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What Really Happens When You Mix Alcohol and Weed?

When it comes to drugs, alcohol and weed are among the most commonly used substances. But what really happens when they team up?

Occasionally mixing alcohol and weed — also known as crossfading — likely won’t lead to major health problems. But there are a lot of variables to consider, including which one you use first and how you consume them.

If you aren’t careful, the duo can lead to a case of the spins or a green out, two reactions that can turn a fun night out into a nauseated night in.

It’s also important to remember that people can have very different reactions to the same mix of alcohol and weed. If you’re out in a group, one person’s reaction might be very different than yours.

Read on to learn more about the potential reactions and what to do if you have a bad one.

Drinking before using weed can intensify weed’s effects. This is because alcohol increases the absorption of weed’s main psychoactive ingredient, delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).

This generally results in a stronger high. While this might be nice for some folks, it can cause others to green out. This refers to a range of unpleasant physical symptoms that can result from a strong high.

Symptoms of a green out include:

  • sweating
  • dizziness
  • nausea
  • vomiting

Alcohol before weed: Proceed with caution

Drinking alcohol before using weed can ramp up the effects of THC. If you’re a seasoned pro, this might not be a huge deal. But if you’re sensitive to weed or don’t have much experience using it, it’s best to avoid mixing the two. If you do, move slowly and be sure to listen to your body.

Breaking down the research

Turns out, you might not need much alcohol to change the way your body absorbs THC.

In a 2015 study, 19 participants drank either a placebo or small amount of alcohol. Ten minutes later, they used a vaporizer to inhale either a low or a high dose of THC.

The researchers found significantly higher peak THC levels among participants who had alcohol versus those who had a placebo. This was true for both low and high doses of THC.

However, this study was pretty small, making it hard to draw any firm conclusions. Plus, a similar (but equally small) 2010 study found that alcohol consumption didn’t have much of an effect on THC concentrations.

While there’s some research around the effects of drinking alcohol before using weed, there isn’t much about the opposite approach. The studies that do exist are old and mostly inconclusive.

For example, a 1992 study had 15 participants smoke a placebo, a high dose of THC, or a low dose of THC on three occasions. On each occasion, they’d rank a different dose of alcohol, including a placebo, as a low dose or a high dose.

Weed appeared to slow down the rise of blood alcohol levels after consuming a high dose of alcohol. But a 1993 letter to the editor questioned this result.

If using weed does indeed slow the absorption of alcohol, it might also delay feelings of drunkenness. This might seem like a good thing, but it makes it harder to know how impaired you really are.

For example, you might feel like you’re good to drive, but your blood alcohol level may be well over the legal limit.

Weed before alcohol: Assume you’ve had an extra drink or two

Using weed before drinking alcohol may minimize the effects of alcohol. This means you might be tipsier than you feel, increasing your risk for becoming overly intoxicated.

If you use weed before drinking, pay extra attention to how much you’ve had to drink. To err on the side of caution, assume you’ve had a bit more to drink than you actually have, or aim to drink less than you usually would without using weed.

It’s hard to say. There’s isn’t a ton of high-quality research on the topic. Still, there’s some evidence to suggest that regularly combining alcohol and weed may have some concerning effects over time.

Higher risk of dependence

A 2017 review of existing studies notes that people who use alcohol and weed together tend to consume more of both. This can increase your risk for developing a dependence on alcohol, weed, or both.

Decreased cognitive function

A study from 2011 evaluated performance on cognitive tasks among 21 heavy weed users who had consumed alcohol.

Those who consumed just alcohol had worse cognitive functioning than those who only consumed THC. Those who combined the two had reduced cognitive performance than those who only consumed alcohol.

Over the long term, combining alcohol and weed may be associated with decreased cognitive function and changes in brain structures, such as the hippocampus.

Impaired driving

A number of recent studies also focus on how combining weed and alcohol affects your driving.

In a 2013 study , 80 people participated in six testing sessions. In each session, participants consumed a different combination of placebo, low, and moderate doses of THC and alcohol. Then they completed a driving simulation.

The researchers reported that combining THC and alcohol consistently impaired driving performance, with worse performance during nighttime simulations.

Adding alcohol to a low dose of THC impaired driving simulator scores by 21 percent. Adding alcohol to a high dose of THC impaired driving simulator scores by 17 percent.

The big takeaway? Don’t drive after using marijuana or drinking alcohol. Period.

When mixing weed and alcohol, there are a lot of other variables to consider in addition to which one you use first.

  • your tolerance to either substance
  • the type and strength of the alcohol
  • whether you smoke, vape, or take edibles
  • the time interval between taking each substance
  • whether you also use other substances, including tobacco or caffeine
  • whether you take medication

The safest bet is to avoid using weed and alcohol together. But if you do decide to mix the two, start slow and keep track of how much you’re consuming of each. Keep a running tab in your phone, if you have to.

Remember, consuming weed and alcohol together can make you feel either more or less intoxicated than you would if you were using just one or the other.

If you take medication, talk to your doctor before using weed, alcohol, or both. They may weaken the effectiveness of your medication or increase your risk for certain side effects.

If you’ve mixed weed and alcohol and are having a bad reaction, it’s probably because alcohol seems to make the high from using weed stronger. The resulting unpleasantness is casually known as a green out. This can happen any time you’ve consumed to much weed — with or without alcohol.

Signs of a green out can include:

  • shivering
  • chills
  • sweating
  • rapid heart rate
  • lightheadedness
  • stomach problems
  • nausea and vomiting
  • paranoia
  • anxiety

How to handle a green out

Whether you’re trying to keep still in a spinning room or breaking out in a clammy sweat, these tips can help you make it through:

  • Stay calm. When it comes to bad reactions, patience is key. Your feelings will go away in time. If possible, find something, such as music, to focus on other than your discomfort.
  • Sit or lie down. If you feel dizzy, find a quiet place to rest until you feel better. If possible, ask a friend to help you get home.
  • Eat or drink to boost your blood sugar. A bit of food or a sugary drink can help relieve dizziness. Try something hearty, like soup broth. If you don’t have any on hand, juice will do.
  • Stay hydrated. Both alcohol and weed can leave you feeling dehydrated. That can lead to dry mouth, headaches, and dizziness. Drink water to put your body back on track.
  • Squeeze a lemon. Lemons contain a chemical compound that may decrease the effects of THC in the brain. Adding lemon juice or zest to some water might help when you’re feeling too high.
  • Smell crushed peppercorns. Similarly, peppercorns contain a compound that some say helps when you’re greening out. To take advantage, crush or grind a handful of peppercorns, then take a long inhale. Just don’t get too close. You don’t want to actually get the pepper in your nose.
  • Talk to someone. If you can, get a trusted friend to keep you company. They can help you stay calm and pass the time.

Alcohol and weed might sound like a mellow combo, but they can interact in surprising ways.

‘Grandma’s magic remedy:’ Mexico’s medical marijuana secret

A dancer who uses a mixture of alcohol and marijuana to relieve muscle aches, shows the bottle with it at a clandestine greenhouse in Mexico City on November 30, 2015. (AFP PHOTO/ Yuri CORTEZ)

MEXICO CITY — When her legs ache, this Mexican grandmother rubs them with marijuana-infused alcohol.

She is well aware the homemade remedy defies the country’s cannabis ban, but her family has used the concoction to treat ailments since she was a child, handing it down the generations.

“I really have a lot of faith in it,” said the slender 53-year-old, a housewife and amateur dancer who spoke to AFP about her cannabis use on condition of strict anonymity.

“When I’m very tired, I spread it on my legs, feet and body. It’s really good. I can go without salt but not without marijuana with alcohol. My grandmother used it,” she said, holding a plastic bottle filled with the leaves and liquid.

In turn, she used the family remedy to care for her three children, and three grandchildren. For the kids, a piece of cotton soaked in the liquid is placed in the bellybutton to fight fevers. When they’re congested, the alcohol is rubbed on the chest and back.

A debate on whether to legalize marijuana for recreational or medicinal uses in Mexico is in its infant stages, but Mexicans have used cannabis for therapeutic purposes for centuries.

The national discussion was launched in November when the Supreme Court issued a landmark ruling authorizing four people to grow and smoke marijuana for personal use, opening the door for others to seek similar permits.

Weeks earlier, the parents of an eight-year-old girl named Grace, who suffers from a severe form of epilepsy, won a legal battle to import a cannabis-based oil to treat her condition.

But for generations Mexicans have been using “grandma’s magic remedy” to combat a wide range of pains, fevers or other complaints.

The cannabis-infused oil can be kept for months, and many keep a flask hidden in a closet. The remedy also comes in dry forms or as pastes. Some some drink marijuana tea to relieve headaches or help with insomnia while others smoke it to fight nausea or cancer-related pains.

“Infused into alcohol is the traditional use for rheumatism as well as muscular and circulation pains,” said Humberto Rocca, a doctor specializing in addictions and herbalism.

“It’s an ancient medicine, passed on from generation to generation. Young people know that their grandmothers or mothers use it,” Rocca said.

Home brew

Jorge Hernandez Tinajero, a veteran pot legalization activist, said Spanish conquistadors brought hemp with them, and indigenous populations added it to their ceremonial and medicinal traditions.

“Marijuana began to be used in different ways in the 16th century, for rituals guided by shamans, which persist to this day in some villages,” said Tinajero, who is part of the Mexican Association of Cannabis Studies.

In a Mexico City home, a 33-year-old publicist agreed to show AFP reporters his hydroponic system of some 20 marijuana plants growing under intense spotlights.

“This is for personal and medical use,” he said from his greenhouse, walking barefoot and smoking a joint during the chat.

“There’s no sale or purchases. We only do this to change the system and this war” against drug trafficking, he said, echoing the argument among pro-legalization activists that decriminalizing pot will help combat the violence associated with the illegal trade.

He taught himself to make various types of therapeutic marijuana, including the traditional alcohol-based recipe, a thick wax concentrate of tetrahydrocannabinol — the main psychoactive ingredient in cannabis — which is used to treat nausea, and extracts that are used for vaporizations.

“If your mom has a migraine, you give her a little tea because the pain goes away with a little bit of marijuana,” he said.

“Typically I make alcohol for the grandmother of a friend who has pains in the hands or feet due to arthritis or sciatica,” said the man, who insists he gives away the medicine for free.

National debate

While President Enrique Pena Nieto has voiced opposition to legalizing marijuana, he has convened experts to hold debates between January and March to see if the government should change the law in the wake of the Supreme Court ruling.

In its wake, Mexican health authorities this week issued the first permit allowing the individuals concerned to grow their own marijuana for recreational purposes.

Though limited to those four people only, the authorization opens a crack in Mexico’s prohibitionist policies.

In parallel, a member of Pena Nieto’s Institutional Revolutionary Party has introduced a bill in the Senate that would allow Mexicans to import and consume medical marijuana — though not grow it on national soil.

But the head of the government’s Cofepris health and drug regulator, Mikel Arriola, doubts the medicinal value of marijuana.

“For it to have healing effects, it must be presented in a medicine form, like a tablet, an injection or a solution,” Arriola told AFP. “Marijuana does not go through this process. Its healing effects are not recognized.”

A spokesman for the attorney general’s office said that carrying marijuana-infused alcohol is illegal. But he also said there was no precedent of anyone being arrested for using the home brew.

A debate on whether to legalize marijuana for recreational or medicinal uses in Mexico is in its infant stages, but Mexicans have used cannabis for therapeutic purposes for centuries.