Potential Health Benefits of Cannabis Drinks vs. Alcoholic Beverages

by | Jan 24, 2024 | Health and Wellness

cannabis beverages

In Massachusetts, the world’s first dispensary that exclusively sells cannabis beverages just opened in January. Theory Wellness innovated the idea of creating an experience where medical cannabis patients and recreational cannabis users could shop exclusively for beverages.

Cannabis drinks come in a variety of potencies and flavors. From flavored seltzers to energy drinks, iced coffee, brewed teas, and sodas. Another popular product subset is drink additives. You can purchase liquid drops (in tincture-like bottles) to add flavored or non-flavored THC-infused mixtures into any drink you choose. Powdered single-serve or canister dry mixes are also available.

Some experts predict that cannabis beverages will surpass sales of $3.9B per year by 2030 in the United States, increasing by almost 18% in the next six years.

Many people are looking for ways to reduce their consumption of alcoholic beverages while still enjoying a ‘social buzz.’ However, are cannabis drinks healthier than drinking alcohol? Many Americans are curious to try THC beverages and see for themselves.

You may have already seen some cannabis beverages available for sale at your favorite Massachusetts dispensary. Have you thought about trying them as an alternative medical cannabis intake method? Let’s talk about THC-infused beverages and health considerations.

drinking cannabis beverages

No Level of Alcohol Consumption is Safe

For the last two decades, more research has been conducted on alcoholic beverages and their impact on human health. Getting drunk is not the only risk of consuming alcohol. Despite guidelines stating that Americans should limit alcoholic beverages weekly, there is more evidence today that no amount of alcohol is actually safe.

In 2023, The National Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention recommended no more than one (1) drink per day and a maximum of seven (7) drinks per week for women. For men, the guideline was (2) drinks per day and no more than (14) per week.

Back in 2018, however, researchers began sounding the alarm about the potential health risks of using alcohol on a regular basis. The study was published in a global medical journal called The Lancet, and it issued a clear warning based on the study and review of health data from other countries. The most shocking data reported that nearly three (3) million annual deaths globally were attributed to alcohol abuse.

“The health risks associated with alcohol are massive,” said Dr. Emmanuela Gakidou of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington and the senior author of the study. “Our findings are consistent with other recent research, which found clear and convincing correlations between drinking and premature death, cancer, and cardiovascular problems. Zero alcohol consumption minimizes the overall risk of health loss.”

On January 4, 2023, The World Health Organization (WHO)weighed in on the topic with a similar statement.

“Alcohol is a toxic, psychoactive, and dependence-producing substance and has been classified as a Group 1 carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer decades ago – this is the highest risk group, which also includes asbestos, radiation, and tobacco. Alcohol causes at least seven types of cancer, including the most common cancer types, such as bowel cancer and female breast cancer. Ethanol (alcohol) causes cancer through biological mechanisms as the compound breaks down in the body, which means that any beverage containing alcohol, regardless of its price and quality, poses a risk of developing cancer.”

These reports change the narrative from “how much alcohol is safe to drink” to understanding that any amount of alcohol is doing damage to your body. It’s little wonder that cannabis-infused beverages are becoming so popular and why many consider them to be a healthier choice.

Health Risks Associated With Alcoholic Beverages

Americans are slowly starting to understand that alcohol consumption can pose a variety of health risks. Not just overconsumption but at levels of social drinking, where you may be consuming 4-6 drinks per week. Science has shown us that any amount of alcohol use can be detrimental to health.

Some of the most common health problems associated with alcohol abuse and use include:

  • Liver problems.
  • Cardiovascular issues.
  • Pancreatitis.
  • Cancer risks.
  • Addiction potential (alcoholism).
  • Impaired cognitive functioning.
  • Increased risk of dementia.
  • Fetal alcohol syndrome (FASD).

In December 2022, a Gallop Poll revealed present and historical data about American alcohol consumption. In 1958, 55% of Americans stated that they drank on a regular basis. By the 1970s, the same poll revealed over 70% considered themselves to be frequent drinkers.

The number of Americans who identify as consuming alcohol on a weekly basis has averaged 63% over the past four decades. Income factors heavily into alcohol abuse and use. For example, from 2021-2022, 80% of American adults living in households earning over $100,000 per year or more were drinking weekly, compared to 49% of adults in households with a gross income of under $40,000 per year.

Only 51% of Americans who have not attended college indicate they drink regularly, but 76% of graduates and 75% of postgraduates consume alcohol on a regular basis.

cannabis infused beverages THC drinks

Where Are Cannabis Drinks Legal to Buy?

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not approve cannabinoids in drinks, whether cannabis or cannabidiol (CBD). Cannabis remains a Schedule I substance and illegal per Federal law. But in 2023, the FDA stated that it was going to start cracking down on foods, beverages, and “supplements” that contained CBD.

When it comes to cannabis, however, states that have legalized medical use or adult use (recreational cannabis) are permitting the products to be sold. However, not every state has legalized the sale of cannabis beverages.

In 2023, the following states permitted the sale and purchase of cannabis and CBD drinks:

  • Arkansas (medical use only).
  • Arizona
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Maine
  • Massachusetts
  • Michigan
  • Missouri (medical use only).
  • Nevada
  • New Mexico
  • Ohio (medical use only).
  • Oklahoma (medical use only).
  • Oregon
  • Washington

Cannabis beverages are available in less than half of the states that have legalized medical cannabis or recreational use. That indicates that some lawmakers may be concerned about health risks associated with THC-infused beverages, while the growing social opinion is that marijuana beverages may be a healthier alternative to alcohol.

How Does a Cannabis Beverage Make You Feel?

On a trip to Colorado in 2023, I had the opportunity to try a couple of cannabis-infused beverages. I was not sure what to expect, as I had never purchased one before, and I will admit that I was a little nervous.

I opted to purchase cannabis-infused beverages that were on the lower end of potency, as was recommended by some people I met at a marketing conference. The journalist in me wanted to know firsthand what the experience was like.

After consuming one per evening, I have to admit that I enjoyed the cannabis-infused beverages more than alcoholic beverages. As a person with Type 2 Diabetes, drinking alcohol isn’t high on my list of priorities because I understand the detrimental effects that alcohol can have on kidney health. Not to mention, some beverages have a staggering amount of sugar in them.

Neither beverage had a disabling level of impairment. On the contrary, after one of the cannabis-infused drinks, I felt good. It felt relaxing to me, with a slight buzz that felt like the equivalent of two glasses of wine. That evening, I noticed that my symptoms of peripheral neuropathy were dialed down. It’s not completely gone, but greatly improved.

As with all cannabis products, it comes down to two things: potency and tolerance levels. Following the advice of some locals I had met, I found that the low-THC-infused beverages were good for my needs.

Unlike consuming alcoholic beverages, however, I had no ‘hangover’ effect the next morning. Sometimes, I experience travel insomnia, and the beverages helped me get solid sleep both evenings, and I woke up feeling rested and refreshed. If given the option between alcoholic beverages and a cannabis drink, I would choose THC-infused beverages every time.

Potential Benefits of Cannabis Drinks

You may be wondering why cannabis drinks are becoming more popular when there is no shortage of other types of products and intake methods for patients. However, there are many potential benefits for patients who want to explore cannabis beverages as a new consumption method.

Can Help Patients Excluded from Other Intake Methods

Cannabis-infused beverages are a new product class that gives patients an alternative to other consumption methods. For example, some patients who have respiratory problems may not be able to consume vaporized or smokable cannabis.

Individuals who have digestive issues or people receiving compassionate care for a terminal illness may not be able to consume solid edibles. Using edibles is preferred among patients because this intake method is simple; no special devices are required, or additional effort. They can simply consume a cannabis confection (gummies or lozenges) independently as required.

However, some people may find solid edibles difficult to chew, swallow, or digest. Cannabis drinks may be the easiest of all consumption methods for some patients.

Accurate Dosage

The goal for medical cannabis patients is to not only address symptoms but to make dosing accurate and convenient to take as needed. Cannabis drinks are easy to use because the dose is defined on the packaging per serving. You know the maximum potency of cannabinoids you are consuming with cannabis drinks.

Powdered drink mixes and beverage enhancers (drops) are also easy to measure accurately. That gives patients the flexibility of adding a flavored or non-flavored dose of cannabis to other types of beverages they make at home, including hot chocolate, smoothies, juice, or coffee.

Fast Symptom Relief

Like other cannabis products, THC-infused beverages can provide temporary relief of symptoms such as pain and anxiety. The most rapid absorption of THC is through inhalation with smokable or vaped cannabis. Consuming a liquid (rather than solid edible) can result in more rapid absorption without using a smokable product.

cannabis infused beverages THC

Cannabis Beverages May Be a Safer Alternative

Alcohol use disorder is a growing problem. It is known that alcohol is a highly addictive substance. According to the 2022 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), almost 30 million Americans aged twelve and older were diagnosed with alcohol use disorder (AUD) that year.

Males have a slightly higher statistical chance of developing an alcohol use disorder, representing 17.4 million cases annually in the United States. Because of the prevalence of alcohol use, cannabis-infused drinks could be a safer alternative, with less potential for addiction, compared to alcoholic beverages.

Excessive alcohol consumption is also linked to cognitive impairment and developmental issues in young adults. Moderate use of cannabis has, thus far, been shown to have fewer detrimental health effects compared to alcohol use. Beyond medicinal use, cannabis beverages may be safer for regular use and social enjoyment.

Harmful Effects of Binge Drinking Alcohol or Cannabis

While there is not much data on whether cannabis-infused beverages can reduce the potential to binge drink, people who regularly use cannabis may agree that consuming too much cannabis can be very uncomfortable.

For example, if you drink alcohol excessively, you can face the risk of alcohol poisoning. By contrast, drinking too much cannabis will not cause the same life-threatening effect. It is possible to consume too much cannabis or get “too high,” but the result is generally fatigue and nausea, which dissipates after a few hours.

In rare cases where someone has consumed excessive amounts of cannabis (by any intake method), there is the risk of developing a condition called Cannabinoid Hyperemesis Syndrome (CHS). Large quantities of high-potency cannabis can cause this condition, which is similar to your body developing an allergy to cannabinoids.

Symptoms of CHS include nausea and persistent vomiting that can last for hours or days. Continued use of cannabis after developing cannabinoid hyperemesis will result in recurrent symptoms that can become more severe over time.

While there are no known fatalities involving cannabis (as the single substance used), consuming too much cannabis can cause the condition. Once your body has become intolerant to cannabis, it becomes uncomfortable to consume it or even be around cannabis vapor or smoke.

Suggestions that people who have an alcohol use disorder can switch to cannabis are not without health risks if the quantity of beverages consumed remains the same. Moderating use and choosing the lowest effective potency of cannabis are two ways to reduce your risk of developing CHS.

Hemp Shots THC

Mental Health Considerations

Cannabis drinks can be a healthier alternative compared to alcohol, but it is important to understand that cannabis can also exacerbate certain mental health conditions. The use of alcohol is a known contributor to mental health risks, particularly for minors and young adults.

Both alcohol and cannabis have the potential to cause cognitive impairment when used excessively. While alcohol is considered a depressant, cannabis can be a stimulant and a depressant. Depending on the strain attributes, quantity, and THC potency, cannabis drinks may contribute to worsening symptoms for individuals with bipolar disorder or schizophrenia.

Alcohol-Free Wines vs. Cannabis Beverages

Cannabis drinks are not the only alternative. Another option for people who want to enjoy the flavor of wine without the risk of alcohol consumption is alcohol-free beverages and wines. They taste very good and are identical in appearance. In a social setting, it would be hard to tell the difference between standard and alcohol-free wine.

For people who want to avoid alcohol for health reasons, non-alcoholic wines or other beverages are a great choice. The only caveat is that there are no physical effects, such as feelings of relaxation or relief from anxiety, with a beverage that has no psychoactive properties.

Considerations for Responsible Consumption

Both alcohol and cannabis drinks can be enjoyed responsibly and in moderation. Cannabis can also be used to help with symptom management. However, it is important to understand your own personal tolerance and be mindful of limiting consumption of not only alcohol but cannabis as well.

An individual who regularly uses medical cannabis may have a higher tolerance to cannabis than alcohol. This can, in some cases, result in escalating the potency of cannabis products you use in an attempt to get the same beneficial effects. Moderation is key to protecting your wellness and reducing health risks.

You may expect the level of impairment from cannabis beverages to be lower compared to alcoholic drinks. However, the potential to become intoxicated is equal. No matter what you drink, remember to drink responsibly.

Are Cannabis Infused Beverages Worth Trying?

My personal experience was a positive one, and I think that cannabis drinks will grow in popularity and perhaps eclipse alcoholic beverages in the near future. The projections for the growth of cannabis beverage sales in the United States support that opinion.

The intention to drink responsibly applies to any product that can cause psychoactive effects. While cannabis is not considered to be as addictive as other controlled substances, individuals can build a tolerance to cannabis over time, necessitating higher potency products to achieve the same effects.

Ask a Practitioner for Advice About Cannabis Drinks

Talk to your Massachusetts cannabis healthcare provider about using cannabis drinks instead of consuming alcoholic beverages. Remember, cannabis can also conflict with some prescription medications (just like alcohol can). If you decide to try substituting alcoholic drinks for cannabis-infused beverages, start with a lower-potency product.

As cannabis and alcohol can be depressants, healthcare providers strongly suggest that patients do not mix both substances. Drinking cannabis and alcoholic drinks together could cause excessive impairment and a higher risk of injury or other adverse effects.

 

Images:

Energy Drink with CBD” by lindsay-fox is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Cannabis THC Drink” by elsaolofsson is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

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