Article written by
Dipak HemrajHead of Research and Education
Content reviewed by
Dr. Lewis JasseyMedical Director - Pediatric Medicine
Table of contents
Mixing marijuana and alcohol is not recommended as they greatly influence each substance’s negative effects on the body., ranging from feeling sick to an increased chance of alcohol poisoning.
Alcohol is one of the most commonly used recreational drugs globally, following caffeine. Cannabis, meanwhile, is the most frequently used non-legal medication worldwide. It should come as no surprise that many people use them together, and it’s well-established that alcohol increases the absorption of THC.
Despite the potential dangers of mixing them, it’s common to do so. If you combine cannabis and alcohol occasionally and in moderation, you probably have no reason to be worried. But regularly doing so comes at a risk to your health.
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Order of Consumption Matters
The combination of marijuana and alcohol can cause you to become drunk and high at the same time. This phenomenon is informally known as “crossfading.”
Crossfading can have several effects on the body, which differ based on the order in which the substances are consumed.
Alcohol Before Marijuana
Alcohol increases the absorption of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the primary psychoactive component found in marijuana.
If you drink alcohol before using marijuana, the active ingredient in alcohol (ethanol) can cause more THC to reach the brain because alcohol widens the blood vessels.
Alcohol in the bloodstream can intensify the effects of THC on the body, causing a greater high, more intense side effects and potentially harmful reactions such as a greenout, which occurs when the brain’s cannabinoid receptors are overstimulated by too much THC.
Marijuana Before Alcohol
Studies have shown that the frequency of drinking five or more drinks on a single occasion in people who are simultaneous users of alcohol and marijuana is two to three times higher than in those who aren’t concurrent users.
In addition, evidence has suggested that marijuana can change how alcohol is metabolized in the body. It’s believed to delay the absorption of alcohol, slowing the subsequent rise in blood alcohol levels. This can also lead to alcohol poisoning because, with slowed absorption, it takes longer to feel the effects of the alcohol, which may lead to drinking larger quantities.
Side Effects and Risks
Multiple side effects and risks are associated with consuming alcohol and using marijuana simultaneously. It’s important to note that everyone experiences crossfading differently based on their tolerance.
These side effects and risks include but are not limited to:
- Impaired driving: Researchers have found that compared to people who use alcohol or marijuana separately, people who mix alcohol and marijuana are two to three times more likely to drive under the influence.
- Increased likelihood to engage in risky or sensation-seeking behaviors can lead to an increased chance of accidents or injury.
- Memory loss and a greater risk of blackout when compared to only drinking alcohol.
- Reduced risk of vomiting. Marijuana has antiemetic properties, which prevent vomiting, and this can prevent you from expelling the toxins in the alcohol through vomit.
- Impaired cognitive function, including clumsiness, confusion, dizziness and difficulty concentrating, and changes to the brain structure, such as in the hippocampus.
- Increased tolerance to alcohol and marijuana means consuming more to experience feeling high or drunk.
- Dependence: people who mix alcohol and marijuana tend to be more frequent and heavier users of both substances. Dependence can lead to alcohol addiction and marijuana substance abuse.
- Mental health problems, such as higher depressive symptoms and psychotic reactions
Signs of a Negative Reaction
Signs of an adverse reaction to alcohol include distorted vision and hearing, drowsiness, nausea and vomiting, a slow heart rate, low body temperature, and seizures.
Signs of a negative reaction to marijuana, known as a greenout, include coughing fits, anxiety, chest and lung discomfort, panic attacks, fainting, and an increased heart rate.
Combining alcohol and marijuana can exacerbate the adverse reactions to the individual substances. This means that it can worsen the symptoms of a greenout associated with consuming too much marijuana. Likewise, it can increase the negative reactions caused by drinking too much alcohol and even lead to alcohol poisoning, which can be deadly.
When combining the two substances, the symptoms are worse than an adverse reaction to the individual substances and could include hallucinations, delusions, paranoia, and other psychotic reactions.
When to Seek Medical Help
Any suspicion of alcohol poisoning requires immediate medical intervention because it can be life-threatening.
Symptoms of alcohol poisoning include:
- Slow heart rate
- An irregular or slow rate of breathing
- Dulled reflexes
- Blue or pale skin
- Low body temperature
- Loss of consciousness
The Bottom Line on Mixing Marijuana and Alcohol
Mixing marijuana and alcohol has been shown to have adverse short- and long-term side effects. However, if done safely, such as by keeping a tally on your alcohol intake and drinking fewer drinks than you usually would, you can minimize the risks of mixing alcohol and marijuana.
It’s also possible to replace alcohol consumption with cannabis consumption instead, and many have. So, although some research suggests that those who use both cannabis and alcohol together tend to use more of both substances, other research suggests that cannabis use reduces alcohol consumption amongst heavy drinkers.
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Frequently Asked Questions
What happens when you mix alcohol and weed?
Can you drink alcohol after smoking weed?
Yes, you can drink alcohol after smoking marijuana. This isn’t dangerous in itself. Instead, it’s what happens afterward that has the potential to cause harm. This is because combining the two substances can cause you to drink more alcohol than you usually would, and, in a worst-case scenario, this can lead to alcohol poisoning.