Mixing Cannabis and Alcohol: Brilliant or Bad Idea?

Whether from advice or experience, most American adults have gained the wisdom not to mix alcohols. But are alcohol and cannabis a more perfect pairing?

As is typically the case in life and in matters related to cannabis, the nuances are important, and they’re probably best understood by Scott Lukas, professor of psychiatry and pharmacology at Harvard Medical School. Lukas conducted studies to understand the effects of mixing these substances, and whether the order of operations matters.

To do this, Dr. Lukas ran one experiment in which subjects consumed cannabis before alcohol. The results showed that cannabis activates the cannabinoid 2 receptors in the body, changing the way material travels through your gastrointestinal tract in such a way that “it causes your blood alcohol level to actually be lower than if you had just consumed alcohol by itself.” In other words, for the same amount of alcohol consumed, you may feel less intoxicated than you would having without having smoked in advance.

In another study, Lukas reversed the order of consumption, having participants drink alcohol before smoking cannabis. Alcohol’s well-documented effect of opening up blood vessels played an important role here. Because drinking opened up the blood vessels in the digestive system, the subjects absorbed a higher percentage of the THC passing through it. In other words, for the same amount of THC consumed, you may feel a stronger high than you would have without having had alcohol in advance.

It’s tempting to think that this research implies that you can have more control over your experiences by mixing alcohol and cannabis. It sounds like alcohol can give you a stronger and better high, or that cannabis can let you drink more of your favorite aged whiskey with fewer consequences. But in fact, the opposite is true, and consuming one substance will impair your judgment, which makes it more likely that you’ll consume excessive quantities of the other (or both). Our advice: moderation (always) and stick to one (you’ll have more fun).