With CBD rising in popularity, it seems people are mixing it with everything, alcohol included. But what are the effects of mixing, for example, CBD oil or CBD gummies with alcohol, and most importantly, is the combination of CBD and alcohol actually safe?
THE CBD CROSSFADE
As many of us learned in high school or college, weed and alcohol aren’t always the most graceful pairing. The effects of alcohol mixed with the THC in marijuana creates an effect lovingly referred to as a “crossfade.” Also known the next morning as a killer one-two punch hangover. But CBD, the non-psychoactive compound in cannabis credited with soothing anxiety, calming chronic pain and helping folks get a better night’s sleep, is a whole different story. In fact, the few studies that have been done on the subject suggest that you might not notice a difference to your buzz at all. Mixing CBD and alcohol won’t make you black out or check all your inhibitions at the door (anymore than a plain ‘ol non-CBD cocktail will).*
HOW DOES ALCOHOL AFFECT THE HUMAN BODY?
When alcohol is ingested, roughly 20% of it enters the bloodstream immediately through the stomach, while the other 80% is absorbed through the small intestines. Once it enters the bloodstream, it is transported to the liver for processing and metabolisation.
Alcohol has numerous effects on the brain and body in both the short and long-term. In the short-term, alcohol tends to cause cognitive impairment, poor judgment, loss of coordination, trouble concentrating, and mood swings. It can also cause visual impairment, high blood pressure, and nausea.
In the long-run, alcohol can cause chronic issues such as memory loss, depression, learning problems, liver fibrosis, high blood pressure, stroke, heart attack, and several kinds of cancers.
HOW DOES CBD AFFECT THE HUMAN BODY?
After it is consumed, CBD is processed by a regulatory system called the endocannabinoid system (ECS). The ECS is a network of cell receptors throughout the body that interact with cannabinoids and enzymes to produce effects. Researchers believe that the ECS is responsible for regulating homeostasis (internal equilibrium), as well as pain, appetite, mood, and stress.
Although CBD doesn’t have a high affinity for the ECS’ two main receptors, research shows that it interacts directly and indirectly with several other kinds of cell receptors. These include 5-HT receptors (5-hydroxytryptamine), PPAR receptors (peroxisome proliferator-activated), and TRPV1 receptors (transient receptor potential vanilloid type 1), among others.
Clinical and animal studies show that CBD may have a range of therapeutic applications. By interacting with these receptors, cannabinoids like CBD can work to manage pain, reduce seizures, reduce stress, and improve sleep, to name but a few functions. However, because CBD works via such a complex physiological network, and because everyone is different, the strength of its effects may also differ from person to person.
WHAT ARE THE EFFECTS OF MIXING ALCOHOL AND CBD?
Though we still have much to learn about CBD’s medicinal value and potential side effects of mixing it with alcohol, the key to understanding CBD is by looking at how it interacts with our bodies through the endocannabinoid system (ECS), which is largely responsible for maintaining the body’s internal balance, or homeostasis.
CBD binds to several receptor pathways in the body, including the most well-known cannabinoid receptors, CB1 and CB2. When the CB2 receptor is activated, for example, whether by endogenous cannabinoids or phytocannabinoids (cannabinoids from the cannabis plant), it may regulate immune responses, inflammation, and other functions.
There are at least seven genetic mutations of the CB2 receptor, for example, which may in turn alter the way one individual responds to CBD as opposed to another. As a result, how one person reacts to a mix of CBD and alcohol may differ significantly from another.
The way our bodies take in and metabolize CBD is complex, which makes it difficult to make any definitive statements on what to expect if you mix it with alcohol. An individual’s response to CBD, like THC, is largely dependent on genetics.
With that in mind, we can still make a few general assumptions based on existing research — namely that mixing CBD and alcohol may lower blood alcohol levels while reducing some of alcohol’s toxic effects on the liver.
As early as 1979, a study published in the journal Psychopharmacology gave 10 volunteers one of the following at random: a CBD capsule and alcohol, a CBD capsule and orange juice, a placebo with orange juice, or alcohol on its own. Participants who were given the mix of CBD and alcohol had lower blood alcohol levels than participants who had just been given alcohol, though there weren’t any notable differences in impairment of motor skills.
So while CBD may affect a person’s blood alcohol level, it may not temper the immediate outward effects of alcohol use. In fact, because both alcohol and CBD can be sedating in high doses, they may produce a higher level of sedation when taken together.
A few animal studies have also shown that CBD may mitigate neurodegenerative and oxidative liver damage associated with alcohol use. A 2013 study from the Journal of Pharmacology Biochemistry and Behavior administered CBD gel and injections to rodents, which were also given alcohol. Both the CBD gel and injection proved effective in decreasing the rate of neurodegeneration in rodent models.
Another study from 2014 found that rodents given CBD 30 minutes prior to being given alcohol showed significantly less oxidative stress on the liver than rodents who had just been given alcohol. It’s yet to be determined whether these therapeutic effects are transferable to human alcohol consumption, but they do present the possibility that some of the most damaging aspects of alcohol use can be tempered with CBD.
However, based on the limited amount of research available to us, there’s no way of telling whether a glass or two of CBD wine could potentially lead to any adverse health effects, and more evidence is needed to give a definitive answer.
DOES CBD OIL HELP WITH HANGOVERS?
You may or may not already be familiar with CBD oil as a popular wellness product. A cannabis concentrate, tincture, or extract with a high concentration of CBD, the rapidly growing presence of CBD oil in dispensaries, health stores, major pharmacies, and on the internet has more people than ever wondering how it might be able to improve their lives.
CBD oil is unlikely to alleviate immediate alcohol intoxication or impairment of motor skills, but could CBD oil help get rid of a hangover? While it isn’t likely to be the most immediate effective cure, CBD oil may effectively treat several hangover symptoms, including headaches and nausea.
CBD’s neuroprotective and antioxidant properties may also make CBD oil a viable option for nursing a hangover. Again, everyone’s body is different, and will react differently to both alcohol and CBD. But it’s certainly possible for CBD oil to treat some of the most notorious hangover symptoms.
CBD FOR ALCOHOL WITHDRAWAL
If CBD has the potential to treat hangover symptoms, could it also help alleviate the harsh symptoms of alcohol withdrawal? Again, more research is needed to say for sure, but CBD may be able to help soften the dangers of alcohol-induced withdrawal by treating symptoms and promoting internal balance.
According to a 2016 review published in the journal Neurotoxicity Research, cannabinoids such as CBD that act as antagonists to CB1 receptors may reduce the severity of withdrawal symptoms and help patients reduce alcohol consumption. If this is the case, however, a whole-plant cannabis product with a full spectrum of cannabinoids may be more effective in treating alcohol dependence and withdrawal than CBD alone.
Alcohol withdrawal can be very serious, even life-threatening if handled improperly, so it’s always critical for those with an alcohol use disorder to seek medical supervision before ceasing alcohol use, even when taking CBD to help with symptoms.
Additionally, CBD cocktails are a good idea for drinkers who want to enjoy the relaxing experience of a cocktail without alcohol. Simply add CBD oil to your favorite cocktail recipe, withhold the liquor, and enjoy the therapeutic benefits of CBD-infused drink in a social setting.
Don’t mistake these studies as a green light to guzzle as many CBD cocktails as you can handle. As with anything, moderation is still key. If you’re taking CBD for medical reasons (or you’re taking other medications) be sure to check in with your doc before combining CBD and alcohol.
So, the jury’s still out on the effects of combining alcohol and CBD, and experts can’t even seem to agree. If you’re going to take CBD and alcohol together, we recommend at least keeping the doses low and trying both on their own first so you know how you react to them.