For thousands of years, wine has helped people celebrate good times, ease the pain of bad times, and simply relax after a rough day. Wine can be good for your health, too, with documented benefits for the heart and the immune system.
But all too often that glass of vino comes with undesirable side effects and too many calories for comfort. Now, however, today’s array of trendy, easy-to-use cannabis options can give wine lovers a way to get the relaxing, social effects of wine but without the damage wine and other spirits can do.
Is Wine Really Good for You?
You don’t have to be a wine connoisseur to know that there’s a virtually endless array of wines to choose from for just about any occasion. The relaxation and good feelings that come from having a glass or two of wine aren’t just for social occasions either. A lot of people also drink wine in the evening to wind down, or before bedtime as a sleep aid—even though research suggests that it probably isn’t actually good for healthy sleep.
The widely touted health benefits of wine are derived mainly from the presence of:
- Ethanol, which blocks nerve pathways in the brain and depresses the central nervous system
- Phenols, plant chemicals with a range of immune-boosting properties
Wine can also dilate and relax the cardiovascular system, which reduces the risk of a stroke or heart attack due to stiffening and narrowing of the body’s blood vessels.
Perhaps for the same reason, wine appears to help prevent the onset of cognitive problems from Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia later in life. Some evidence also suggests that moderately high consumption of wine can also help prevent Type 2 diabetes and ulcers caused by a bacterium called H. pylori.
But aside from the obvious effects of overindulging, wine may not be as healthy as it’s made out to be. Drinking even in moderation can exacerbate a number of existing health conditions such as:
- Congestive heart failure
- High blood pressure
- Neurological problems affecting balance and coordination
- Liver disease
- Asthma attacks
Although doctors say moderate drinking, which is defined as a single glass of wine per day for women and two for men, is most likely safe, there’s a risk of addiction in vulnerable people. Plus, alcohol in large quantities can impair the memory, instead of support it.
Wine can affect your appearance, too. Like all alcoholic beverages, it’s dehydrating, which can make skin appear thinner and dryer. And because the average glass of wine has around a hundred calories, most of them from fast-burning carbohydrates, it can quickly contribute to unwanted weight gain.
The Science Behind Cannabis As a Wine Alternative
As cannabis moves into the mainstream, more and more people are discovering that it can fill just about any of the lifestyle and health niches that wine does. And it does so with fewer risks and side effects—and with more healing benefits, too.
Cannabinoid compounds such as tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD), bind to naturally occurring cannabinoid receptors in the human body. Endocannabinoids, produced by the body itself, and cannabinoids from external sources, most notably cannabis, trigger these receptors.
This means that when someone consumes cannabis, molecules in that cannabis enter the bloodstream and activate those receptors that affect just about every major system in the body. So marijuana’s effects include not just the well-known high, but also a long list of benefits like:
- Pain control
- Mood regulation
- Heart health
- Immune system support
Cannabinoids also affect the receptors related to the brain’s pleasure and reward pathways that regulate:
All of these effects are similar to the effects of alcohol. But the body doesn’t have any naturally occurring ethanol receptors. Instead, alcohol affects the production of two key neurotransmitters:
- GABA, a “calming” chemical that lowers energy
- Glutamate, an excitatory neurotransmitter that boosts the production of stimulant chemicals like adrenaline
Cannabis affects those chemicals, too, but it does so by triggering natural endocannabinoid receptors.
For all of these reasons, plus the fact that cannabis is minimally addictive, if at all, marijuana doesn’t cause all of the discomforts of a morning-after hangover.
Making the Switch From Wine to Cannabis
So, cannabis is quietly replacing wine in the lives of many casual drinkers—and it’s giving rise to its own culture of marijuana products geared towards wine lovers. Folks are even starting to think about marijuana strains’ tastes and aromas like wine-tasting notes. This gives wine lovers a clue as to which cannabis strains they’d prefer, as well as puts cannabis in a framework that wine drinkers are familiar with and can understand.
People who have replaced their evening glass of wine with a few puffs from a vape pen or a nibble from a tasty marijuana edible report feeling relaxed and social without the other effects of wine and other spirits. Cannabis can also help with sleep without disrupting natural sleep cycles the way that wine often can.
If you’d like to try swapping wine for cannabis, here are a few things to keep in mind:
Just as various varieties of wine can have different effects, so can different strains of cannabis and how they’re consumed. For social occasions, try an upbeat sativa or sativa-dominant hybrid strain like:
These two marijuana strains can boost feelings of relaxation and camaraderie while leaving you alert and focused.
But if you’re drinking a glass of wine or two to wind down and get to sleep, indica strains and products high in CBD can promote the kind of deep relaxation that calms anxiety and helps with sleep.
If you’re looking to marijuana to help you unwind and sleep, look into heavy indica strains like:
And if you don’t want to experience any psychoactive effects, you can opt for a hemp-derived CBD product. Many are formulated to help you relax and sleep, such as:
Smoking or vaping cannabis can produce its effects fairly quickly, and so can tinctures and sublingual tabs or lozenges that deliver cannabinoids into the mucous membranes of the mouth. It can take considerably longer (up to a couple of hours) to feel the effects of edibles, though, and this can be problematic when you’re looking for the equivalent of a few glasses of wine with friends.
If you choose to go with a cannabis product, read the packaging to see what a dose or portion is. You may want to start with even half of a dose at first to see how it affects you. If you’re consuming cannabis flower, take as little as possible and then wait to see how you feel. You can always take more if you feel you need it, but you can’t take less if you take too much.
Both wine and cannabis have a long history of helping humans feel better. But today’s cannabis consumers are finding that their favorite products can offer the same effects as a glass of wine, without the calories and other side effects.
Photo credit: Burst
If you’re new to cannabis and want to learn more, take a look at our Cannabis 101 index of articles. HelloMD can help you get your medical marijuana recommendation; it's easy, private and 100% online.