Is Cannabis the Cure Against Binge Drinking?

Binge drinking has been the national pastime for a good portion of Americans. Ever since the ending of Prohibition in the 1930s, the stigma of drinking alcohol to excess has been almost eradicated. Sure, it’s still frowned upon to get obliterated all the time, but if you’re still young, binge drinking is seen as a rite of passage more than anything.

Now that cannabis has become legalized in 13 states (and counting) and national legalization talks are continuing, several studies have been done to see if cannabis possesses counteracting effects for binge drinking. Let’s look at these studies closer to see if cannabis can cut down the urge to binge drink.

Binge Drinking Statistics

Among the 50.7% (~ 163 million) of current drinkers in the U.S. in 2016, 47.8% (~ 155 million) reported binge drinking in the past month, and another 11.9% reported heavy drinking in the past 30 days. Surveys have also shown that 57.1% of young adults aged 18 to 25 were current alcohol users while 54.6% of adults aged 26 or older were current alcohol users. Where the statistics get very interesting is in those aged 18-20 years old (early college aged). Here are those statistics:

  • Current Drinkers: 39.1% (4,979 survey respondents)
  • Binge Drinkers: 26.2% (3,327 survey respondents)
  • Heavy Drinkers: 6.9% (878 survey respondents)

These statistics are a microcosm of binge drinking in the U.S. which has grown to staggering levels, leaving more than 88,000 citizens dead due to excessive alcohol use. As the death toll continues to rise every year, many lawmakers have been looking for a solution to deter the negative effects of alcohol. Perhaps, they may find a cure in the form of cannabis?

Cannabis vs Binge Drinking

A 2018 study looked at 32,000 people who admitted to a history of excessive alcohol intake. Scientists wanted to know what kind of impact combining cannabis to their binge drinking habit with their alcohol liver disease (ALD). Researchers soon discovered that binge drinking while using marijuana allowed the patients to decreased their risk of ALD. In fact, the heaviest cannabis users showed the lowest chances of developing ALD.

 The reason why cannabis had such a positive effect on ALD for binge drinkers was due to its anti-inflammatory capabilities. Since the liver contains cannabinoids receptors that respond when you smoke cannabis, supplementing marijuana with alcoholic beverages, led to a decrease in liver inflammation, thereby slowing the disease’s progress.

Marijuana Legalization Effects on Binge Drinking

Even though the national average percent of binge drinkers per state in the U.S. is 17.4%, Washington, one of the first states to legalize recreational use, reported that only 15.6% of adults in the entire state qualified as being binge drinkers. One study found that in cities where marijuana was decriminalized, there were more emergency room visits related to cannabis, but fewer visits linked to alcohol and other drugs after the decriminalization compared with before it.

Another study showed that high school seniors in states where pot was decriminalized tended to drink less alcohol than those in states with stricter marijuana policies. These studies show that people may choose to use cannabis as a substitute, but that’s less likely to happen if people don’t have access to it within their state. By legalizing cannabis on a national scale, it may even the playing field with alcohol and allow us to really see if it’s going to reduce the harms associated with binge drinking in the long term.

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