Mixing Weed and Alcohol: Effects and Risks

Last Updated: April 25, 2023

Combining weed and alcohol should be avoided to minimize associated short- and long-term risks. 

While several states have legalized or decriminalized weed (marijuana or cannabis), using it is not without risk. Increasingly, studies exploring marijuana and alcohol demonstrate they can be harmful when used together. For example, marijuana and alcohol are one of the most common combinations implicated in car accidents. Therefore, it is suggested that using these substances together is riskier than either alone. 

What Happens When You Mix Marijuana and Alcohol? 

Marijuana works on cannabinoid receptors, while alcohol enhances GABA. Despite working on different brain receptors, studies show that any amount of alcohol can increase the effects of THC — the chemical in marijuana that causes a “high.” As a result, using alcohol and marijuana together can be more harmful than using one or the other alone. 

Risks of Mixing Cannabis and Alcohol 

Taking cannabis (marijuana) and alcohol can result in undesirable short-term and long-term effects. 

Short-term Effects

Mixing alcohol and marijuana can result in several short-term consequences, including:

  • Blackouts
  • Decreased judgment 
  • Vomiting 
  • Dehydration 
  • Increased alcohol consumption
  • Higher likelihood of overdose
  • Decreased impulse control
  • Reduced learning processing
  • Drinking more alcohol more often

Long-term Effects

When alcohol and marijuana are used together over the long term, and especially in younger people, this combination can result in several serious effects, including

  • Lower IQ
  • Liver damage
  • Kidney damage
  • Addiction to other substances
  • Worsening mental health issues

Combining marijuana and alcohol over time may also cause changes to the brain that include: 

  • Processing
  • Impulse control
  • Dependence 
  • Risk-taking

What Is “Greening Out” or Getting “Cross-Faded”? 

“Greening out” or getting “cross-faded” refer to being drunk and high at the same time. They are terms commonly used among young adults, with more than half admitting to being “cross-faded” before. Alcohol has been shown to increase the absorption of THC, the chemical in marijuana responsible for feeling “high,” and its effects. Despite this, many underestimate the risks associated with using alcohol with marijuana. 

When To Seek Medical Attention

While marijuana overdose is usually treated with supportive care, there are rare instances of death citing marijuana as a contributor. However, alcohol overdose is well documented and often requires medical attention. Alcohol overdose can cause

  • Confusion 
  • Vomiting
  • Seizure
  • Irregular or slow breathing 
  • Slow heart rate
  • Trouble staying conscious
  • Clammy or pale skin
  • Brain damage
  • Death 

If you or a loved one suspects an alcohol overdose, call 9-1-1 for help right away. It is crucial to call for help as soon as an alcohol overdose is suspected because someone in and out of consciousness or passing out can die.

How to Minimize Risk 

Even if you use medical marijuana, it is safest to avoid combining it with alcohol. However, some strategies can minimize your risk if you do take them together. 

  • Wait an hour after drinking to use marijuana to allow your body time to metabolize the alcohol. 
  • Limit yourself to one drink per hour and avoid drinking games which would increase your alcohol use. 
  • Minimize how much alcohol and/or marijuana you use.
  • If you use medical marijuana, always follow your doctor’s instructions. 

Help for Polysubstance Abuse

If you or a loved one are struggling with marijuana, alcohol or polysubstance abuse, The Recovery Village Columbus can help. At our physician-led addiction treatment facility, we can help you get your life back. In addition, our Recovery Advocates are available 24/7 to provide the support you need. 

At The Recovery Village Columbus, our Joint Commission-accredited facility offers a full continuum of care, including inpatient, outpatient and telehealth treatment. It is even part of the VA Community Care Network. Contact a Recovery Advocate today to take the first step toward living a healthier life.

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