charity Alcohol Change UK, Dry January is the result of one woman deciding to quit drinking to prepare for a half-marathon and experiencing almost immediate health benefits including increased energy, better sleep and weight loss. The Dry January campaign began with 4,000 participants in 2013, and grew to an estimated 130,000 people in 2022.
Explore why cannabis is now considered a healthier (and safer) alternative than alcohol and discover some tips on how cannabis can support a low-to-no alcohol lifestyle this Dry January (and beyond).
Alcohol vs cannabis: the science behind an age old debate
Alcohol and cannabis are two entirely different substances with vastly different chemical profiles, yet they are often lumped together under the category of ‘vice’. A wealth of scientific evidence links alcohol use to harmful outcomes like cancer, organ damage, depression, violence and criminal acts, and in the worst case scenario, death (2.5 million alcohol-related deaths occur globally per year).
Yet alcohol is still deemed less harmful (at least from a policy perspective) than cannabis due to decades of ill-informed (or downright propagandistic) smear campaigns and its continued illegal status across most of the world.
But as more countries and regions legalise cannabis for medical and/or adult-use, an explosion of scientific research is shining a blinding spotlight on one critically important difference between cannabis and alcohol: cannabis has a vast range of healing properties, and alcohol is, to put it bluntly, practically poison.
In 2022 alone, Cannabis Health featured new research on how cannabis could benefit people suffering with tourettes, inflammation, anxiety, Alzheimers, brain injuries, covid-19, paediatric autism, fibromyalgia, Parkinsons, endometriosis (to name just a few).
The plant has even been linked to longer lifespans. Researchers have associated cannabis use with repairing liver damage caused by alcohol consumption, and have found that CBD can help those struggling with alcohol abuse.
Attitudes around cannabis and alcohol are also changing. A 2021 joint study from the University of Delaware and Michigan State University found that the majority of respondents believed cannabis was safer than alcohol, valium and Xanax.
A 2022 survey carried out by New Frontier suggests that two-thirds of US-based consumers aged between 18 and 44 (Gen-Z and millennials) prefer cannabis to alcohol, and more than half of the same age group are replacing (at least some of) their alcohol use with cannabis.
Research also shows that when medical cannabis became legal in Canada, alcohol sales decreased, indicating that people were substituting cannabis for alcohol.
Tips for the canna-curious to get through Dry January (and beyond)
Despite alcohol’s scary health impacts, more than three-quarters (82%) of Britons aged 18+ say they drink alcohol. People consume alcohol for a variety of reasons: social anxiety, depression, pain, peer pressure, hereditary proclivity, or simply because it can be fun and they like the way it makes them feel.
There is no judgement here; I love a good drink or five, and alcohol is so embedded into global culture it’s easy to be wooed by its wiley ways. But the more I learn about the long-term effects of even light alcohol use (no amount of alcohol is considered “safe”), the more I’m rethinking my own relationship to booze and cannabis.
If you’re curious about how cannabis might help stave off alcohol cravings this Dry January, or how it could help lower longer-term alcohol consumption, here are some tips on how to dip your toes into the evolving world of cannabis.
Approach with caution — it’s not about habit-swapping
If you’re genuinely concerned about the amount of alcohol you drink, it’s smart to seek out professional medical help. It’s important to understand why you’re tempted to drink in the first place and whether other alternative methods (counselling, meditation, etc) can help curb the desire to indulge. While cannabis might be ‘safer’ than alcohol in many ways, it can still cause dependency in users and result in other adverse effects such as paranoia and anxiety.
If you’re still considering cannabis as a means to wean off of alcohol, then education is key. Scientists have discovered more than 100 cannabinoids (the most common being CBD and THC), and each type of cannabinoid will have a different effect on your unique physiology.
Then there is potency and strength to think about, whether indica, sativa or a hybrid strain might serve you best, how it was grown (outdoor, organic, etc) and processed (is that full-spectrum CBD you’re taking?) and a myriad of other factors that will influence one’s cannabis experience.
Cannabis is still technically illegal in the UK, and it can be difficult (and dangerous) to explore cannabis via the legacy market. If you suffer from pain, anxiety, or a number of other disorders, you might be able to obtain legal medical cannabis with a prescription from a private clinic. Here is Cannabis Health’s step-by-step guide on how to access a medical cannabis prescription in the UK.
Start with CBD and low-THC products
CBD is legal in the UK and widely available. It can be found in food, beauty products, supplements, and more, and research shows it is ‘exceptionally safe’ even in high doses. CBD-infused drinks can be found in grocery stores across the country, so you can try replacing what would normally be an alcoholic drink for a CBD-based beverage.
If you’re curious about THC (the main psychoactive component in cannabis) then starting with low-THC products can help you figure out what works without overwhelming your senses (or brain). Again, these types of products are only legal with a prescription in the UK.
Choose your consumption method carefully
There are numerous ways to consume cannabis. I once made a smoking device out of an apple, tin foil and a broken biro. But smoking any substance can harm your lungs, and while vaping is often recommended as a safer approach, it comes with its own risks. While edibles can be a ‘healthier’ form of intake, they can vary in potency which makes judging the correct amount (that won’t make you paranoid, vomit, or pass out) a tricky task.
This article from The Cannigma highlights different ways to consume cannabis without smoking.
Maintaining a low-or no-alcohol lifestyle after Dry January
Beyond the previously mentioned health benefits, cannabis can help boost a general healthy lifestyle. Studies show the ‘lazy stoner’ stereotype is a myth, and people like Mike Traynor, a British cyclist who biked 19,000 miles around the world to prove such a stereotype is outdated, highlight how cannabis can complement (and encourage) healthy habits.
The biggest barriers to making a long-term switch from alcohol to cannabis in the UK is illegality, access and stigma. But as more EU countries consider legalisation of adult-use cannabis and the US continues to turn ‘green’ (both from cannabis legalisation and the billions of dollars in cannabis tax benefits), the UK government would be sticking its head in the sand if it doesn’t consider cannabis policy reform within the next five years.
Perhaps by then you might already be incorporating cannabis — either CBD, THC or a range of cannabinoids — into an alcohol-free (or alcohol-reduced) routine.
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