Can I combine alcohol and marijuana?

How unhealthy is it to combine alcohol and cannabis?
How unhealthy is it to combine alcohol and cannabis?

Alcoholic cannabis drinks — apparently it’s a thing.

As recreational cannabis markets to continue to open up, more and more people are thinking about combining cannabis with alcohol.

Unfortunately, most don’t realize this potent combination can lead to “synergistic” effects you wouldn’t get with either substance alone. “Synergistic” means 2+2 does not equal 4; it equals 10.

Whether smoking cannabis while drinking, mixing a canna-cocktail, or trying one of the cannabis wines on the market, understanding how alcohol and cannabis interact is incredibly important.

‘Crossfading’ in Ancient History

Nowadays the kids call mixing cannabis and alcohol “crossfading” but the two have been mixed together for thousands of years. In fact, this combination was reportedly used as a general anesthesia for surgery as far back as 400 BCE. Its use as anesthesia can give you a general idea of the effects you might encounter. The combination can be sedative and numbing, leaving users feeling tired, heavy and disoriented.

Most people understand the dangers associated with alcohol. It can make it harder to think clearly and move with coordination, so driving is unsafe. Then there is the danger of drinking too much and accidentally overdosing. These dangers are only increased when cannabis is added to the equation. While cannabis is relatively safe, in that you can’t overdose from it, it can be extremely disorienting, especially for new or occasional users. This disorientation is magnified when cannabis is mixed with alcohol, often much more than expected for the amount of cannabis used.

The Science of Crossfading

Scientists have studied this phenomena and found a surprising result. When subjects drank alcohol then smoked cannabis , the levels of THC (the main active chemical in cannabis) was higher than when the same amount of cannabis was consumed without any alcohol. These studies suggest that alcohol increases the absorption of THC, thus also increasing the subjective effects of the cannabis like euphoria and disorientation.

Users who might be used to smoking one joint, without alcohol, might be surprised at how affected they are by that same joint on a night when they are also drinking. This can lead to dangerous situations where people are suddenly feeling much more ‘under the influence’ than they expected to be.

Even more problematic are the many non-tokers who lose their inhibitions when drunk and suddenly decide, ‘Now’s the time to hit that joint!’ Nausea and vomiting follows soon after.

Don’t Drive on Alcohol + Marijuana

Crossfading can be especially dangerous on the road. One study found that driving ability was moderately impaired by cannabis, but severely impaired by alcohol and cannabis together. People who may feel comfortable driving after drinking a beer, or smoking a joint, might find themselves severely impaired from the combination.

This can also be a dangerous combination if too much alcohol is consumed. While cannabis’ anti-emetic effects can help offset the upset stomach that accompany a night of drinking, it can also keep people from throwing up when they’ve had too much. When it comes to alcohol poisoning, vomiting is the body’s best defense. While this aspect of the cannabis/alcohol interaction hasn’t been studied, common sense suggests it could increase the chances of overdosing.

There are plenty of cannabis users who regularly combine cannabis and alcohol, and there are certainly safe ways to do that, but it is important to know your own limits. the dose makes the poison. A little of both go a loooong way. If you are new to combining these two substances, do so with caution and don’t overdo it.

[What’s your take on combining cannabis and alcohol? No bueno? Every day? Shoot us a comment on Facebook]

[Emily Earlenbaugh is a cannabis patient consultant and wellness researcher. She is the author of the online course ‘The Mindful Guide to Cannabis’ and has a doctorate in philosophy of science from UC Davis.]