It’s complicated: Medical marijuana makes people drink less alcohol, but recreational use causes the opposite
03/16/2020 // Lance D Johanson // Views

New research shows there is a difference between medical marijuana users and recreational users. That difference determines whether the substance will have an overall positive or negative impact on one's life. When marijuana is used for its medicinal properties, users are less likely to drink alcohol and be controlled by other substances. The intent of many medicinal users is to better themselves, to ease pain, and to end other addictions. When marijuana is sought for recreational purposes; however, it can form self-sabotaging behavioral patterns that causes users to drink more alcohol, indicating an underlying behavioral pattern of substance abuse.

Marijuana use can have a positive or negative impact on one’s life: intent is the deciding factor

If used as an escape from reality, marijuana can slowly lead to substance abuse, poor time management, poor emotional coping skills, and derelict priorities. Moreover, when recreational users aren't getting high, they are more prone to crack under stress. Because they are trying to avoid reality, recreational users may have a hard time adapting to stressors, leading to emotional instabilities if the substance isn’t there for their coping pleasure.

According to research from Brown University, Rhode Island, recreational marijuana users are more prone to depend on other intoxicating substances like alcohol. The same correlation is not observed for medical marijuana users. In the study, medical marijuana users drink less alcohol on marijuana-use days.

Marijuana is not physically addictive in recreational or medicinal form; however, a person’s intent and motivation for use makes all the difference in deciding whether marijuana use becomes a negative or positive influence on one’s life. In other words, marijuana usage is complicated.


“There is conflicting evidence in the literature as to whether cannabis acts as a substitute, meaning that it replaces the effects of alcohol, or complement, meaning that it enhances alcohol intoxication,” said Rachel Gunn, postdoctoral research fellow at Brown University. “In other words, there is evidence on both sides of the debate: that individuals both drink more and drink less when using cannabis on the same day.”

The researchers collected data in three intervals over a period of 540 days, examining the two group’s alcohol consumption post marijuana use. “We hoped to clarify this debate by examining daily patterns of alcohol and cannabis co-use in a sample of veterans who use cannabis for both medicinal and recreational reasons,” said Gunn. “We examined medicinal versus recreational users because they appear to have very different cannabis and alcohol use patterns. For instance, recreational users tend to drink more compared to medicinal users.”

It all comes down to whether the person is dependent on marijuana in order to cope with their life. If this is the reason for repeated marijuana use, a pattern of behavior is created that can easily be carried over to other substances such as alcohol. On the other hand, if the marijuana is being used for true medicinal purposes, it could relieve pain and curb addictions to substances such as alcohol.

The researchers stress the need for more research on how different cannabis formulations can help people break cycles of alcohol and substance abuse. They also recognize that recreational use of marijuana is a risk factor for alcohol abuse and other substance abuse problems. Recreational marijuana use can cause self-sabotaging behavioral patterns that the individual will need to address if they want to deal with the problems in their life and grow into a better version of themselves.

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