Making Sense of Medicine: Weighing the legal options for celebrating the new year

December 27, 2018
Bob Keller

Ushering in the new year next week will, for many, include a lot of partying with a lot of drinking of alcohol. This means that many people will start the new year feeling not-so-great. Maybe there’s help on the way, a recently legalized way, that lets you get that high without the following pain.

It’s likely a hangover.

That New Year’s Eve party last night went on pretty late. The spiked punch didn’t taste very alcoholic, and it was so good you just couldn’t resist going back for more ... and more.

This morning, you’re thirsty and your mouth feels like it’s full of cotton. Your head aches, you’re nauseous, and that darned sunlight shining in your morning window is enough to blind you. As you struggle out of bed, you can hardly make it to the bathroom for the dizziness and shakiness you feel, and your heart is going a mile a minute. And what was I thinking? Oh, yes, your attention wanders.

You could have a variety of illnesses, but given your behavior at the party, it’s very likely you’ve got a hangover.

Why drink?

For what we call recreational drinkers, each person imbibes for different reasons, but they all generally have something to do with changing your state of consciousness; that is, getting a high. For starters, alcohol tends to remove your natural inhibitions. After a drink or two, you may be ready to get up on a chair and tell that story you’ve been holding back. On the negative side, you may decide to tell your boss what you really think of him or to make inappropriate advances to your neighbor’s spouse.

In general, as the buzz begins, you ask yourself: Isn’t the world really a much nicer place than I thought, and why can’t we all work together to sort things out? And then there’s joy at discovering the truth about life that you could never see when sober. Even the Holy Bible extols the virtues of drink: In the Book of Proverbs, we are advised to:

“Give strong drink ... and wine unto those that be of heavy hearts.”

“Let him drink, and forget his poverty, and remember his misery no more.”

A better high?

In Canada, marijuana is legal nationally. Not surprisingly, countless companies, startup and otherwise, are rushing to be part of what’s likely to be a multibillion-dollar market. Marijuana is legal in Massachusetts, as well.

Marijuana is the third most common recreational drug after alcohol and tobacco. More than 25 million Americans admit to having used marijuana in the last year, and almost 60 percent of those use it regularly.

Unfortunately, tens of thousands of people die each year from alcohol abuse, and hundreds of thousands of deaths can be attributed to smoking tobacco. According to our Drug Enforcement Agency, however, no death from overdose of marijuana has been reported.

What is marijuana?

Marijuana refers to the dried leaves, flowers, stems and seeds that come from the plant Cannabis sativa. This is the same plant from which we get the industrial hemp that is used in textiles, rope, foods, papers, body care products, detergents, plastics and building materials.

The main difference between industrial hemp and marijuana lies in the amount of the intoxicating agent THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) found in the resinous glands that grow on the flowers and some leaves. Industrial hemp has less than 1.5 percent of THC, while marijuana may contain as much as 10 percent.

New Year’s Eve 2019

So far, the most common way to use marijuana is to smoke it. However, it’s possible also to include marijuana in edibles like brownies or even brew it in a tea.

It seems now that marijuana can even be part of an intoxicating beverage that you would drink at a party, one that gives you a nice high that’s not followed by a hangover.

Canadian manufacturers are developing cannabis beers. Mostly, these are brewed like regular beer, which then has the alcohol removed and is infused with marijuana oil.

One Toronto startup, Province Brands, is taking a different approach. Their beer is actually brewed from the stalks, stem and roots of the cannabis plant. Although their first attempts tasted like rotten broccoli, they have now come up with the right combination of hops, water, yeast and cannabis. Any alcohol produced during the processing is removed, resulting in a nonalcoholic, gluten-free beer that offers a high.

According to Province Brands’ founder, Dooma Wendschuh, “The flavor is dry, savory and less sweet than a typical beer. ... The beer hits you very quickly, which is not common for a marijuana edible.”

While not available now, it’s likely that these new beers will be on the market during the first half of 2019.

You may not be surprised to learn that the makers of Budweiser, Coors and other American beers have formed partnerships with Canadian companies to explore ways to make cannabis beer for American consumption.

What’s the difference?

You can get a high from alcohol. You can get a high from marijuana.

The difference is that alcohol can kill you, while marijuana will not. The fact is that after excessive use of alcoholic beverages, you are very likely to pay a price with some very annoying and painful symptoms. It’s hard to overdose on marijuana.

In any case, once you’re over your hangover, or if you escaped without one, then I wish you a Happy New Year! 

Bob Keller maintains a holistic pain management practice in Newburyport. His book, “Making Sense of Medicine: Medical Matters Made Simple,” is available locally or online. He can be reached at 978-465-5111 or