What Happens When You Combine Cannabis and Alcohol?
When consumed in moderation, there is nothing quite as relaxing as sipping on your favorite wine, brew or cocktail while enjoying the delicate flavors and aromas of cannabis.
Perhaps a sign of true decadence, mixing cannabis and alcohol is an experience beloved by partying college students and open-minded adults alike.
Yet, while the combination is known for inspiring moments of delightful conversation and euphoric bliss, there’s more to this match than meets the eye.
Wondering what happens when you combine cannabis and alcohol? The two substances may act synergistically to produce unique effects in the human body.
1. Alcohol may increase THC concentrations in the blood
As it turns out, alcohol may make the effects of cannabis more potent.
Back in 2001, Harvard professor and researcher Scott Lukas made some fascinating discoveries about the oft enjoyed combination of the world’s favorite herb and favorite drink.
When consumed together, Lukas found, the ethanol in alcohol may actually enhance the body’s ability to absorb tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).
THC is the primary psychoactive in the cannabis plant.
To study this, researchers tested the effects of different amounts of alcohol on 22 male volunteers who are also given low to moderate doses of THC.
“For many of the drug combinations,” writes Lukas, “when subjects consumed ethanol they detected marihuana effects more quickly, reported more episodes of euphoria and had higher plasma THC levels than when they consumed placebo ethanol.”
In fact, participants who consumed a large amount of alcohol along with the psychoactive demonstrated blood levels of THC that were almost double that of the placebo group.
So, mixing beer with a little bit of bud? Expect to feel stronger effects from smaller amounts of cannabis.
2. Increased sedation
Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant. For this reason, it causes sedative effects and is more of a “downer” than an upper.
Cannabis, on the other hand, is a different beast. While THC can sometimes seem stimulating and spark anxiety, low to moderate doses of the herb often have a sedative effect.
In fact, research has found that THC inspires the secretion of melatonin, a neurotransmitter responsible for helping you feel tired and fall asleep.
When combining cannabis and alcohol, the sedative nature of both substances may be more pronounced.
Here, this sedation includes more difficulties with motor coordination, heavy-liddedness, and feeling more tired and sluggish.
3. Mixing cannabis and alcohol can cause dizziness
Those who have combined cannabis and alcohol in the past may have experienced one uncomfortable side effect: vertigo.
Mixing low doses of the two substances may make for a fun, euphoric time, however the combination can quickly turn nauseating.
A phenomenon colloquially known as “the spins” is one of the main side effects of mixing cannabis and alcohol.
Unfortunately, research on exactly why the combination causes a spinning, dizzy, whirling sensation that inspires consumers to lay down is few and far between.
However, it is well-known that dizziness is a common side effect for both the herb and alcohol consumption.
Quite common, in fact.
A 2003 study published in Pharmacology, Biochemistry, and Behavior found that up to 28 percent of cannabis-consuming study participants reported dizziness as a common side effect. However, the study only included 29 volunteers.
4. Cannabis changes how fast your body absorbs alcohol
Alcohol may speed up and strengthen the effects of cannabis. But, the opposite may be true regarding the herb’s effect on alcohol.
In a 1992 study by Lukas, the Harvard professor that discovered that alcohol enhances THC metabolism in the body, discovered that the plant may slow down your ability to absorb alcohol.
Why does this happen?
Cannabis can change the way you digest foods. Specifically, the herb slows down the transport of foods through the intestinal tract.
This is excellent news if you have diarrhea.
However, this slowed digestion will also mean that the alcohol you’re drinking will be released into your bloodstream more slowly, over a prolonged period of time.
The slowed motility effect may be neither a positive nor negative thing. The presence of cannabis may cause a slower rise in blood alcohol level, preventing you from feeling too drunk too quickly.
Yet, perhaps be prepared to be intoxicated for a longer period of time.
5. Cannabis may prevent you from vomiting when you really should
While consuming too much cannabis and alcohol can cause nausea and vomiting, perhaps due to the spinning sensation they produce, the herb may make it more difficult to vomit.
Both THC and cannabidiol (CBD), a non-intoxicating cannabis compound that is growing in popularity, both have potent antiemetic properties.
The nausea-fighting qualities of cannabis are so potent that cannabinoid medicines are legally prescribed for the relief of chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting.
Staving off nausea is often a wonderful thing. However, after a night of drinking, sometimes the best thing is a much-needed purge.
Alcohol is a toxin and vomiting is a natural mechanism the body uses to clear excess alcohol from your system, protecting the liver and helping you avoid alcohol poisoning.
Cannabis can sometimes suppress this natural mechanism, potentially allowing you to better tolerate alcohol for a short period, but also perhaps putting the consumer at greater risk of alcohol poisoning.
When nature calls, it’s sometimes best to let it all come out.
What about using cannabis to quit alcohol?