Replacing Alcohol With Marijuana May Prevent Dementia

Photo Credit: Getty Images

While alcohol is one of America’s favorite inebriating substances, it also puts users at a greater risk for dementia, according to a new study from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. In the report, researchers said that alcohol was one of the most preventable risk factors in the development of nearly every type of dementia, including early onset. The consensus is that tens of thousands of people every year could be saved from this deadly disease if they could just find a way to curb their booze consumption.

“The findings indicate that heavy drinking and alcohol use disorders are the most important risk factors for dementia, and especially important for those types of dementia which start before age 65, and which lead to premature deaths,” said study co-author Jürgen Rehm. “Alcohol-induced brain damage and dementia are preventable, and known-effective preventive and policy measures can make a dent in premature dementia deaths.”

Interestingly, some studies have shown that marijuana is effective in curbing binge drinking behavior and even alcoholism. There is also data out there that suggests the herb may actually serve as a treatment for dementia patients. Considering that marijuana is now legal in a number of states for medicinal and recreational purposes, it is conceivable that more folks could be protecting themselves from this condition by simply replacing the bulk of their boozy indiscretions with a little cannabis.

Although dementia is often thought to be a specific neurological condition, it is actually a broad term for a variety of symptoms associated with brain disorders. Patients suffering from this progressive (and fatal) brain deterioration are often diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s, Huntington’s disease and a list of others. There are 10 million new cases of dementia worldwide every year, according to the World Health Organization. The most common form is Alzheimer’s disease.

A recent study found that most Americans are under no illusion that alcohol is the safest choice at the party. Still, the booze industry continues to rake in right around $223 billion every year. But ever since marijuana was introduced to the world of legitimate commerce in some states, more consumers have been making the switch from suds to buds.

An analysis from Wall Street investment firm Cowen & Company, which was published at the beginning of April, shows that binge drinking rates are down in states with legal marijuana laws on the books. The firm said, “In legal adult use cannabis states, the number of binge drinking sessions per month (for states legal through 2016) was -9% below the national average.”

It’s hard to argue with the numbers. By all accounts, the country could experience a drastic decline in dementia rates if the federal government legalized marijuana nationwide.

There is also evidence that marijuana can help those people lost to the grips of alcohol dependence. A study published in a 2009 edition of the Harm Reduction Journal found that medical marijuana patients are using weed as an alternative to booze, prescription medications and illegal drugs. In later studies, “we found similar rates in substitution,” said lead research Dr. Amanda Reiman at the University of California in Berkley.

Not only does it seem that marijuana is the leading contender for replacing the ill-effects of long term alcohol use, it might also have the power to help those already distressed by dementia.

Last year, a review published in the Current Neurological Neuroscience Reports found that cannabis could be beneficial for patients suffering from dementia. The authors concluded that marijuana should be more closely examined as a potential treatment because it has fewer dangerous side effects than traditional medications.

A separate study published earlier this year from the University of Colorado-Boulder found that alcohol is more of a detriment to brain health than marijuana. Researchers found that booze lowers the levels of grey and white matter tissue, while marijuana does not cause any long-term structural changes in the brain. The study concluded that pot consumption has “nowhere near the negative consequences as alcohol.”

The writing is on the wall. Marijuana is safer than alcohol. And more Americans should heed the warning. Anyone who consumes between 4-5 alcoholic drinks per days, which, according to WHO, is considered chronic heavy drinking, is at an elevated risk for dementia. The findings in the latest alcohol/dementia study, which were published in the journal Lancet Public Health, suggests that alcohol use disorders can shorten ones life expectancy by around 20 years.