Why you should care
Thanks to legalization and a distaste for hangovers, more Americans are choosing cannabis over alcohol and pain pills.
Every night before she goes to bed, Holly Byerly takes three to four drops of a tincture that’s half CBD and half THC. “I mostly use it for migraines, which I was getting up to 15 times a month,” explains Byerly, who works at a medical spa in the Bay Area. Since starting her nightly cannabis routine, she estimates she gets an average of two migraines monthly.
As states and countries across the world continue to fully legalize marijuana, a growing number of people are following Holly’s lead. Fears in the alcohol industry that legalization of medical and recreational cannabis might dampen sales have been at least somewhat realized: A 10-year study from an international team of researchers found that alcohol sales in areas of the U.S. with legal medical cannabis saw a 15 percent decrease compared to areas without such laws. But it’s not just booze that’s getting replaced. According to a 2018 survey of 4,000 California-based marijuana users by cannabis delivery company Eaze …
70 percent reduced or stopped using over-the-counter pain pills, and 60 percent cut back or halted their alcohol consumption.
And it’s not just California. A study of more than 2,000 Canadian medical marijuana users published in Harm Reduction Journal in January found that 69 percent said they were using it as a replacement for prescription drugs, while 44.5 percent said it substituted alcohol. About a third of the prescription drugs for which cannabis was used as a substitute were opioids, and 59 percent of those surveyed said they completely stopped using opioids in favor of pot. A 2014 report found that states in the U.S. with legal medical cannabis had a 24.8 percent lower annual mortality rate from opioid overdoses.
Much of the research showing a decline in alcohol use in favor of pot has focused on millennials and Gen Z, but Eaze’s report found that this trend was consistent across all age groups. The 2018 legalization of recreational cannabis in California saw first-time marijuana buyers spike 140 percent from the previous year. “There’s a trend toward products that take the edge off after work,” says Peter Gigante, head of policy research at Eaze. “Normally, that’s what people look for in alcohol consumption, but there’s an opportunity here to get that relaxation without the effects of a hangover.”
Prior research shows that younger generations might favor cannabis over booze because they’re more health conscious. But many also choose to avoid alcohol because of the lasting nature of social media. Gen Zers understand the risk they take by getting too drunk, a report from Mintel found. Embarrassing moments become permanent — something you have to confront the next morning and beyond. Less so with getting high.
But thanks to legalization, the wide range of available marijuana products also provides consumers with more choice when it comes to healing both mental and physical ailments. There was huge growth in CBD (cannabidiol) products in 2018, with baby boomers being the most likely to consume it, and many of those products claim to help with sore muscles or sleep, issues that are often treated with over-the-counter medications.
Ryan Geis is a machine operator from Antioch, California, who suffers from arthritis and back and shoulder pain. “Every time I went to the doctor, I was given ibuprofen or muscle relaxers,” he says. “But I don’t want to take these pills all the time.” When marijuana became medically legal, Ryan started vaping cannabis and found some relief. “It doesn’t cure your pain; it just turns the volume down,” he says.
Weed also tends to be cheaper than booze. One-eighth of an ounce from Eaze is anywhere between $15 to $39, but (depending on how frequently you smoke) it’s likely to last longer than a bottle of wine in that same price range. The company’s edibles, which include drink mixes, chocolates and gummies with THC and CBD, range from $6 to $22. Again, depending on frequency, these could last you several days or even weeks.
With dispensaries popping up all over the country, it’s easy to forget that marijuana is still illegal at the federal level and classified as a Schedule I drug, meaning it’s perceived to have no medical value. One reason for that is because there have been no large clinical studies on cannabis. Clinical research is supposed to prove that a drug does, in fact, have medical value, but it’s exceedingly difficult to conduct a study on a Schedule I substance. It’s a cannabis Catch-22.
But as more U.S. states move to fully legalize cannabis, don’t be surprised if you start to see vape pens on the liquor shelf and weed tinctures in the medicine cabinets of more American households.