I’d be willing to bet that some of you stoners out there have knocked back a few cold ones while passing around a joint (pre-COVID, hopefully).
Listen, you can do whatever you want. I’m not your dad. But as the resident stoner here at The Outlaw Report, I think it’s worth considering how cannabis and alcohol interact when consumed together.
The science behind mixing bud and booze is still somewhat up in the air. While some research has concluded that alcohol has little impact on THC levels, recent studies indicate the two substances can amplify each other’s effects on the body, leading to increased impairment.
A 2015 study published in Clinical Chemistry found that participants who consumed cannabis with a small amount of alcohol had significantly higher THC levels than those who consumed just weed. The study concluded that the results “possibly explain increased performance impairment observed from cannabis-alcohol combinations.”
How messed up you’ll get from a bud-booze combo seems to depend on a few factors — namely the type of alcohol and cannabis you’re consuming, your individual tolerance level and whether you’re pacing yourself through it all.
Pairing alcohol with weed edibles appears to be a particularly potent mix. According to Medical News Today, alcohol actually widens the blood vessels in the gastrointestinal tract, which allows for THC to be more quickly absorbed. That can influence the potency and length of one’s high, especially with edibles. When our livers process edibles, they convert THC to 11-Hydroxy-THC, a compound nearly 9 times more potent than THC that is inhaled. So mixing an edible with alcohol can be super intense, and shouldn’t be taken lightly.
Hard liquor and cannabis may be another one to watch out for. In a 2020 survey of 274 American college students, researchers at the Brown University School of Public Health found that impairment from consuming cannabis and alcohol increased significantly when that alcohol was straight liquor or a cocktail, compared to lower-ABV drinks like beer or wine. Overall, the Brown study found that participants who mixed alcohol and weed reported more negative consequences, such as “a hangover, nausea/vomiting, injury, driving under the influence, blackout, aggression, or unwanted sex.”
Those are pretty extreme scenarios that you should be able to avoid with a little moderation, but don’t overestimate your own tolerance for mixing weed and alcohol. A 2011 study published in Psychopharmacology found that while heavy cannabis users develop a tolerance to the impairing effects of THC, they don’t develop a “cross-tolerance” for alcohol — even in small quantities. In other words, even the most seasoned stoners can be fazed by mixing THC and with booze.
For beverage manufacturers, combining alcohol and cannabis is still illegal under federal law. But as a growing number of U.S. states legalize cannabis, alcohol companies have started to dip their toes into the cannabis world, adding weed-infused concoctions to their drink arsenals.
In 2018, California’s Lagunitas Brewing Company launched a THC-infused “beer” called Hi-Fi Hops, while Viv&Oak recently launched a cannabis-infused red blend. To comply with federal laws, both beverages are booze-free — marketed as an alternative to alcohol rather than a way to mix it with weed.
Other brewers have taken the opposite route, selling alcoholic drinks with CBD or THC-content that is low enough to be considered legal. Maryland Meadworks, a brewery just over the D.C. border, sells a mead hopped with hemp flowers that weighs in at 4.99% ABV, 15% CBD and 0.3% THC.
But let’s get back to the question at stake here. When it comes to mixing alcohol and cannabis, here are some key things to keep in mind, according to research:
Lower-ABV alcoholic beverages like beer or wine are less likely to heighten your impairment when paired with cannabis than hard liquor or cocktails.
Mixing alcohol with edibles is a particularly potent combination that should be avoided.
Even heavy THC users are susceptible to the impairing effects of mixing cannabis with alcohol.
Of course, as with any intoxicating substance, consuming responsibly and pacing yourself is always best practice.
And here’s my personal take: Being mindful of how you combine weed with booze will only elevate the entire experience. There’s an entire manual out there on how to pair weed with wine based on the terpene profiles of individual cannabis strains. So next time you’re reaching for a dry white wine like a sauvignon blanc, maybe try pairing it with a piney, earthy strain like Bubbakush. The possibilities are endless.
Ask A Stoner is a weekly column that answers our readers’ most burning questions on the ever-shifting, oft-misunderstood world of cannabis in the D.C. region. You can submit your questions using this Google Form, or by messaging Jason, our stoner-in-residence, on Twitter.