Except for a brief period in the United States between 1920 and 1933, alcohol has held free rein over the populace as a liquid substance known to change moods and attitudes of its human consumers. It may have not been a coincidence that, five years into the Great Depression, prohibition was finally declared illegal and alcohol once again brought millions of people laughter, adventure, and pounding headaches the morning after. It’s now been a century since alcohol was temporarily made illegal, and thousands of studies have been performed to determine the effect alcohol has on the human body, both good and bad.
Let’s ignore for the moment the widespread negative effects alcohol has on society and individuals. Perhaps there are health benefits to drinking of which we should be aware; the best way to find it is to examine various claimed health benefits of alcohol. And while we’re at it, let’s do a side-by-side comparison of marijuana and alcohol, or bud versus booze to use a catchier phrase.
A Bit About Booze
Alcohol has been legal in America since its founding (excepting for the brief 13-year Prohibition), and has been consumed throughout the world for at least 9,000 years (recent chemical analysis revealed the Chinese were making a type of wine beverage using rice, honey, and fruits) in various forms, most especially beer and wine. Alcohol is produced through fermentation, normally combining some natural sugar source with a catalyst (yeast is the most popular stimulant); in other words, it is a controlled spoilage. Rotting is any type of bacteria breaking down foods, while fermentation is a specialized type of rot which transforms foods into alcohol.
Not what we would consider auspicious beginnings for medical treatments, but let’s forge ahead and see what we can discover about this “rot juice” (to use a more honest term for booze) that can improve our well-being. Before we proceed, though, we need to break down alcohol into its five categories, with a quick explanation of each:
- Ethanol – also called ethyl alcohol, it’s the stuff we drink to alter our consciousness and behavior
- Methanol – called wood alcohol (it was originally made from wood chips), it can make high-octane automotive fuel and is extremely toxic
- Isopropyl Alcohol – the classic rubbing alcohol, it’s a common industrial solvent and used to clean skin through swabbing
- Ethylene Glycol – is glycol made from ethylene, and is found in antifreeze, paint solvents, printing inks, and hydraulic fluids
- Glycerol – originated as a by-product of soap production, it’s used in foods, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, and explosives
Wow, that’s quite a family of which booze is a member: antifreeze, solvents, automotive fuel, and explosives. That’s more than mud in your eye!
The Health Benefits of Alcohol
So what on earth can alcohol do to benefit the human body? So far, it sounds like it can corrode and explode things more readily than cure them, but let’s see what the experts have come up with so far.
Moderate Drinking May…
If you search for potential health benefits derived from alcohol consumption, you will find the phrase “moderate drinking may…” preceded nearly every reported positive result you uncover. Given this important caveat (more on that later), this moderate drinking list is neither long nor impressive in the quality of its health benefits (according to Harvard’s Public School of Health):
- Cardiovascular Diseases – this is the most often quoted benefit, helping healthy people to keep their hearts healthy while also supporting those individuals at high risk of heart attacks, strokes, or other cardiovascular disease
- Type 2 Diabetes – one impressively large and long study (369,862 participants over a 12-year average) showed a 30% reduction of risk of this disease
- Gallstones – several studies showed some relief in gallstone suffering but seems to be included more to have at least 3 ailments for which alcohol may deliver health benefits; certainly most dedicated drinkers would attest to the absence of gallstones in their own system as solid proof
What is still under debate is what amount of alcohol qualifies as moderate drinking. One study may consider one drink to be moderate drinking while another study can decide 3 or 4 daily drinks is a moderate amount. There is no universal definition of moderate drinking, so studies are not always easy to compare side-by-side. (In America, there is general agreement that one drink is equal to 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1 1/2 ounces of hard liquor – all about 12 to 14 grams of alcohol.)
Other studies differentiate between moderate daily drinking and binging for one or two nights, even when consuming the same amount in either situation. It is generally agreed that these few beneficial effects can easily be offset by surpassing the moderate drinking barrier and falling into the heavy drinking arena.
Heavy Drinking Will…
Pun intended, the line between moderate and heavy drinking is easily blurred, particularly when you reach the vague shadowy edge of the moderate line tipping over to the heavy side. Thousands of studies have proven, time and again, that heavy drinking is clearly bad for your health, causing the following diseases and illnesses:
- Liver Diseases – both inflammation of the liver and cirrhosis are common diseases among heavy drinkers
- Heart Diseases – increase blood pressure and damaged heart muscles (cardiomyopathy) regularly occurs
- Cancers – excessive alcohol use has been linked to cancers of the breast, colon, esophagus, larynx, liver, mouth, pharynx, and rectum
Beyond personal health issues, one must also include the following social diseases and incidents caused by alcohol:
- Violent Crime – a third of all violent crime involves excessive alcohol use
- Auto Deaths – according to the NHTSA, in 2018 over 10,500 people died in alcohol-impaired driving accidents
- Binge and Heavy Users – in 2014, it was estimated that 61 million American were binge drinkers (5 or more drinks on one occasion at least once a month) and 16 million were heavy drinkers (5 or more drinks on one occasion at least five days a month)
- Financial Costs – a 2016 report estimated the cost of alcohol abuse at $249 billion per year
Okay… whereas moderate drinking, as vaguely defined, has some potential good benefits, it sure looks like a heavy-handed approach to drinking can more than wipe out the measly few health gains it dangles to its drinking public. And with 77 million Americans choosing the binge or heavy drinking route, it’s not surprising that no beer or wine company are promoting their alcoholic beverages as get-healthy products but instead as a feel-good activity. And once again, the feel-good responsibility is in your hands; some people never learn that 4 drinks are not twice as good as two drinks and eight drinks can definitely be sixteen times worse than four drinks.
The Health Benefits of Marijuana
As explained in a previous article (“Marijuana vs. Hemp: What’s the Difference?“), both marijuana and hemp come from the same plant, cannabis sativa. The difference between the two named plants from the same species is THC production: hemp produces little or no THC while marijuana can produce a lot of this molecule capable of generating a psychotropic experience, most often quite pleasant. Both plants also produce CBD which has recently grown in popularity, use, and demand, thanks to its medicinal properties (many of which are still being uncovered).
But even before scientists began studying this miracle plant in greater earnest (most delays caused by a particularly paranoid US federal government, as explained in more detail in the article “From Ancient to Modern Medicine: A 14,000 Year History of Cannabis“), for thousands of years humans innately understood and benefited from the health benefits of both THC and CBD. And as previously highlighted in “Marijuana vs. Hemp: What’s the Difference?” both plants are reliably helping patients suffering from the following conditions:
- Chronic Pain – better than opiates, non-addictive, and able to replace NSAIDS (like Advil or Aleve) to avoid kidney or ulcer issues
- Glaucoma – as early as 1970 studies were finding that THC and CBD helped with glaucoma conditions
- Muscle Relaxant – those dealing with Parkinson’s disease have found unexpected and highly welcome relief
- Nausea – offsets nauseous symptoms which cancer patients experience from chemotherapy treatments
- PTSD – some soldiers and individuals find that THC and CBD give them the best results in managing their PTSD symptoms
- Weight Loss – regular THC users generally do not develop metabolic syndrome, making weight loss harder
What about excessive use? What happens then?
Sleep, generally. A good long healthy sleep, usually awakening quite refreshed and prepared for a new day.
Seriously, to date there have been no studies raising alarms about the deleterious effects of consuming a natural plant which grew from the ground and did not need to go through a rotting process to deliver amazing health benefits to the human population. Most users report that using too much makes them sleepy, and many do so specifically to sleep well.
When measuring bud versus booze in the big debate, there really isn’t that much to measure, is there? In only a few decades, tons of research has pointed to the positive benefits which THC and CBD can bring to the table, while thousands of other studies continue to warn against excessive alcohol use (or do their best to construct a health argument for modest alcohol consumption).
With the facts now in, we leave you to answer the final question for yourself: could a freshly grown herb possibly be better than a fermented food product?