What Happens When You Combine Cannabis and Alcohol?
Crossfading could be as dangerous as it is fun.
Cannabis use is growing and becoming more and more accepted by many sectors of society. As new places continue legalizing adult use, recreational smoke is losing its stigma and becoming mainstream.
While it appears cannabis is here to stay, that doesn’t mean alcohol is going anywhere.
Alcohol is not merely a substance that people enjoy to drink because of its taste or effect. A study from the Social Issues Research Center suggests drinking alcohol is a tradition that has been in almost every civilization since ancient times. Its role in our society is symbolic and accompanies many of our daily rituals and customs.
It’s clear that both drugs will play a very important role in the years to come. They’ll inevitably have to find ways to coexist. That’s why it’s important to understand how the two mix, to enjoy the best and most responsible use of them.
Alcohol Enhances Marijuana’s Effect
Although both drugs can cause similar effects on the consumer, they actually work through separate mechanisms. Cannabinoids interact with the human endocannabinoid system, biding with C1 and C2 receptors to perform different functions throughout the body. Alcohol’s on the other hand, works by inhibiting certain neurotransmitters, which causes its sedating effect.
Different strains of cannabis contrasting different effects, as do different types of alcohol. But in general terms, a dose of either two will cause euphoria, relaxation, altered perception, altered judgment, as well as slowed reflexes.
A 2015 study tested the levels of THC in blood of two groups of people. The first one took a placebo alcohol and inhaled low or high doses THC 10 minutes later. The second group did the same, but with real alcohol. The study found that the group the had real alcohol plus THC, had almost double the levels of THC in blood, several hours later.
Although each drug affects the body through a different process, this doesn’t mean their combination is innocuous. The liver is the organ responsible for metabolizing the drugs introduced in the bloodstream. When consuming both alcohol and marijuana, the liver prioritizes the metabolization of alcohol, leaving cannabinoids ‘on queue’ until all the alcohol has gone through. This results in THC remaining almost unchanged in the body for longer periods of time, during which, it continues to affect the central nervous system. In other words, while the liver is too busy dealing with alcohol, THC continues getting you high, thus prolonging and exacerbating its effect.
A Higher High and a Lower Binge?
A previous study, performed at Harvard Medical School supports the hypothesis of cannabis’ enhanced effect after alcohol consumption. Professor Scott Lukas also decided to look at patients’ subjective reactions to the mix. Subjects reported an increased euphoric effect, which also arrived faster than without alcohol. According to the research, this ‘Increased high’ stands as the main reason behind the popularity of the weed & booze combo.
Evidence indicates that the ‘Crossfading’ effect is a result of both drugs prevailing in the organism. However, alcohol in blood is diminished after weed has been smoked. Another study performed by Professor Lukas suggests that marijuana use decreases the levels of alcohol absorption. He found the ethanol levels of test subjects who combined THC-rich marijuana with alcohol had actually diminished.
Having decreased levels of ethanol in the blood doesn’t mean you’ll be sobered up. In fact, mixing the two drugs can result in an unpleasant experience commonly known as ‘greening-out’. This nauseating, sweaty, heart-pumping episode is thought to occur because of the aforementioned increase of THC absorption rates when alcohol is involved. An event that can be referred to as a ‘THC overdose’. These type of episodes usually clear on their own without the need for medical attention. But extreme cases can have consumers end up in the emergency room.
While alcohol increases THC absorption, THC can also have a negative effect on the alcohol consumer. One of cannabis’ most praised therapeutic properties is its ‘antiemetic’ effect. This effect prevents nausea or vomiting, which is an amazing help for patients going through cancer treatments like chemotherapy, or HIV patients having to use drugs that cause nausea as a side-effect. However, vomiting is our body’s natural weapon against intoxication. So, if someone has had more alcohol than their body can handle, and also has been taking some form of weed, their organism might not be able to expel out all the poisonous material. This can widely increase the chance of alcohol poisoning or choking on one’s own vomit.
Higher Risks for Car Crash
The diminished count of alcohol in blood after cannabis use does not by any chance mitigate its impairing effects while driving. Researchers performed various studies focusing on subject’s driving abilities after mixing both drugs. A survey on 72,000 high school seniors, showed a worrying increase in the possibility of crashing or getting a ticket when crossfaded.
Everybody knows you shouldn’t drink and drive. That’s why it might come as obvious that you should not drive while drunk and stoned. However, it might be surprising to learn that out of 9,000 surveyed drivers, those who normally use both drugs are almost twice as likely to use them together than apart.
A 2013 study and a 2015 study conclusively showed how subject’s driving performance became more impaired when mixing both drugs. Crossfading can be a fun way to blow off some steam every once in a while. But, moderation is recommended and responsibility is a must when transportation is required.
Ponieman, ByNatan. “What Happens When You Combine Cannabis and Alcohol?” Green Rush Daily, 29 Apr. 2019, greenrushdaily.com/health/what-happens-when-you-combine-cannabis-and-alcohol/.