In a catch-22 situation where ‘not enough research has been done’ meets: ‘few would profit from funding the expensive research’ and/or ‘it’s still a scheduled I or II drug’, scare tactics and misinformation still exist in media and in politics.

The landscape is changing however. As more patients use cannabis in a harm reduction way (by potentially replacing many drugs whose effects are more harmful), and a preventative systems-balancing way (microdosing to supplement their own naturally produced endocannabinoids to achieve homeostasis), we will begin to reap the societal benefits of a population less addicted to opioids and alcohol, and all the damage that unleashes.

Hats off to Licensed Producer Tilray for putting time, dedication and dollars into a recent study, which showed that among more than 2000 patients:

  • Pain and mental health conditions accounted for 83.7% of all respondents
  • The most commonly cited substitution was for prescription drugs (69.1%), followed by alcohol (44.5%), tobacco (31.1%), and illicit substances (26.6%)
  • Opioid medications accounted for 35.3% of all prescription drug substitution, followed by antidepressants (21.5%)
  • Of the 610 mentions of specific opioid medications, patients report total cessation of use of 59.3%

So how can cannabis work as a substitution? Let’s take alcohol as an example.

It’s undeniable that in the harm reduction approach to health, cannabis is a safer choice than alcohol. While alcohol can cause kidney and liver failure and death, cannabis simply does not. It’s a bounding leap in the right direction.  

A fascinating study by New Frontier Data finds: In general, 46% of people surveyed are “likely to replace some of their drinking with cannabis in the future…74% of consumers think cannabis is safer than alcohol.”

What about cannabis and alcoholism? Consider that, for alcoholics, abruptly stopping alcohol can kill them (this is called delirium tremens) and/or can cause anything from fever and blood pressure spikes to grand mal seizures. While stopping ‘cold turkey’ may not be the best option, incorporating cannabis into actively tapering off alcohol has proven helpful.


Cannabis can help rebalance brain chemistry, it can reduce physical cravings and it can help with some of the side effects of alcohol reduction. Effects like insomnia/restlessness, a general sense of nervousness, anxiety, nausea and irritability.

Here’s how…

Alcohol disrupts the neurochemical balance in the brain, increasing both dopamine and GABA. This can cause a down regulating effect of the endocannabinoid system causing, at least partially, cravings for more alcohol.

This is where cannabinoids like THC and non-impairing CBD come into play. CBD and THC can help stimulate CB1 and CB2 receptors, helping to restore normal endocannabinoid function in the brain and body over time. A minimum effective amount is typically recommended by doctors to achieve this balance. (Many suggest beginning with sub-therapeutic amounts and slowly titrating up to an amount that achieves desired effects.)

Vaporizing cannabis while tapering off alcohol can be a good choice. As are legally produced cannabis oils. Keep in mind that the effects from ingestible oils can be stronger and longer lasting than vaporizing. By ingesting cannabis oil, you may feel more of a body high than with vaporizing. This has been reported to help mitigate the physical cravings of alcohol withdrawal. You may want to try a microdosed balanced blend of THC and CBD to accomplish these effects. Again, speak with your doctor for further guidance.

Insomnia, a side effect of tapering off alcohol, is often referred to as one of the major reasons for relapse. By vaporizing and/or ingesting cannabis-infused foods and drinks at night, you are likely to get a deeper, more regenerative sleep. Ensure you do some research into what has helped others achieve good sleep patterns for a general guideline.

Tapering of alcohol ingestion may also cause anxiety, which may be lessened with the non-impairing CBD which is available in both oil and dry.

Diminished alcohol ingestion may also cause nausea. Studies show nausea may be best helped with a balanced blend of THC and CBD.

It should be noted that combining alcohol and cannabis can lead to more intense, unpredictable effects from both. Alcohol causes relaxation and dilation of blood vessels in the lungs with smoking or vaping, which absorb and carry more THC through the body. The same holds true for the effects of edibles when taken with alcohol, although through different mechanisms. Be as aware as possible with timing and amounts. While it won’t win a Pulitzer, it pays to keep in mind this adage:

‘Beer before grass, you’re on your ass. Grass before beer, you are in the clear.’

In the clear’ is relative of course. Be as prudent as possible.

A mindful ‘chess and not checkers’ approach to cannabinoid therapy is smart regardless of what you are treating. Different effects will be noted depending on the unique biology of the individual. Fine tuning is in your best interest. Always start low and go slow. Edibles in particular do well with the less is more approach as metabolites, such as 11-Hydroxy created in the liver, become more capable of entering the bloodstream and can last for many hours.

Sidenote: The alcohol industry plans to be producing and releasing cannabis infused alcohol by fall of this year. Keep in mind that you will have choices to opt for non-alcohol infused cannabis drinks as well. Consider this kombucha drink!

Yours in health,



— Kait Shane, Community Outreach Educator Natural Health Services and Certified Holistic Nutritional Consultant (CHNC). Follow Natural Health Services on Twitter

For further insight into all things cannabis, don’t forget to check out The Cannabis Show (new episodes every Wednesday) and connect with us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. The Cannabis Show is also available as an audio podcast, subscribe on iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher, TuneIn, and Overcast

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