Why isn’t there medicinal alcohol any more?

23 May

Living through a time of great social and/or political change can give one the opportunity to examine things generally left unexamined. Such can cause one, at least one given to introspection and reflection to perhaps an abnormal degree, the chance to see familiar things from a new angle, not previously considered.

I bring this up because of living through a time when a plant material substance that though previously legal in several jurisdictions has been against the law in many countries for a century is now in the process of becoming legal again, increasingly, in several jurisdictions. I refer of course to cannabis, or marijuana.

There are of course those who use marijuana for recreational purposes, and then there are those who claim to use it for medicinal purposes. No doubt, in jurisdictions where medical use is permitted but recreational is forbidden by law, the true number of those who use it for medical purposes is grossly inflated by large numbers of individuals who use it recreationally under the guise of medical use – e.g. witness the proliferation in Canada, since the new government announced its intent to legalize recreational use, of scores of ‘medical marijuana dispensaries’ that have popped up suddenly. Nevertheless, there are real medicinal uses of marijuana; e.g. it can awaken appetites / help keep food down in sick folk unable to otherwise eat; also, sedative properties. These uses were in fact known about back when marijuana was previously a legal, pharmaceutical product:


I got to thinking, why is it that we don’t often hear any more of people using alcohol for medicinal purposes? I mean, my maternal grandmother always used to have a nip of cherry brandy before bed ‘for medicinal purposes’, as she would say (and no doubt a little bit can help one sleep better), and many women of her generation would make the same excuse (the Queen Mother was known to vouch for the health benefits of her many gin and tonics). In I Timothy 5:23, Paul exhorts Timothy to partake of some wine and water to help his stomach and other ‘infirmities’. And roughly around the same era in which the medicinal properties of marijuana were first recognized in the West, so too were there various ports and wines for ‘invalids’, i.e. people stuck in bed with various ailments (who were apparently less valid than healthy, working folks):


And anyone who is old enough to have heard stories from old-timers now deceased knows that in the early 20th century, liquor was administered to revive people who’d been rescued from exposure to the elements (though no longer recommended for hypothermia victims), plus it was used as an anesthetic in surgeries when real anaesthesia were unavailable.

So what happened? Why don’t doctors prescribe wine or beer or liquor to help remedy various ailments? It’s true that every now and then, a study is published which indicates some health benefits to moderate alcohol consumption, but you never hear of any doctor actually prescribing it, nor do we ever see people taking prescriptions to liquor stores. Is it because there are other, better ‘cures’ for various ailments? Or is it because of Big Pharma, pushing their pills instead? Is it because of a holdover cultural prejudice against alcohol, left over from the Prohibition era? Or is it just because we don’t have the concept of ‘invalids’ any more, therefore no market for fortified wines for people laid up in bed (hey, why not?)? Or is it just because insurance companies would laugh and/or balk at the idea of subsidizing medicinal booze? Why no more medicinal booze?

Just asking.


Posted by on May 23, 2016 in Uncategorized


23 responses to “Why isn’t there medicinal alcohol any more?

  1. Socially Extinct

    May 23, 2016 at 1:25 am

    Great question!

    Seems the legal nature of alcohol led to its downfall.

    “Legal” abuse became its nomenclature and curse I suspect this is the trajectory that will follow any legalized drug or substance. Pot will face the same doom. It’s easier to pin blame on a legally recognized substance than on the diffuse crime that introduced the illegal version of it.

    • Will S.

      May 23, 2016 at 5:37 pm

      So do you think that most of the supposed medical uses will evaporate, once legalization for recreational purposes is widespread? I’m inclined to think that if, as in Colorado, jurisdictions like Canada establish a lower taxation rate for medicinal marijuana than for recreational marijuana, that if the regulations aren’t strict about who constitutes a true medical user by requiring an official physician diagnosis and certification, that as now, a great deal of people will claim to use it medicinally, but if they either require a diagnosis or don’t charge lower taxes, that most customers will be in the recreational category. I don’t doubt that there are many medical applications, but I imagine there are not as many medical applications as proponents now claim there is. But hell, anything that either makes pain decrease or makes one not feel it can be considered medicinal for that reason alone. Why alcohol isn’t, though, any more, I’m not sure.

  2. Sanne

    May 23, 2016 at 3:15 am

    I think that in America it definitely has to do with Prohibition plus the fact that many churches view even moderate alcohol consumption as sinful.

    • feeriker

      May 23, 2016 at 10:09 am

      …plus the fact that many churches view even moderate alcohol consumption as sinful.

      This has never ceased to amaze me, given that the Bible is full of references to both the virtues of wine and key figures in Scripture partaking generously of it.

      I think most American Christians, especially Protestants of an evangelical bent, cannot separate the scriptural prohibition against drunkeness from the act of drinking itself. That is, they cannot imagine the existence of people who are able to drink in moderation (i.e., the majority of people who drink). In my experience this is due to either ignorance or to the fact that these people believe themselves to be of such weak flesh that they couldn’t drink in moderation, and thus project that shortcoming onto everyone else.

      And don’t even get me started on their moronic “whenever the Bible says ‘wine,’ it really means ‘grape juice'” nonsense…

      • Will S.

        May 23, 2016 at 5:39 pm

        It always baffled me, when I became evangelical after growing up mainline, too. I was glad to leave that world behind when I became Reformed.

      • imnobody00

        May 23, 2016 at 11:36 pm

        In Southern European countries, where I am from, when moderate alcohol consumption is a culture and Catholic priests love to do it too, medicinal alcohol either is a thing of the past too.

      • Will S.

        May 23, 2016 at 11:40 pm

        Ah. So there, too, the medical consensus is there are better specific medications for the various ailments which alcohol used to treat, then. I see.

        Well, perhaps that really is all there is to it.

    • Will S.

      May 23, 2016 at 5:37 pm

      I think that’s likely a big factor.

  3. Carnivore

    May 23, 2016 at 6:43 am

    “Or is it because of Big Pharma, pushing their pills instead?”

    You answered it.

    • Will S.

      May 23, 2016 at 5:40 pm

      I suspect that’s indeed a big factor.

  4. greenmantlehoyos

    May 23, 2016 at 10:40 am

    Because booze in any amount will kill you. The sun in any amount will kill you. Salt in any amount will kill you. Fats in any amount will kill you. Red meat in any amount will kill you.

    Doctors don’t like telling the truth on some things because it would be borderline illegal for them to do so. The fears of medical elite is that if they tell people the truth, idiots will misuse it (a little wine becomes a fifth of whiskey, a little sun becomes baking in a tanning bed for hours). Unfortunately if we can’t tell the truth because idiots will misuse it, no one should tell the truth ever.

    • Will S.

      May 23, 2016 at 5:42 pm

      Alas, there are both overly zealous medical community folks who don’t trust people to make smart decisions for themselves, AND idiots so dumb they seem to justify such mindsets.

  5. Samson J.

    May 23, 2016 at 4:35 pm

    Alcohol isn’t used anymore because there isn’t anything that it does that other substances can’t do better.

    Source: I am am physician, who doesn’t prescribe alcohol.

    • Will S.

      May 23, 2016 at 5:46 pm

      So, the potential negatives of alcohol abuse that could result if abused after being used for any potential medical purposes outweigh any potential benefits, compared to other substances, then?

      • Samson J.

        May 23, 2016 at 7:08 pm

        I certainly believe so. I’m open to evidence to the contrary!

        You may find it interesting that ethanol alcohol actually does have one legitimate use even today, which is to reverse the effects of methanol (wood alcohol), which is why some emergency departments will stock “medicinal ethanol”, but again nowadays there is a better alternative.

      • Will S.

        May 23, 2016 at 11:27 pm

        I am interested indeed to learn that, not least of reasons being that my academic background is chemistry, and I currently work in a pharma-related field; what alternatives do they use to flush out methanol from the body?

  6. Samson J.

    May 23, 2016 at 4:38 pm

    Also, although the bible is replete with references to alcohol, and I’m neither in the “they just mean grape juice” camp nor the “alcohol use is NECESSARILY sinful” camp, I don’t actually think that most people use alcohol responsibly, and in fact I think that alcohol use for most people in general is a bad idea with very little upside. Even a minor level of intoxication has been the stuff that ruins lives.

    • Will S.

      May 23, 2016 at 5:56 pm

      I don’t know that I’d agree that most imbibers don’t use it responsibly; I certainly agree that a goodly many do not, esp. in WASP countries (Canada, America, Britain, Australia, New Zealand), but continental Europeans strike me as generally being a lot more responsible than Anglo-Saxons, regarding consumption, particularly non-Nordics such as French, Italians, Germans, etc. Certainly, there’s a lot more teenage and young adult drunkenness as part of the ‘youth culture’ within English-speaking countries, and I’ve heard of Finns, Swedes, Icelandic, Faroese, etc. also having much problems with drunkenness in their societies. But one hears that French, Spaniards, etc. are generally able to avoid the high rates of teenage drunkenness that afflicts our English-speaking world, and I suspect it’s because there isn’t the ‘forbidden fruit’ aspect of drinking, due to it being available to teens in restaurants, and due to parents sharing wine with their children at family dinners, etc. I suspect if we had a similar mindset instead of viewing it as a dangerous poison for youth which miraculously becomes okay to consume once one reaches a magical age, we might have less problems with alcohol.

      • feeriker

        May 24, 2016 at 10:14 am

        You’re exactly right, Will. Spend any amount of time in any part of Western Europe (especially Southern Euope [Spain, Portugal, Italy, Greece, etc.]) where there is no minimum drinking age enshrined in law and you will find that teenage alcohol abuse is a non-issue (the Scandinavian countries apparently have alcohol consumption laws almost as strict as those of North America, which explains the higher rate of teen alcohol abuse. The samd generally goes for Britain too).

        The “forbidden fruit” aspect of alcohol is precisely why it is so frequently and heavily abused by young people, especially in America. This is actually a relatively recent attitude, largely residue from the Prohibition Era. A look at early American history reveals that alcohol consumption, especially beer and ale consumption, was common among nearly all age groups for much of the nation’s history.

      • Will S.

        May 24, 2016 at 10:20 am

        Indeed, feeriker, giving credit where due, the Catholic countries of Europe have had a saner attitude towards alcohol than the Protestant ones, generally speaking, and it is because of cultural differences, differences in attitude and approach…

      • oogenhand

        May 31, 2016 at 11:18 am

        Compare to all the talk of Muslim immigrants not being to hold their liquor.

        Walking solves a lot of psychiatric problems as well. Maybe Bommel and Van Lier should pay the shrinks a visit and some commission, instead of Pfizer and Sandoz.


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