Cannabis and alcohol are sometimes considered almost mutually exclusive—you’re either a “cannabis person” or an “alcohol person.” While this idea might be a little superficial and overly simplistic, many people who want to cut back on alcohol—a very common life goal, considering how prevalent alcohol consumption is—do see cannabis as a viable and seamless way to do so.
To explore how effective this strategy really is, a team of researchers from Canada conducted a large cross-sectional survey (392 questions) of medical cannabis patients and their drinking habits following cannabis initiation. 
The survey spanned 2,102 people from the Canadian medical cannabis program. Forty-four percent (973) of respondents “reported using alcohol on at least 10 occasions over a 12-month period prior to initiating medical cannabis.” This group was therefore included for participation.
After starting medical cannabis, 44% (419) of these 973 people reported consuming alcohol less frequently, 34% (323) consumed fewer “standard drinks” per week, and 8% (76) didn’t consume any alcohol at all in the 30-day period before the survey.
The most noteworthy correlations between medical cannabis and decrease in alcohol consumption were age, attitude, and the usual rate of alcohol consumption itself.
The participants who were under 55 and those who reported higher rates of alcohol consumption had better chances of cutting back.
Those who specifically planned on using medical cannabis to decrease their alcohol consumption had significantly higher chances not only of doing so, but also of quitting altogether.
Pain, insomnia, and mental health problems were the main qualifying conditions among patients; those with mental health problems were more likely than the other groups to reduce alcohol consumption. Patients who preferred products with high tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) used less alcohol versus patients who preferred high cannabidiol (CBD) products.
For some people, “alcohol or cannabis” doesn’t exactly make for a plausible dilemma, because they aren’t mutually exclusive—on the contrary, they may complete and fuel each other.
Nevertheless, the findings are indeed promising and do provide a reason to believe that cannabis can be a viable alternative to alcohol for people looking to cut back.
“Since alcohol is the most prevalent recreational substance in North America, and its use results in significant rates of criminality, morbidity and mortality, these findings may result in improved health outcomes for medical cannabis patients, as well as overall improvements in public health and safety.” 
Image Credit: Pxhere
- Lucas P, et al. Reductions in alcohol use following medical cannabis initiation: results from a large cross-sectional survey of medical cannabis patients in Canada. International Journal of Drug Policy. 2020;86(102963). Journal Impact Factor = 4.444