Cannabis vs alcohol

One of the many intentions I set for myself for 2022 is to re-evaluate some of the more challenging relationships in my life. Relationships, however, come in many different forms and do not always involve another human being. For me some of the more complicated and evolving relationships I have are with things, rather than people, for instance with food, or exercise. But in this case I’m going to talk about my relationship with alcohol.

I realize there is a movement in this country right now away from alcohol. And, believe me, that is a good thing. If you’ve ever taken care of a cirrhosis patient with end stage liver disease then you know firsthand the damage alcohol can have on the human body. Don’t get me wrong, I like to imbibe, and did more than my fair share over the two years of covid. But I think it’s really important to understand that alcohol, although fun to consume, has no medical value whatsoever. And, NO, red wine isn’t good for your heart. Current studies now show even moderate consumption has no cardio protective value. I mean, come on, who really only drinks a five ounce glass of red wine anyway, right.

I think what concerns me most is our society’s view of alcohol, especially compared to our societal view of flower. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) alcohol is the most commonly used substance among young people in the U.S. Contrary to the war on drugs message embedded in most Amerians’ minds, cannabis is NOT the gateway drug. The gateway drug is, in fact, alcohol.

Research shows alcohol is the first substance used by about two thirds of people, followed by tobacco, and then cannabis. To make my point about the dangers of alcohol consumption, let’s look at alcohol’s effect on the human body compared to cannabis.

Body System




Alcohol interferes with the brain’s communication pathways, and can affect the way the brain looks and works. These disruptions can change mood and behavior, and make it harder to think clearly and move with coordination.

Wernicke encephalopathy, which can result from excessive alcohol consumption, is a neurological disease characterized by three main clinical symptoms: confusion, the inability to coordinate voluntary movement (ataxia) and eye (ocular) abnormalities.

Excessive alcohol consumption can cause:

  • Seizures
  • mental confusion
  • difficulty remaining conscious
  • dulled responses (risk for choking)
  • lower body temperature
  • death

Possible effects on the brain from THC use:

  • Temporary paranoia
  • Feeling of euphoria
  • Sleepiness
  • Altered sensations, like touch or smell
  • Altered sense of time
  • Can impair cognitive functions including attention, concentration, episodic memory, and associative learning
  • Increases hunger

Cannabis is recognized by the NIH for the treatment of the following neurological issues:

  • Seizures
  • Neuropathic pain
  • Spasticity in multiple sclerosis
  • Tics in Tourette’s Syndrome


Drinking a lot over a long time or too much on a single occasion can damage the heart, causing problems including:

  • Cardiomyopathy – Stretching and drooping of heart muscle
  • Arrhythmias – Irregular heart beat
  • Slow heart rate
  • Stroke
  • High blood pressure

Cannabis can cause:

  • Increased heart rate
  • Aggrevate arrythmias
  • Lower blood pressure
  • There is some correlation with excessive cannabis use and higher risk of heart attack


Alcohol effects the part of the brain that controls breathing and can suppress the gag reflex. Both can lead to death with excessive use.

Cannabis, by itself, does not affect the lungs in a negative way. Smoke, however, can irritate the lining of the lungs and increases the risk of emphysema and breathing problems.

Cannabis does NOT affect the area of the brain that controls breathing. There are no cases of cannabis overdose leading to death. 

There are no known cases of lung cancer associated with smoking cannabis

Digestive trach (esophagus, stomach, intestines)

Alcohol can impair the function of the muscles separating the esophagus from the stomach, causing heartburn.

Alcohol-induced damage to the mucosal lining of the esophagus also increases the risk of esophageal cancer.

In the stomach, alcohol interferes with gastric acid secretion and with the activity of the muscles surrounding the stomach.

Can cause irritation of the lining of the stomach causing bleeding

Alcohol may impair the muscle movement in the small and large intestines, contributing to the diarrhea

Alcohol inhibits the absorption of nutrients in the small intestine and increases the transport of toxins across the intestinal walls

May increase appetite

Decreases nausea and vomiting (except in rare cases)

Used to treat cachexia and severe nausea and vomiting in cancer and HIV patients


Heavy drinking takes a toll on the liver, and can lead to a variety of problems and liver inflammation including:

  • Steatosis, or fatty liver
  • Alcoholic hepatitis
  • Fibrosis
  • Cirrhosis

No effect


Alcohol causes the pancreas to produce toxic substances that can eventually lead to pancreatitis, a dangerous inflammation and swelling of the blood vessels in the pancreas that prevents proper digestion.

No effect


Alcohol causes changes in the function of the kidneys and makes them less able to filter blood. Alcohol also affects the ability to regulate fluid and electrolytes in the body. When alcohol dehydrates (dries out) the body, the drying effect can affect the normal function of cells and organs, including the kidneys.

Excessive alcohol use raises blood pressure which can damage the kidneys.

No effect

Immune System

Drinking too much can weaken the immune system, making the body a much easier target for disease. Chronic drinkers are more liable to contract diseases like pneumonia and tuberculosis than people who do not drink too much. Drinking a lot on a single occasion slows your body’s ability to ward off infections – even up to 24 hours after getting drunk.

There is little research on cannabis and its effect on the immune system. However, in immunocompromised HIV patients there is no evidence of impaired immune response with cannabis use.

Cancer Risk

Clear patterns have emerged between alcohol consumption and increased risks of certain types of cancer:

  • Head and neck cancer, including oral cavity, pharynx, and larynx cancers.
  • Esophageal cancer, particularly esophageal squamous cell carcinoma. In addition, people who inherit a deficiency in an enzyme that metabolizes alcohol have been found to have substantially increased risks of esophageal squamous cell carcinoma if they consume alcohol.
  • Liver cancer.
  • Breast cancer: Studies have consistently found an increased risk of breast cancer in women with increasing alcohol intake. Women who consume about 1 drink per day have a 5 to 9 percent higher chance of developing breast cancer than women who do not drink at all.
  • Colorectal cancer

Cannabis use has been associated with a rare form of testicular cancer called nonseminoma testicular cancer.

Cannabinoids, particularly CBD, are currently being studied for their potential in fighting certain gastric and breast cancers.

It’s clear that the potential damage to the human body from even moderate alcohol consumption, when compared to cannabis, is much greater, and alcohol serves no medical benefit other than to prevent someone from going into alcohol withdrawal.

Fortunately, there is a trend to stop or greatly reduce the use of alcohol in this country right now. I remember a few years ago, I really wanted to reduce my wine consumption and I went to Total Wine to find some non-alcoholic options. The salesperson basically laughed at me and showed me the two choices they had for sale in the very back of the store near the bathrooms. I bought and tried one glass of each and ended up throwing the rest away. They were awful to say the least.

One thing I’ve learned while trying to make some healthier choices this year is that so much of what we do in life is based on habits rather than conscious thought or the ability or desire to change. For instance, for about twenty plus years now every night around five o’clock I reach for a glass of wine. I realized recently, it’s not really even about drinking the wine but more about the ritual of ending my day with something that helps me relax. It’s like having that glass of wine in my hand is a signal to my mind and body that it okay to sit down and take a breath. I really enjoy the shape of the wine glass and the look and feel of it in my hand; and the time it affords me to sit and reflect. So much so that over the years one glass has turned into two, and then sometimes into three, and unfortunately sometimes (particularly during the stress or boredom of covid) into a bottle, which then turns into me acting like an ass, having a terrible night’s sleep, and then having a raging hangover the next day. So, as I reflected on this behavior and my desire to reduce my relationship with alcohol, I realized being drunk doesn’t really appeal to me at all. But the taste of the wine and ritual of drinking it does, and that is what I needed to replace.

Fortunately, today the market is exploding with non-alcoholic options. And of course, there is always the option to infuse your favorite non-alcoholic beverage with your favorite cannabinoid of choice, for a healthier buzz. Let’s take a look.

Let me be frank. So far, I have not tasted a non-alcoholic wine that taste as good as a good bottle of real wine. But as I mentioned, it’s as much about the ritual and act of drinking as it is about the actual drink. For me, sometimes that means not drinking at all, and sometimes that might mean alternating a real glass of wine with an alternative. Both help reduce my overall alcohol intake. Keeping that in mind, here are a few options I’ve tried that fit the bill:

So far, TÖST is my favorite non-alcoholic drink of choice. It’s not non-alcoholic wine. It’s is an all-natural, dry, sparkling, alcohol-free beverage. TÖST Rose is made with white tea, ginger, and elderberry. TÖST White Sparkling tea is made with white tea, white cranberry, and ginger. Both are delicious and refreshing I might add. And the color of both is similar to the color of a sparkling wine which gives you the feeling of drinking wine. A word to the wise. These are VERY sparkling so open the bottle cautiously, or it will spray everywhere.

Thompson & Scott Noughty – Organic Sparkling Chardonnay and Sparkling Rose are two non-alcoholic wines I really like. I don’t know why but it seems to me the sparkling versions of non-alcoholic wine taste drier and less sweet than their non-sparkling counterparts, which I prefer. Again, both of these look like you’re drinking a glass of champagne.

Surely boasts being made in partnership with the finest winemakers in Sonoma, California, stating, “We make a high quality wine the traditional way, then simply remove the alcohol.” I tried the Surely sparkling and non-sparkling rose and white wine options, and I have to disagree. The non-sparkling wines were definitely much sweeter and the sparkling ones really didn’t have much taste at all. In my opinion, these are good in a pinch, but certainly wouldn’t be my first choice. If you really enjoy a fine Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, or French Rose, these are not going to come close to that level of taste.

De Soi beverages are sparkling non-alcoholic apéritifs. Based on the questionaire on the website, they recommended I try Golden Hour, so that is the only one that I’ve tried. Many of the non-alcoholic options today are meant to replace cocktails, so these appertifs are not meant to look like wine. Golden Hour is very cloudy in appearance and I found the ginger flavor to be a little overwhelming (and I really like ginger). But I mixed it with a little Pellegrino and that really helped cut down the intensity of the flavor and made it last a little longer.

Wyld CBD Sparking Water

CBD enhances relaxation which is the effect many people want from alcohol. Wyld cultivated these flavors over the years, carefully honing their recipes to create edible (now drinkable!) delights that enhance every moment with real fruit flavors and THC free hemp. Poor into a wine or high ball glass and enjoy.

  • Real fruit-infused sparkling water
  • 10 calories / 2g sugar (or less) per can
  • USA Sourced Broad Spectrum Hemp Extract
  • Enjoyed chilled for the best experience
  • CBD infused drinks in 4 different fruit flavors

These are but a mere spec of the available non-alcoholic options available on the market today. I’m partial to white wine. I think you have to figure out what your drink of choice is and explore the many options to replicate that.

What about the feeling you get from a cocktail or glass of wine? I get it. I like that feeling too in moderation. To replace that I started experimenting with cannabinoids. Of course, if you really want to check-out you could just smoke a high THC indica, go catatonic, and call it a day, but that’s not really my point with all this.

You have a couple of options and THC is certainly one of them. The cannabis product you use depends on the high you want to experience. Is it a stay at home, curl up, and watch a movie kind of night, or a I wanna go to a club and party sort of night? The first might include an indica dominat strain or a non-THC CBN/CBD option. The latter might be better replicated with a sativa.

One option is to smoke or vape a small hit of flower and then drink your non-alcoholic beverage of choice. If you smoke or vape then the high will be instantaneous rather than come on more slowly, like if you are drinking alcohol.

Another option includes eating an edible and then drink your non-alcoholic drink of choice, anticipating the relaxation as the edible kicks in. Or, you can add a few drops of a cannabinoid tincture to a non-alcoholic drink, and drink it as you would your favorite wine or spirit. Just remember most of cannabis tinctures come in a oil base and don’t mix well with water based products like drinks. So the tincture may float on top of the drink or stick to the side of your glass. You can spray the tincture directly into your mouth first and then drink your drink.

There are so many choices with cannabis, so a detailed conversation with your local budtender may be in order. If you are new to cannabis and want to try these options instead of alcohol, just remember to start low and go slow. You can always take more, but you can’t take away what has already been smoked or ingested.

Have fun experimenting and be sure to let us in on some other options you’ve tried.

These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA and are not intended to treat, cure, or diagnose any disease. This website contains general information about diet, health and nutrition. The information is not advice and is not a substitute for advice from a healthcare professional. You should always get your medical advice from a healthcare professional (HCP) knowledgeable about your individual needs. A competent healthcare professional will provide a comprehensive intake meeting where you review the conditions you want to treat and assess your prescription medications to identify potential contraindications with cannabis.


National Institute of Health National Institute of Drug Abuse. Cannabis Drug Facts.

National Institute of Health National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Understanding the Dangers of Alcohol Overdose. Does cannabis help or hurt the immune system?,and%20organs%2C%20including%20the%20kidneys.

Bode, C., & Bode, J. C. (1997). Alcohol’s role in gastrointestinal tract disorders. Alcohol health and research world21(1), 76–83.

National Institute of Health National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Alcohol’s Effects of the Body.’s,clearly%20and%20move%20with%20coordination.

Jeong, S., Jo, M.J., Yun, H.K. et al. Cannabidiol promotes apoptosis via regulation of XIAP/Smac in gastric cancer. Cell Death Dis 10, 846 (2019).

Sultan AS, Marie MA, Sheweita SA. Novel mechanism of cannabidiol-induced apoptosis in breast cancer cell lines. Breast. 2018 Oct;41:34-41.,for%20different%20breast%20cancer%20subtypes.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Underage Drinking.

Sleep Foundation. Alcohol and Sleep.


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