We all know that a sugar-laden glass of wine isn’t doing any favors for your waistline, not to mention alcohol is a major inflammatory. But, popular knowledge says, what could be less harmful than a glass of wine? That could all change with the ever-increasing legal support for medical marijuana. Without the calories and alcoholic content, could getting a little baked become the new wine unwind? To answer the question of whether or not weed is the new wine, we tapped experts Dana James, triple board-certified nutritionist and founder of Food Coach NYC, and Dr. Cybele Fishman, board-certified dermatologist, for serious answers to the question of weed versus wine.
Wine: Antioxidant-Rich or All Inflammatory?
Alcohol in any form dehydrates the body, resulting in less healthy skin and bloating. Organic wine is widely regarded as the most healthful alcohol to consume, because of its lower alcohol levels, drink-for-drink, and the lack of additives. But, depending on how much you’re downing, you can end up ingesting a significant amount of sugar and even salt.
Expert nutritionist Dana James explained why the teaspoon of sugar in a glass of wine is different from the sugar in a candy bar or soda: “There’s a pervasive myth that wine is all sugar. But, this isn’t true. The sugar is converted to alcohol during the fermentation process. It doesn’t elevate your fat storage hormone, insulin, but if you eat fries and dessert with it, that’s what will cause the weight gain.” And, since white wine can actually cause you to feel hungry, the pervasive threat of alcohol-induced weight gain is very real for most wine lovers.
Red wine, touted for its healthful antioxidants, may be a better option for curbing appetite, but vino rojo doesn’t come without drawbacks. Drinking red varieties in particular causes the body to release histamines that can cause immediate flushing, flare-ups of inflammatory skin conditions like rosacea, and even worsened hangovers.
However, dermatologist Dr. Cybele Fishman says she would still choose red wine over a mixed drink or hard alcohol. “The sugar from red wine is natural, and I would drink it any day over a diet soda, which has artificial sweeteners that completely mess with natural glucose metabolism.” She also pointed out that if you drink alcohol, realistically, you probably have to nix the calories elsewhere to keep everything in tip-top shape.
A good rule of thumb, says Dana, is that two to four glasses of wine per week isn’t going to impede weight loss nor damage your skin. But drinking more than that will.
Marijuana: More Than a Calorie-Free Way to Unwind?
Like the kind of alcohol you drink, there’s no question that how you consume marijuana is directly related to how harmful it is for your skin, weight, and overall health.
All our experts agree: vaporizing is the ideal way to partake. Because marijuana is fat-soluble, edibles usually come in baked good form, which means calories and sugar. And, while vaporizing still involves smoke, the process helps cut down on the aging effects of carcinogens. (Though studies have shown that THC may inherently protect against pro-carcinogens, like cigarette smoke, inhaling marijuana still negatively affects collagen production because of oxidative stress.)
There’s more to consider about smoking weed than the actual smoke, or lack thereof, says James. “Pot depletes the body of zinc, which is critical for clear and radiant skin. Zinc also decreases sugar cravings. If you give in to those cravings, then you may gain weight and your skin may look more sallow and lackluster.”
On the plus side, THC has been studied for anti-aging properties that potentially neutralize the damaging effects of free radical oxygen particles. The cannabinoid beta-caryophyllene, one of the active ingredients in marijuana, has been shown to combat inflammation without affecting the brain, leading some cosmetic companies to test cannabinoids in topical treatments of inflammatory skin diseases. On top of its surface level potential, neuroscientists have identified a connection between low doses of THC and a decrease in feelings of mild depression and stress, which can have negative effects on skin conditions like acne, eczema, and rosacea.
The Bottom Line: Weed VS. Wine
Unsurprisingly, our experts aren’t recommending either substance for achieving ultimate health. When asked to weigh in on the comparison, Dana says that it comes down to munchies versus a hangover. “A hangover is unlikely to be have you running to CVS for a quick sugar hit. Enjoy your wine and make it organic or French (fewer preservatives) as it’s easier on the liver to metabolize.” She recommends taking a B vitamin before bed to decrease the likelihood of a hangover. And, if you still feel not quite at your best the morning after, head to yoga. “Then you won’t be tempted to eat waffles and syrup,” she says.
For Dr. Fishman, it’s more about where you’re getting one or the other: “I would drink a red wine which is organic or biodynamic before vaporizing pot if the pot plants were treated with chemical pesticides. And vice versa, if the pot is organically grown and is not smoked, probably healthier than a wine made from grapes treated with chemical pesticides and fertilizers. That is why I almost exclusively drink wine I know is made in a natural way, with respect for the soil and the plant and with as few chemicals as possible, if any.”
A tip from Charlotte: if you decide to unwind with either vice, take extra care of your skin with a hydrating moisturizer that counteracts the dehydrating effects of alcohol and fights aging from smoke-related carcinogens.
Originally published March 4, 2016
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