From drinks with friends on a special night out to a lonely binge to heal a broken heart, alcohol is a part of daily life for many people worldwide. In the US, more than 65 percent of people surveyed in 2019 said they drank alcohol in the past year – and nearly 60 percent of them had had at least one drink in the previous week.
In 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic gripped most of the world, Americans drank considerably more than usual, too. Factors like stress and isolation accounted for a 14 percent jump in American alcohol consumption during that year alone.
Alcohol has a long list of effects on the body and brain. And while it may make you feel good for a while, none of these effects are good for your health. Now, though, research reveals that cannabis can be a safer alternative that meets many of the reasons people choose to drink. Here’s why – and how – to make the switch.
How Does Alcohol Affect the Body – and Mind?
Alcohol affects the body and mind in numerous ways.
“Alcohol’ is an umbrella term for all kinds of beverages that contain ethanol or ethyl alcohol. This chemical forms when yeast ferments, or breaks down, natural sugars found in foods like grapes (for making wine) or malted barley, used to make beer.
But ethanol is also a toxin – a volatile chemical found in varnishes, nail polish remover, gasoline, and solvents. It’s responsible for the many effects of drinking alcohol, ranging from pleasant relaxation to nausea, blackouts, as well as liver damage.
Alcohol Disrupts Messaging in the Brain
The most visible effects of alcohol come from its [effects on the brain]
(https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohols-effects-health/alcohols-effects-body#:~:text=Alcohol%20interferes%20with%20the%20brain’s,clearly%20and%20move%20with%20coordination). Ethanol disrupts messaging between neurotransmitters – the “chemicals” that regulate mood, cognition, and other functions such as motor skills.
Ethanol boosts the effects of inhibitory, or calming, substances such as GABA (gamma-Aminobutyric acid) and serotonin. At the same time, it inhibits excitatory or stimulating neurotransmitters such as glutamine and adenosine. These processes account for the short-term effects of relaxation and elevated mood.
But with long-term, sustained alcohol use, the brain adjusts to the presence of ethanol. That’s why people who drink frequently need to drink more and more to get the same effects.
Disruptions in the brain’s communication pathways account for the familiar signs of intoxication, such as slurred speech, poor coordination, and impaired judgment. When blood alcohol levels get too high, too fast, “blackouts” can happen as the brain’s ability to form and store new memories is impaired.
Alcohol Affects Multiple Organs
Along with its effects on the brain, ethanol also affects many of the body’s other systems and functions. The sugars in alcohol can affect the body’s ability to produce and regulate insulin, contributing to developing diabetes. Ethanol can also affect the cardiovascular system, raising the risk of stroke, hypertension, and heart problems.
Over time, alcohol can destroy liver function, leading to conditions such as alcoholic hepatitis and cirrhosis. It can inflame the pancreas, causing chronic pancreatitis. Ethanol can also affect the texture and appearance of the skin, causing it to age prematurely.
What About Marijuana?
Alcohol’s effects on the body aren’t all bad. Numerous studies indicate that a moderate intake of red wine might support heart health, thanks to the polyphenols in grapes. But now, research reveals that cannabis can have the same relaxing and uplifting effects as alcohol without the potential risks and side effects. What’s more, cannabis has documented health benefits as well.
For many, marijuana is replacing alcohol consumption.
Here are six benefits of consuming cannabis instead of alcohol.
1. Cannabis works with your body, not against it
Consuming cannabis in any form activates receptors in the body’s endocannabinoid system, a comprehensive network of cell receptors that responds both to natural cannabinoids produced by the body and to compounds in the cannabis plant.
The endocannabinoid system plays a role in moderating pain, regulating mood, and supporting balance among the body’s many subsystems. But the body has no natural ethanol receptors, so when someone consumes alcohol, the tissues and cells respond to it as a toxic substance.
2. Cannabis reduces stress and anxiety
Cannabis has a long history of promoting relaxation and reducing anxiety. Cannabis promotes the release of the brain’s “feel good” chemicals, such as dopamine and GABA, which support calmness and a positive mood.
3. Cannabis has few side effects
Although it can take some experimenting to discover the right products and dosage, cannabis generally has minimal side effects for most people. There are exceptions, though. Consuming too much THC can cause symptoms including a racing heart, paranoia, and confusion. Heavy cannabis use in those under 18 can contribute to memory and learning problems. Some people can suffer from a condition called cannabis hyperemesis syndrome causes nausea and vomiting.
4. Cannabis overuse isn’t fatal
Too much alcohol can be fatal, either by overloading the body with toxins or contributing to other risky actions such as drunk driving or combining alcohol and drugs. But according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, there has been no report of an adult death solely caused by too much cannabis consumption.
5. Cannabis can help you sleep
Many people claim that a glass of wine or a few beers can help them get to sleep, but the sugars in alcoholic drinks can disrupt the body’s insulin regulation and interfere with the deeper stages of sleep. But cannabis, especially products that are high in CBD, can promote relaxation and restful sleep because they work with the body’s natural regulatory systems.
People are always looking for ways to feel better, and medical experts agree that a few drinks here and there aren’t likely to be harmful. But weed in all its many forms can replace your booze of choice, with considerable benefits for the body and mind.
6. Cannabis won’t make you gain weight
Alcohol is full of empty calories and loads of sugar. It’s pretty easy to consume 2000 calories in one night of binge drinking. It’s a long-standing joke that people who consume marijuana get the ‘munchies’ and overeat in front of the fridge late at night. But, the reality is, people who consume cannabis regularly tend to have slimmer waistlines.