Aug 19 2019 . 6 min read

Aug. ’19: Inhale/Exhale with Shoshanna Silverberg

Aug. ’19: Inhale/Exhale with Shoshanna Silverberg

Reader makes inquiry about pros and cons of alcohol versus cannabis

Reader makes inquiry about pros and cons of alcohol versus cannabis

Dear Shoshanna,

With cannabis becoming ever more prominent now that it has been legalized for recreational consumption, I am curious about the pros and cons of alcohol versus cannabis. Is it safe to mix them? Is one better than the other? What about how it affects you when you're around amazing art or at a music festival? I really enjoy my tumbler of vodka and cranberry juice after work but am wondering if cannabis might be a healthier choice. And, I'm going to Burning Man this year for the first time, but don't really understand whether it's okay to consume cannabis on festival premises. What advice can you give me?

Dear Reader,

These are fun questions. And you are not the only one asking them...For starters, it's probably important to consider why you're consuming either substance. What are your intentions? Are you in physical pain? Emotional pain? Are you experiencing anxiety? Are you simply seeking pleasure and a slightly altered filter for perceiving reality? What is different in today's world of fully legal cannabis is that it's becoming okay to consume for any and all of these reasons. We are attaching less stigma as a society to the desire for an "altered state." The trick is though, that the cannabis pros all say to consume mindfully, whatever your reasons for consuming. Do it with some degree of consciousness—consciousness as to what your reasons are and then consciousness while you are experiencing it, so you know what you are taking away from the experience in terms of knowledge and feelings of pleasure and connection.

In a way, consuming cannabis for the purpose of enjoying one's self, or reveling more fully perhaps in all of one's senses, is the same purpose that brings many folks out to Burning Man, or to other festivals where music and art and community are the core values of a space or an event. In a scene like that, you may find cannabis consumed more or less. California state law allows event organizers to get special permits for certain types of events, provided the local jurisdiction where the event is located is on board. These enable a venue to allow its participants to consume publicly.

Nevada has not quite gotten there yet though. And, in the case of Burning Man (and many events that take place in the Nevada desert), the event is on federal land (which belongs and is thus governed by the Bureau of Land Management), which means that no permitting process could even apply. This is because cannabis is STILL federally illegal, despite the tremendous volume of bills currently moving through Congress that attempt to address or repeal cannabis's illicit status. So, while the public may think that anything goes at Burning Man, possession and consumption on federal land are both still crimes and it is technically against Burning Man policy for cannabis to be brought on-site.

What does this mean for your journey to Black Rock City? For one thing, it means that you will find many folks who may be drinking on the playa but would probably prefer to be consuming cannabis. And so, similar to the 'default world,' lack of public consumption space for cannabis means that you may not want to leave your tumbler of vodka-cran at home.

If you are left feeling dumbstruck by this, that makes sense. Many people feel calmer and more relaxed when they consume cannabis as opposed to when they consume alcohol. People don't typically get more aggressive when they are stoned or choose to do rash or dramatic things. Many people also seem to feel more open to feelings of intimacy, and things like color or sound or smell may be intensified in ways that provide for transformative experiences. Seems like a given then that cannabis would be ubiquitous at one of the world's most insane and amazing art festivals. But, again, keep this in mind—federally illicit substances, including cannabis, are illegal on the playa.

It's a little tougher to answer your health-related question. That's because, yes, for instance, you do not consume any calories when you smoke a joint, while you do when you are enjoying a beer, glass of wine, or cocktail. Also, there is no evidence that cannabis is corrosive in any way to our systems, which we know alcohol, over time, can certainly be. We don't know enough though about what craft, quality alcoholic beverages, consumed in moderation, does to our bodies over time. This is, I think, because moderation and conscious consumption, as is often emphasized with regard to cannabis, has never been something we've learned in relation to alcohol.

Other considerations include your own health and wellness concerns. For someone who is allergic to gluten, a high-quality craft beer is not something that can be consumed at all. But for someone who has just kayaked for 5 miles and wants to enjoy a Sunday afternoon with that same beer, there may not be a black and white formula that can state what would be good for them versus what would be bad. Similar to the case of cannabis, if you know that a certain strain puts you to sleep when you want to be awake and dancing all night, then don't smoke it! Maybe a cocktail in that moment is the right choice for you. Unless of course you know it's hard for you to have just one and no alcohol is best. In that case, I'd probably advise finding a strain of weed that energizes you rather than puts you to bed.

The point in all of these scenarios is this—you have to be cognizant of how any substance affects you, and the safest way to do that, in the short- and long-term, is to consume in moderation. And funny enough, if you'd like to see more research on this subject, that's just one more reason to support cannabis being legalized at the federal level.


Shoshanna is a partner and Director of Strategy for a national consulting firm in the cannabis space, Pistil + Stigma. She holds a Juris Doctor from Elon University School of Law, a Master of Arts in Holistic Thinking, and a bachelor's degree from Hampshire College. She is a true believer that compassion and critical thinking, together, are what drive positive social change.