Marijuana and alcohol are two of the most commonly used drugs in the world:
Many people use marijuana safely for medical reasons. They use it to relieve pain, reduce inflammation, provide stress relief, get a better night’s sleep and for many other reasons besides.
Alcohol can also provide some measure of relief and emotional release for many people – when used in very small quantities.
However, using weed and alcohol together – especially when you do so to excess – is never a good idea. Of course, doing anything to excess isn’t such a smart plan…
But the combination of choosing to have more than a few drinks and smoke weed at the same time is always one to watch out for. Here’s everything you need to know:
Alcohol and cannabis – what does the science say?
Alcohol and marijuana have some things in common when it comes to their effects on the human body. Both can be sedatives, of a kind. Both can alter your judgment. Both can lead to changes in your perceptions or even result in (mild) hallucinogenic effects.
Both can be detrimental to you even when taken individually:
Alcohol affects neurotransmitters in your brain. Individually, when taken in large doses, alcohol can:
Have an impact on your central nervous system Have a large impact on your motor skills
Cannabis has an effect on the cannabinoid receptors in the human body, especially the brain. On its own, especially when taken in large quantities, cannabis can:
- Alter your perception of time
- Effect the memory, sensory and pleasure centers of the brain
- Change your thought process
Alcohol and cannabis combined
But it is important to note that both THC and alcohol are psychoactive. THC is properly known as tetrahydrocannabinol – one of 113 cannabinoids, organic compounds, found within the cannabis plant.
When you drink alcohol and then smoke marijuana, the combination seems to cause the blood vessels in the lungs to broaden (an effect of alcohol use) which allows for more THC to be absorbed by the body.
It can also lead to your cognitive functions being even more impaired and an increased risk of alcohol poisoning.
However, there still needs to be more research done. No doubt, as research on the beneficial uses of marijuana as a medicine continue, there will need to be more research done for people who choose to misuse marijuana and alcohol together.
Despite this, there are large numbers of people who choose to use alcohol and weed at the same time for recreational reasons. Recently in some circles, the term “crossfading” has been coined to refer to this.
Crossfading’s popularity with some people may come from the fact that drugs, including alcohol and cannabis, affect different people in different ways.
There is also often a correlation between people who use this term and people who have enough experience using both substances to know they get better results when they do so in moderation.
Someone like this might like having a little beer, whiskey or wine and weed at the same time, enjoying the fact that they can keep their intake of both substances low by taking advantage of the way alcohol and marijuana can magnify the effects of each other.
Mixing marijuana and alcohol – things to be aware of
In general, when you are mixing weed and wine or weed and beer – for example – you will almost certainly start to notice the effects of both hit you much more quickly.
There are also a number of different issues you might face when you are mixing alcohol and weed in any sort of large quantity:
1) Greater effect of THC
Your liver will always try to metabolize alcohol before any other substance which enters it. This means that other substances which enter at the same time will remain in the liver for longer, as your liver is busy breaking down the alcohol.
When it comes to THC, this means that its effects will likely be felt for longer and at a greater intensity when taken at the same time as or after drinking.
2) Greater effect of alcohol
On the flip side of the coin, some of the endocannabinoid receptors in your body which cannabis activates (or “unlocks”, to use a popular bit of imagery) can also affect the speed at which your body absorbs alcohol.
This and the above mean that the two drugs almost always work in a synergistic (though not necessarily beneficial) fashion, with one adding to the effects of the other.
3) More powerful side effects
Many drugs have side effects. Alcohol is famous for its ability to intensify the side effects of any drug or substance which is taken at the same time as it.
Just like any drug, the excessive use of cannabis (in itself, not a good idea – especially if you are using marijuana for medical purposes) can also have negative consequences. For example, overuse of some kinds of cannabis can result in increased rather than reduced anxiety.
These consequences will only be made worse if you have over-indulged in alcohol at the same time.
4) The possibility of overdose
The effects of an alcohol overdose are bad enough on their own. We’re not talking about a hangover here. An alcohol overdose can be lethal if a person greatly exceeds their tolerance for the substance.
Combining over-indulgence in alcohol with cannabis use increases the chances that a person will get alcohol poisoning or overdose on alcohol.
Plus, while it’s less harmful than an alcohol overdose, overdosing on THC is also unpleasant. It’s especially undesirable for younger people.
5) Potential for psychological harm
A great deal of research is being done to investigate the overlap between people who massively overuse alcohol and cannabis and people who have certain types of mental illness.
Broadly speaking, if you chronically abuse both alcohol and marijuana, there is a higher chance that you might be diagnosed as having some form of mental illness, such as depression or anxiety.
That said, there is also a high chance that people who have some form of mental illness misuse alcohol or cannabis in a misguided attempt to help them manage their condition rather than it being the cause of that condition.
However, the many deleterious effects of combined cannabis and alcohol overuse is almost always going to be bad for a person’s mental health in any case.
6) Increased bad judgment
Alcohol is almost legendary for its ability to cause people to have worse judgment than normal. But cannabis can also have an effect on the way people think – especially the ability to think rationally about a given issue or action.
When taken in combination and to excess, cannabis and alcohol can lead a person to:
- Act on impulse
- Engage in risky behavior
7) Effects on memory
Being “blackout drunk” is, unfortunately, a phrase which has entered common usage – and not for good reasons.
But it is important to note that excessive cannabis use can affect your memory too. In combination, this effect is magnified still further.
8) Development of dependence
With enough overuse, your body can become physically dependent on alcohol. The withdrawal effects are bad enough to be dangerous to your life.
It’s less well known and much harder to achieve – that is to say, you have to chronically misuse it even more excessively – but it is possible to reach a similar level with cannabis.
This level of overuse is very dangerous. Especially as both drugs exacerbate the effects of dependence on and the danger of withdrawal from the other.
9) Increased risk of dehydration
Alcohol is a diuretic. This means it causes water levels in your system to be reduced over time. Most commonly, it means that people who drink alcohol need to go to the toilet more than the average.
This can combine with cannabis use in a negative way. It has even been discovered that in some cases – possibly relating to smoking first and then drinking alcohol – that cannabis’s effect on your small intestine can actually reduce your blood alcohol levels.
This might mean you can drink more alcohol without noticing the effects – something which might exacerbate the risk of dehydration.
10) Interrupting the beneficial effects of cannabis
Cannabis is being studied for its potential medical benefits for some very good reasons. A type of cannabis-derived medication has already been approved by the FDA for the treatment of certain types of epilepsy. More approvals for other conditions are likely to follow.
Marijuana can be an anti-inflammatory, can help with depression and some kinds of anxiety as well as being useful for pain relief and for people suffering from numerous other conditions.
When it comes to its use by cancer patients, as well as pain relief, cannabis is also often used as an anti-emetic. That is to say, to help people to stop themselves from vomiting. This is particularly useful for chemotherapy patients, for instance.
However, excessive alcohol use often leads to the body wanting to purge itself through vomiting. So, in addition to inhibiting the beneficial effects of cannabis, another problem can be caused when the body is unable to purge itself of alcohol poisons because cannabis is preventing you from vomiting.
The long-term effects of overusing or chronically misusing any drug can include liver disease, kidney disease as well as cardiovascular or gastrointestinal problems and issues with your immune system.
It is thought that long-term effects specifically relating to the chronic misuse of alcohol and cannabis might lead to:
- Memory issues
- Cognitive issues
- Physical dependence, as mentioned above
Misuse of drugs – especially alcohol
All of this does not alter the fact that using cannabis for medical purposes or even mild recreational purposes can be very beneficial for many people.
Even alcohol, which can be – and often is – very easily misused, has its place if it is used in moderation.
However, among commonly-used drugs, only tobacco and other nicotine products are misused as often as alcohol is:
- Binge drinking – somewhere around 65 million Americans binge drink. That is to say, they drink more than four or five drinks within a few hours.
- Heavy drinking – over 16 million Americans say they binge drink more than five times a month.
This is use that is truly excessive. Combining this excessive drinking with the effects of cannabis on top is a recipe for a negative experience and possibly much worse.
Use your common sense
By now, you will probably have spotted that much of the information above relates to the chronic misuse of alcohol and cannabis. This means people who use them in large amounts, multiple times a month – if not daily.
Doing this can lead to you having some seriously unpleasant times even in the short-term. Drinking a lot of alcohol then smoking cannabis can result in “greening out” or pulling a “whitey”, a very unpleasant experience of sweats, paleness, dizziness and nausea.
However, if you enjoy a little crossfading, drinking a small amount of alcohol and smoking a little cannabis, so long as you are in a safe and secure environment – perhaps in your own home on your bed or sofa, surrounded by soft things and with a plentiful supply of water – you are unlikely to come to much harm.
As long as you use your common sense, are aware of the dangers and use both in moderation in a safe environment, it is possible to enjoy cannabis and alcohol at the same time – and gain some beneficial medical and psychological effects by doing so.