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What happens when you mix cannabis and alcohol?

Can consuming cannabis and alcohol together change your reaction to both? (Getty Images)
Can consuming cannabis and alcohol together change your reaction to both? (Getty Images)
Dan Webster EVERCANNABIS Correspondent
It’s only natural to take a soothing drink after imbibing a bit of cannabis. Especially when such imbibing involves some kind of smoke. And let’s be honest – nothing cools off a palate better than a cold beer, a chilled glass of wine or some other iced alcoholic drink. Yet this poses a question: What effect, either short or long term, does mixing cannabis with alcohol have on your body? From a pure physiological stance, it’s difficult to say. Since we’re still in a situation where the U.S. government considers marijuana a Schedule 1 drug – thus partnering it with heroin, LSD and ecstasy and rating it more dangerous than cocaine, meth or oxycodone – federal funds devoted to researching the effects of cannabis haven’t been exactly flowing. Yet some research, however limited, has been conducted. And a number of those studies have proven inconclusive, sometimes even contradictory. According Healthline, an online health resource, one 2010 study showed that mixing alcohol and cannabis had little effect. Then again, a 2015 study – which involved participants consuming alcohol (or a placebo) before being asked “to inhale either a low or a high dose of THC” – indicated that those who drank alcohol showed “significantly higher peak THC levels.” Yet both studies were fairly small – the 2015 participants numbered just 19 – so the conclusions are debatable. A 2019 study by Penn State University is more definitive. Recruiting some 1,017 participants from 49 states between the ages 18 and 25, the study compared people who drink alcohol to those who drink alcohol and use marijuana simultaneously. “The results suggest that individuals who simultaneously use alcohol and marijuana are at a disproportionately higher risk for heavy, frequent and problematic substance use,” said Ashley Linden-Carmichael, an assistant research professor at Penn State’s Edna Bennett Pierce Prevention Research Center. “The problem with simultaneous use is that it can affect people cognitively and perceptually, and also have an impact on motor impairment,” Linden-Carmichael said. In a 2014 Psychology Today article, Constance Scharff, Ph.D., made the case that mixing alcohol and cannabis can pose a specific potential harm. She pointed out that the human body has a natural reaction to the overconsumption of alcohol: vomiting. Yet citing a Northwestern University study, Scharff wrote that “marijuana has an antiemetic effect, meaning that it makes it more difficult for the body to vomit.” This, she added, can lead to a possibly lethal condition: alcohol poisoning. Offering its own set of guidelines, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) flatly states the following: “Using alcohol and marijuana at the same time is likely to result in greater impairment than when using either one alone.” The CDC adds that anyone taking prescription drugs should check with their physicians to make sure any kind of marijuana and/or alcohol use will affect their prescribed medications. Maybe the best advice comes from a researcher named Scott Lukas, a professor of psychiatry and pharmacology at Harvard Medical School. Talking to Vice.com, Lukas explained one of the difficulties involved in researching the effects of combining alcohol and cannabis: “Not everyone responds to alcohol and marijuana the same (way),” he said. Lukas’s advice: Use common sense. Be judicious, he said, don’t overdo and “always err on the side of caution.”
Dan Webster is a former Spokesman-Review staff writer who is a community producer for Spokane Public Radio and a blogger for Spokane7.com.
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