Booze has a lot of downsides — it’s unhealthy, fattening, expensive, and the hangovers are brutal. So perhaps it’s no surprise we’re seeing more people putting down the bottle and sparking up a blunt instead.
What makes cannabis the better alternative? Let’s take a look at some of the trends influencing the so-called “green teetotaler” movement.
Alcohol and Cannabis: A Brief History
For as long as humans have been around, we’ve enjoyed mind-altering substances. Two of the oldest and most popular are alcohol and cannabis. Alcohol is thought to date back at least 9,000 years to Ancient China. Meanwhile, cannabis can be traced all the way back to Central Asia more than 6,000 years ago.
Brought to the Americas by boozy Brits — supplemented with rum and tequila imports from Mexico and the Caribbean — today, drinking is a pervasive and deep-rooted feature of American life. When the “noble experiment” of the 1920s’ Prohibition era inevitably failed, straight-laced bureaucrats turned their attention on another target: cannabis. Classified as a Schedule I Substance, cannabis was stigmatized and criminalized for most of the 20th century. However, the last few decades have seen a shift in attitude and cultural perceptions.
“Young people today…”
It’s true: Young people are drinking less. One study found the share of college students who drink alcohol daily fell from 4.3% in 2016 to 2.2% in 2017, a drop of more than four percentage points from the 6.5% of college students who used alcohol daily in 1980.
The decline is most significant in teens, but also present among adults in their 20s and 30s. A 2018 Berenberg Research report found “respondents in their teens and early 20s were drinking over 20% less per capita than millennials — who drank less than baby boomers and Gen Xers — did at the same age.”
At the same time (and perhaps not coincidentally), Gen Z and millennials are embracing cannabis. Gen Z is twice as likely to use cannabis regularly than the national average. “They’re growing up in a world where cannabis is completely normal,” explains Anna Duckworth, co-founder of Miss Grass.
Boomers and Millennials were raised on “Reefer Madness” and the “War on Drugs.” But in the last 25 years, medicinal and recreational laws have been introduced and passed. Younger generations are used to more permissive attitudes. It’s important to note, however, that it’s not just young people who are coming around to cannabis. Parents in need of relaxation are turning to cannabis products, and elderly Americans are the fastest-growing demographic for cannabis use.
It’s somewhat unfair to compare the health data between cannabis and alcohol. Scientists have been studying the effects of alcohol for decades, while cannabis hasn’t been widely researched because of its illegal status. Nonetheless, the ill effects of excessive alcohol consumption are pretty sobering.
In the short-term, consuming too much alcohol in one sitting can lead to death. You can’t fatally overdose on cannabis. (There are zero cannabis overdose deaths on record). The long-term effects of alcohol are even more striking. Chronic alcohol use is associated with cirrhosis, gastritis, strokes, and other problems. Alcoholism is the third leading lifestyle-related cause of death in the United States, coming after tobacco and unhealthy diets and/or lack of exercise. From 2006 to 2010 (just four years), excessive alcohol use resulted in 88,000 deaths.
We know smoking can harm your lungs, but the long-term effects of smoking cannabis aren’t as well known. However, a 16-year study of more than 65,000 Americans published in the American Journal of Public Health found that healthy cannabis users were not more likely to die earlier than healthy non-users.
Effects on Behavior
Alcohol and cannabis affect our behavior in very different ways. While alcohol releases inhibitions, it can also increase negative social behaviors like aggression. According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, alcohol is a factor in 40% of all violent crimes. No such relationship exists for cannabis. In fact, a recent study looking at cannabis use and domestic violence during the first decade of marriage found cannabis users were significantly less likely to be violent towards their partners than non-users.
Comparing the cost of alcohol to the cost of cannabis is tricky because we all feel its effects differently. We all know someone who can chug six beers and feel fine, but be locked to their couch after one hit of a joint — and vice versa. Depending on your tolerance and preferences for alcohol or cannabis, you may need much more or much less to be in a happy place.
In many states, cannabis is a bargain compared to alcohol. The average cost for a gram of cannabis in Michigan is $15. That could last you a day, a week or a month, depending on how much you smoke. Meanwhile, a beer at a bar is around $6. Going out for several rounds of drinks, several nights a week, will inevitably add up — but so will consuming cannabis all day, especially if you’re a fan of premium herb. For moderate smokers, $30 a month on cannabis is a much easier bill to swallow than the equivalent cost of drinking a few nights a week.
Motivation and Moderation
Whether you’re drinking, or consuming cannabis — or indulging in any other substance for that matter — it’s important to have a clear idea of your motivation and whether your use is excessive or detrimental.
There’s certainly nothing wrong with enjoying a glass of wine after a long day. Likewise, cannabis can be a wonderful way to unplug, turn up the fun, or treat aches and pains. In terms of safety, however, cannabis has been largely demonized compared to alcohol, and may be a favorable option if you’re looking to cut back on the sauce.