Can cannabis be considered as medication for treating alcoholism

There’s no denying that alcoholism is a devastating disease, and it’s a fact that it leads to the deaths of about 88,000 people a year, with additional 10,000 caused by alcohol-impaired driving. There are several symptoms by which the alcohol use disorder (AUD) is diagnosed by – craving, drinking more than intended, inability to quit even you want to do so, and, most dangerous amongst heavy drinkers, potentially deadly withdrawal effects. Although there are several pharmaceutical treatments which are designed to treat alcoholism, the rates of recidivism haven’t been adequately studied and only about 9% of AUD patients actually receive them.

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Credit: Ayehab

Considering the fact that 33 million Americans struggle with AUD and a big advance when it comes to medical cannabis legalization, one question becomes inevitable – can cannabis be considered as medication for treating alcoholism? This practice of substituting marijuana for alcohol, commonly referred to as marijuana maintenance, is certainly a still controversial one. But is it effective?

Real Effects Versus Hearsay

There is a lot of anecdotal evidence around marijuana which suggests that it helps to treat everything from cancer, across inflammation and glaucoma, to rheumatoid arthritis. It is inevitable that there’s a lot of hearsay involved, but the scientific-based evidence is slowly coming together to divide it from the real medicinal effects. The best example is that scientists have confirmed the role of medical marijuana in treating opioid addiction. Nevertheless, claims that it aids autism as well as that it can lead to addiction are called to question, and there’s certainly some exaggeration when it comes to cancer treatment. But considering the evidence that medical marijuana is effective in keeping opiate addicts in treatment, its ability to help the ones with AUD stay off the wagon is not far from likely.

The Substitution Effect

The economic principle has always been relevant when it comes to drug choice. When income becomes lower or the prices get higher, people naturally substitute more expensive items for less expensive ones, which is known as the ʽsubstitution effectʼ. Now, can the same behavior be exhibited when choosing an intoxicant – going for the less dangerous the same way they go for the less expensive? Considering the fact that in states with medical marijuana the death from opiate overdose is down by 25% and that prescription medicine use is down significantly, this is far from a pipe dream.

Some studies have clearly shown that the same substitution happens in the relationship between cannabis and alcohol. In one Canadian study over 400 medical marijuana patients were involved in a survey which found that over 41% of them have substituted cannabis for alcohol. Reasons included better symptom management, fewer side effects, and less withdrawal. Another study conducted with 350 medical marijuana patients in California showed similar results – 40% of them had substituted cannabis for alcohol. This other study includes some irony, too, since half of the patients have reported using cannabis to relieve the pain which is a result of an alcohol-related injury. Even among the most serious cases of alcohol abuse, such as a coping mechanism for PTSD sufferers where the black hole of drunkenness is the only escape from intrusive thoughts and anxiety, some credit their recovery from alcoholism to switching from alcohol to cannabis.

A Simple Switch of Vices?

Of course, there are many who still argue with this point of view. Mainly private treatment centers and Alcoholics Anonymus who believe that true sobriety is the only answer. Their point of view is that encouraging cannabis to someone with AUD is just an addition of a new vice or a simple switch of vices that can potentially lead to a new danger to their lives. Since nearly 9 percent of cannabis users may develop a substance use disorder this statement is not without foundation, but we shouldn’t forget the fact that there are many of those who don’t connect well with other approaches – religiosity of AA or the cost of ʽdrying outʼ for 28 days in a treatment facility. For those, marijuana is still an invaluable option. Certainly not a perfect one, but also not the one that will contribute to or cause depression, sleep disorders, stroke, heart disease, liver disease -all associated with heavy drinking. Comparing the two different user experiences, the conclusion is that cannabis is 100 times safer than alcohol.

Of course, more evidence-based research is required. It’s important to know that many AUD patients already smoke marijuana, so the real treatment is only if they substitute it with alcohol. If there’s comorbidity, it will only muddy the waters for further research.

 

 



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