The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines binge drinking as partaking of alcohol so that someone’s blood-alcohol level is 0.08 percent or more. The National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism spelt out that this takes place when, in the space of around two hours, men consume five or more drinks or wimmen consume four or more. A CDC study that appeared in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine days before St Patrick’s Day in 2018 reported that one in six – that’s 37 million – US adults binge drank at least once a week. This was an all-time-high.

There was less binge drinking in US states where cannabis is legal. Photo: Smabs Sputzer (1956-2017)

There was less binge drinking in US states where cannabis is legal. Photo: Smabs Sputzer (1956-2017)

You get less binge drinking if cannabis is legal

A study published by the investment bank Cowen & Co in September 2020 found that there’s less binge drinking in US states where cannabis is legal. Specifically, in 2016, there was 9 percent less than the national average and 11 percent less than in states where the drug isn’t legal. The same finding was made by a study by Oregon State University that looked at almost 900,000 students between 2008 and 2018. This covered 135 universities in seven states where cannabis is legal and 454 in states where it’s prohibited. The information supplied, gathered as part of the National College Health Assessment, was anonymous, encouraging honesty.

OK, it doesn’t happen if the state has just legalised cannabis, but …

States that had recently legalised recreational cannabis use actually went the other way, with binge drinking rising in California and Nevada. The authors of the report believe that the rate of binge drinking in these will eventually drop as it has elsewhere. So the longer cannabis has been legal in a state, the more significant is the reduction in binge drinking. As evidence, binge drinking fell most in Washington and Colorado. These were the first two states to legalise cannabis for recreational purposes.

Cannabis replaces alcohol

The team from Cowen & Co highlighted that cannabis and alcohol are substitute rather than complementary products, and low-end beers are more at risk from cannabis legalisation. Paul Armentano, the deputy director of NORML (the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws), stressed that the studies refuted the accusation that cannabis was a “gateway drug”. One more advantage of cannabis over binge drinking of alcohol is that the latter brings with it problems of drunk driving, sexual assault and violence.

A study conducted in 2015 uncovered the fact that binge-drinking adults cause over half of the 88,000 deaths from excessive drinking that occur in the United States each year. Meanwhile, there have been zero documented deaths from cannabis use.

Cannabis also lessens the urge to drink. If that doesn’t work, the anti-inflammatory effects of cannabis reduce the toxicity of alcohol. Yet another advantage of cannabis over alcohol is that, per a study by the University of Colorado-Boulder in 2018, alcohol reduces the levels of white and grey matter in the brain, but cannabis doesn’t.

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