Marijuana Vs. Alcohol – The Great Debate
For many, a benefit of getting high is just that: higher perceptions and a more expanded awareness. Marijuana stimulates, alcohol depresses. Even proponents of alcohol will talk about its lowering qualities. If alcohol makes you more social, it’s because it lowers your inhibitions. If it raises your confidence, it’s a result of numbing your senses.
For socializing, it may be a matter of personal preference. Numbing your perception can be a good thing if your confidence is affected by over-estimating your faults and anxieties. If you think you’re hot stuff but you’ve really just got no chill, it can be a real problem. Some people love to be surrounded by the buzz of an intoxicated crowd. Others find cannabis helps them connect more deeply.
There isn’t even a question which is more damaging. Both cannabis and alcohol have been around practically forever. In that time, alcohol has proven itself to be dangerous and deadly. While we’re still learning more about cannabis every day, one thing we know for sure is that it won’t directly kill you. You just can’t say the same about alcohol, and that’s the whole argument right there. But, just to make it fair, here’s some more to consider.
A Brief History of Marijuana
5,000 years ago, emperor Shen Nung of China sung the praises of cannabis for the first time. The earliest use of the plant was as a medicine, with its psychoactive traits being of less interest. In India, the joys of being high were brought forward a bit. Cannabis has deep roots in Indian culture. Even the Rastafarian ‘Ganja’ likely got its name from the India/Bangladesh river Ganges.
India’s oldest literature, The Vedas, tell a story of how the first cannabis plants sprouted from a drop of heavenly nectar. It was known to bring joy, happiness and delight to mankind. These mythical origins may not serve as the most accurate history, but one thing is clear: we’ve been enjoying cannabis for at least as long as we’ve been writing stuff down. There have even been woven hemp fibers found in pottery dating back more than 8,000 years.
The nomadic Eurasian Scythians may have been responsible for introducing the west to the joys of Ganja. Greek historian Herodotus mentions hemp use in Scythian funeral rites that led them to howl in joy. Cannabis soon enjoyed a reputation around Europe as a powerful ritual plant and an effective natural medicine.
It was the Spanish who eventually brought ‘marijuana’ to the new world. In just a few hundred years, it would become a bigger cash crop than cotton. Industrially grown cannabis, called ‘hemp’, produced a strong fiber which could be used to make anything from rope to paper. By the 1920’s, still legal in America, marijuana was used widely both recreationally and as a medicine.
A Brief History of Alcohol
Instead of Cannabis, which comes from a specific plant, alcohol comes from a process common to many plants. A tiny organism called yeast breaks down starch and sugar from rotting fruits or vegetables. This is called fermentation. The waste product of the yeast is called ethanol, which is the least toxic and only ingestible form of alcohol. About 10 million years ago, the genes of our primate ancestors mutated. We started metabolizing ethanol much faster than before.
As apes (not to get into evolution here…), we may have eaten this boozy fruit for its flavor, or to help with digestion. As humans, we started cultivating plants specifically to ferment them. About 9,000 years ago the Chinese brewed the first wines from rice and fruit. Around 3,500 BC, beer was invented in Sumer. Early beer was a dietary staple, nutrient rich and hydrating. It was more sterile than water, and would keep longer than bread and grains.
Around the time of the first big brewing operations, we started domesticating bees. That meant we could ferment the honey into a sweet concoction called mead. Nutritious and delicious. Sure, it gave you a little buzz, but it was still primarily a food source. Eventually, we found a way to increase that buzz.
The yeasts themselves were the thing keeping alcohol from reaching its full intoxicating potential. It turns out that eventually their waste became too toxic for them, and that kept ethanol content down. Using an early form of chemistry, brewers found that they could concentrate the ‘spirit’ of the alcohol. These alchemists would boil off the water, and collect the ethanol evaporate. They would cool and condense this isolated alcohol into hi-octane liquors. It was now possible to get really, stupidly drunk. And because of this, we now have nifty brew your own beer kits.
The Prohibition of Alcohol
By the 1600’s, the abuse of alcohol had become a worldwide problem. The rise of industrial society contributed to this. The demand for a sober workforce gave power players a reason to peer into the personal lives of laborers. Also, concentrating wealth created an underclass who dulled their pains by drinking cheap booze.
Temperance movements began to form, fueled by moral and religious fervor. Alcohol was seen as sinful and degenerate and soon the law stepped in. From 1920 to 1933, the production, sale and transport of alcohol was made illegal in the U.S. During these years, there was a small decrease in alcohol consumption. More importantly, for 13 years there was a dramatic increase in violent crime, organized crime and corruption. Prohibition was repealed in 1933.
The Prohibition of Marijuana
Ignoring the failures and lessons of alcohol prohibition, cannabis was criminalized just 5 years later. In 1937, the U.S. government began requiring tax stamps for hemp and marijuana. This requirement effectively made production too expensive, and possession a crime. It is now known that racist politicians and crooked businessmen conspired to make cannabis illegal. Harry J. Anslinger, who built the Bureau of Narcotics, used race, violence and religion to help build a national story for justification of a Marijuana ban. Don’t believe me? Here are a few of his quotes:
“There are 100,000 total marijuana smokers in the US, and most are Negroes, Hispanics, Filipinos, and entertainers. Their Satanic music, jazz and swing result from marijuana use. This marijuana causes white women to seek sexual relations with Negroes, entertainers, and any others.”
“…the primary reason to outlaw marijuana is its effect on the degenerate races.”
“Reefer makes darkies think they’re as good as white men.”
“You smoke a joint and you’re likely to kill your brother”
…there are more but honestly, I think the disgusting statements above are proof enough…
‘Marihuana’ was a slang term to refer to cannabis, but the government codified the language in their laws. They used the word in an attempt to associate it with the Mexican immigrants they were demonizing. While there may have been a strong motive for industrial hemp competitors, there is no question racism played a role.
In 1970 President Nixon classified marijuana as ‘Schedule 1’ among the most dangerous drugs known. With this, he began an endless ‘War On Drugs’, using the law to arrest his political rivals. In 1994, John Ehrlichman, one of Nixon’s top aides put it bluntly: “We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black”…”Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”
Marijuana and Health
Because of this tragic crime against cannabis, scientists researching its effects are still catching up. Every day we learn more about the curative powers of this plant, but clinical studies are still few. Recently the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine published a comprehensive report on the current state of cannabis research. More than anything, this report shows how little we know about the benefits or risks or cannabis.
There is strong evidence that cannabis provides relief to those with chronic pain. It relieves the spasticity of multiple sclerosis and the nausea from chemotherapy. The NAMSE researchers themselves call out the absurdity of cannabis’ Schedule 1 inclusion. They say it’s not only inaccurate, but an impediment to further research. Cannabis is not the dangerous narcotic it’s been labeled for the past 60 years.
Alcohol and Health
There is an intimidating amount of research on how alcohol affects your body. There’s a meme that pops up frequently that a glass of wine a day will help you live longer. There’s also a meme floating around that having one alcoholic drink tends to lead to another… and another.
It’s true that most of the damage caused by alcohol comes from taking too much of it. It’s also true that poisons work the same way. Over time, alcohol abuse takes its toll on your liver, your heart, your pancreas–everything. Alcohol can weaken your bones, your muscles and your immune system.
I’m not going to tell you that you can’t get a hangover from cannabis. Everyone I know has gotten a little too high, or woken up feeling groggy after a night of too much fun. I will tell you it’s not the same. Not even close. You already know this if you’ve ever had too much to drink. Hangovers from alcohol are a special kind of hell. Flashback to memories of hugging the toilet with vomit in your hair, headaches that no medicine will stop. Though I will say that Dihydromyricetin has helped ease several of my hangovers. Keyword is “ease” though, I’ve found nothing but time or sobriety can eliminate a booze hangover.
I’m never more full of regret than I am the morning after I have had just one drink too many. It’s not ambiguous at all. It’s not a “I wonder if I ate a bad burrito last night” kind of sickness. When you’re hungover, you know exactly why. You’ll suffer for hours, maybe days, and you’ll be swearing the whole time “I’ll never drink alcohol again”. Until the next time someone says “have just one drink”.
How does alcohol get you drunk?
The ethanol in alcohol blocks your GABA receptors, which results in a lowering of your inhibitions. You get fewer messages from your environment, so you feel more relaxed and loose. It also binds to your NMDA receptors, interfering with your memory and cognitive functions. When you blackout, or just can’t quite recall what you regret, this is why.
At the same time it’s putting you in a low-grade coma, alcohol causes your brain to release stress hormones. Ethanol stimulates norepinephrine and cortisol production to make you briefly feel like you can dance all night. Your airways take in more oxygen, your heart beats faster, and dopamine floods your brain. Now you’re having fun.
Your whole brain is wired to party right now, so everything else gets put on hold. You need fine motor control? Not tonight you don’t. Want to regulate your fluid intake? Maybe tomorrow, pal. You’ll have trouble with your body temperature, and maybe not even the sense to come in from the cold.
Conventional wisdom says the effects of a hangover are primarily from dehydration and sugar crash. That is, unless you’re suffering from mild alcohol poisoning, and vomiting suggests that you are. It’s also just the result of your body coming back online after alcohol has hijacked it…and to think, you always just blamed it on these little guys.
Around The World
Despite differing levels of prohibitions around the world, you’ll find them everywhere. The highest rates of alcohol use are concentrated in eastern and central Europe. The U.S, and Nigeria top the list of most cannabis use.
Interestingly, there’s no overlap in the top 10 alcohol using countries and the top 10 cannabis using countries. Only one alcohol consuming nation in the top 10 makes it into the top 30 of cannabis consumers. That country is the Czech Republic, and if you’ve ever been to Prague, you can tell. The Czech Republic is one of a few places where you’ll find that beer is cheaper than water, also including Mexico, Australia and Germany.
Celebrate Good Times
Speaking of Germany, you may have heard of the world’s largest beer festival, Oktoberfest. 6 million people gather under tents to sit elbow to elbow at a long table to drink beer like it’s going out of style. This celebration lasts for more than 20 days and drains 7 million liters of alcohol.
The annual Cannabis Cup can’t really compete with those numbers. But there is one celebration in the world’s second most populous country that comes close. The Hindu culture of India is one of the oldest on the planet. In their Vedic scriptures are some of the first mentions of Cannabis. It’s said that the god Shiva loves marijuana.
There are festivals to Shiva once a month in India, called Shivaratri. The largest, or the Great Night of Shiva, Maha Shivaratri, is celebrated just before spring. Marijuana has been illegal in India since the mid 80’s, thanks largely to the U.S.’s drug policy. During Maha Shivaratri, the government looks the other way.
As long as it is used to observe rituals honoring the god Shiva, cannabis use is allowed. For many who celebrate Shivaratri, ingesting cannabis is a way to connect with the spirit of Shiva. Participants will smoke from conical pipes called Chillums and eat or drink an ancient cannabis mixture called Bhang.
So Who Wins?
People have been using both cannabis and alcohol forever, and neither are likely to go away.
It’s clear that prohibition isn’t the answer, and there really isn’t a need to pick a side. Still, the hypocrisy on display from governments who make a clearly more toxic drug the only legal option is striking.
The deaths from alcohol abuse number in the millions each year. Deaths from cannabis? I guess we’re still waiting for someone to build a bong tall enough to fall off of.
Happy Toking, Loves!
Ready to spark up a joint but not sure how? Check out my piece on Rolling the perfect joint.
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I am not a doctor and this is not to be taken, interpreted or construed as medical advice. Please talk with a licensed medical professional about this or any conditions you have or may believe you have. The information in this article is provided as an information resource only. These are just my own personal opinions and not a prescription or a diagnosis or any form of health care whatsoever.
Last update on 2019-04-19 / I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for me to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.” / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API