Cannabis and Health

28 February 2019

What happens when you mix cannabis with alcohol?

What happens to our body and mind? What are the effects? And are there positive links between alcohol and cannabis?

By Mell Green

Probably the two most commonly used substances in the world are alcohol and cannabis, but what if they are used together? To create an elevated experience, some people consume this combination for a “higher-than-high” feeling. However, most recreational smokers can certify that this feel-good effect has its limits. The first thing to know is; not everyone responds to alcohol and cannabis the same and how you combine the two makes all the difference. Both have impacts on the human body, and they are not necessarily complementary.

So, we ask, what happens when we mix cannabis with alcohol? Before your experiments begin, it’s vital to understand the effects and risks of this infamous combination.

The art of ‘Crossfading’

Because alcohol affects how your body absorbs cannabinoids, such as THC, being “Crossfaded” (i.e. being stoned and drunk at the same time) feels different than being purely stoned or purely drunk. Scientists have long studied the phenomena of crossfading and found that when people drink alcohol first and then smoke cannabis, the levels of THC are higher than when the same amount of cannabis was consumed without any alcohol.

Unfortunately, most people don’t realize this powerful combination can lead to “synergistic” effects you wouldn’t get consuming either substance alone. In other words, this basically means the proof 1 plus 1 does not equal 2; it equals 5. Combined, they can produce different and unpredictable reactions or, the effects of one drug may be more potent than the other. And, when people consume the two at one time, they might start to notice they feel much more ‘under the influence’ than they would be otherwise.

Alcohol’s inverse effect on THC

Cannabis derives from the cannabis plant and impacts certain parts of the brain, including the ones that are responsible for mood, perception of pain, and memory, and more. Alcohol is a depressant, and its effects are due to its action on the central nervous system. Alcohol and THC (found in cannabis) are psychoactive, though cannabis is less addictive.

Drinking first and smoking after opens up the blood vessels in our digestive system, and causes THC levels in the plasma to skyrocket, which increases our body’s ability to absorb THC much faster. So much so, some studies claim that THC gets absorbed two times faster after drinking than it does without alcohol. What does this all mean? One could potentially double the effects of THC in their system if he or she drinks booze before blazing up.

Also, because the metabolism of alcohol is so slow, THC stays in the system longer than usual. This appears to be due to the fact that the liver prioritizes the metabolism of  alcohol in the system first, despite any other substances being consumed at the same time. The liver generally metabolizes one ounce of pure alcohol every hour. This means that until all alcohol consumed has been metabolized properly, other substances, such as THC, will remain relatively unchanged; thus effects will continue to accrue.

While all this may seem pretty extraordinary, you should note that not only highs but lows are also amplified when consuming these two substances. Investigative research on mixing cannabis products with alcohol is not well developed. However, the frequency of looking at the significant risks of polydrug use will evolve as research continues.

What are the risks of mixing cannabis and alcohol?

Impaired judgment

As we know, either alcohol or cannabis can affect cognitive function, but certainly, too much of the two combined can cause irrational thinking. The synergistic effects of these drugs combined may cause one to act impulsively, make poor decisions, or engage in behaviors that can lead to unsafe and dangerous situations.

Increased dehydration

Alcohol has a diuretic effect on the body, which causes water loss in the body. Many factors may influence this, but obviously, people who drink loads of alcohol will urinate more frequently. Failure to replenish water lost can and will lead to extreme dehydration. (i.e. a more severe hangover or worse)

Elimination issues

Although cannabis has many antiemetic (prevention of vomiting) benefits, it may be the reason one might find difficulty in vomiting. Severe alcohol intoxication typically causes vomiting — the body’s first line of defense. However, the disruption in one’s ability to purge excess alcohol from the body can lead to a dangerously high risk of alcohol poisoning.

Greening out

The term ‘greening out’ refers to what happens when one goes overboard with consuming an alcohol and cannabis combination. While smoking and drinking may seem like a budget way to stretch your cannabis high, the physical manifestations of greening out are sickly. During a green out, one may experience dizziness, excessive sweating, the spins, nausea, vomiting, and more.

Intensified symptoms

This may be a no-brainer, but consuming alcohol with any substance has the potential to strengthen the side effects of either substance. For cannabis, people can suffer some pretty gnarly symptoms including tremors or shaking, breathing problems, anxiety, excessive paranoia, sleepiness, and more.

Overdose potential

Although scary to think about, it’s well-known that combining any substance with alcohol can increase the potential of an overdose from either substance. It’s pretty impossible to ingest a lethal dose of THC, but it can be harmful to younger people. On the other hand, the side effects associated with alcohol such as alcohol poisoning (possibly due to even further impaired judgement), pose an even greater risk and can be fatal.

Cannabis as a powerful alcohol recovery tool

If you’re suffering from alcohol addiction, you might find achieving total abstinence extremely difficult. Alcoholism includes a host of discomforting withdrawal symptoms including increased blood pressure, hallucinations, seizures, and others. To curb addiction, it’s commonplace for doctors to prescribe patients drugs such as benzodiazepines; however, they pose many dangers.

On the brighter side of things, perhaps experimenting with different cannabis strains and methods of consumption might be helpful for those struggling with alcoholism. Some think that cannabis is a “trigger” for relapsing, but this idea is flawed. Studies show that cannabis use has proved immensely effective at providing relief from withdrawal symptoms and emotional ailments caused by alcohol addiction (which is the main reason for relapse) all without the dangers of withdrawal and addiction as seen with prescriptions and alcohol.

Summing it up, is it safe?

Plenty of cannabis users consume both cannabis and alcohol at the same time, and there are certainly safe ways to do that. But, the dose makes the difference. So, if you are new to combining these two substances, it’s essential that you know your limits and proceed with caution.

Post author
Mell Green
Mell Green is an enthusiast of all things cannabis and writes content that represents some of the best things that we as a people can strive for: good health and happiness.
See more from Mell Green

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