Only a few years ago, the idea of a cannabis-infused cocktail may have seemed crazy to some and too-good-to-be-true to others, but as CBD has steadily risen in popularity since 2017, it has also successfully become a choice ingredient in beverages, coffee, water, and food. So it only makes sense that people would try to shake it into their martinis, right? But is it a good idea? And more importantly – is it safe?
What is CBD?
For the uninitiated, the two most well known natural compounds found in the cannabis plant are tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). While THC is the psychoactive element of weed that causes the “high” we often associate with marijuana (you know, rolling a joint and synching Dark Side of the Moon with The Wizard of Oz – that kind of high), the other major compound, CBD, is non-psychoactive and known for its wide array of medicinal properties and therapeutic benefits, such as reducing anxiety, alleviating pain, improving sleep, treating cancer related symptoms and more.
CBD is extracted from the cannabis plant (typically from hemp) and sold in a variety of forms: oils, creams, lotions, bath bombs, soaps, capsules, food, and beverages. The market for CBD-infused drinks is only projected to get bigger, and given the relatively mellow effects of CBD oil, it seems like adding a couple of drops to your cocktail will do nothing more than make your buzz a little extra relaxing. But let’s see what the science has to say.
Summary: CBD is a compound found in the cannabis plant that is known for its therapeutic health benefits and is extracted for its medicinal uses, such as treating anxiety and chronic pain. It’s also non-psychoactive – meaning it won’t get you high.
What are the Known Effects of Mixing CBD and Alcohol?
The first thing to keep in mind is that the current body of medical research surrounding the effects of taking CBD with alcohol is still quite sparse. But broadly speaking, both substances are known for their soothing effects on the body: alcohol relaxes you and lowers your inhibitions; CBD reduces anxiety and calms your nerves. So the first question is whether the two substances amplify each other’s effects–will the interaction make you feel blissfully balanced or put you straight to sleep?
One 1979 study published in the journal Psychopharmacology showed that there actually weren’t many noticeable differences in behavior, impairment, or motor skills between volunteers who took CBD with alcohol and those who drank alcohol on its own.
Even though more current evidence is needed, this at least provides some indication that there are no immediate or severe health risks when mixing the two. However, it goes without saying that CBD affects everyone differently, so it’s important to know how your body responds to it before mixing it with alcohol.
Also, since both CBD and alcohol can be increasingly sedating in high doses, they may produce a much higher level of sedation when taken together, meaning greater loss of control, inhibition, and motor coordination. At the end of the day, most of what we know is anecdotal, some people have reported feeling overly sedated and others not so much, so proceed with caution and keep moderation in mind.
Summary: CBD and alcohol have similar effects in that they relax you and lower your inhibitions, but more research is needed to know exactly how the two affect each other, and whether they significantly amplify feelings of sedation and sleepiness.
Can CBD Help with Hangovers?
CBD has been known to reduce blood alcohol levels – the Psychopharmacology study found that volunteers who took 200 mg of CBD with alcohol experienced significantly lower blood alcohol levels, but bear in mind that this is an older study and used a much higher dosage of CBD than today’s recommended use.
Although it’s unclear if moderate amounts of CBD oil will have any significant effect on your blood alcohol level, it could however effectively treat various hangover symptoms the following day. CBD’s antiemetic properties can put your stomach at ease by reducing sensations of nausea and vomiting when nursing a notorious hangover.
Summary: While it’s still unclear if CBD definitively lowers blood alcohol levels in humans, its neuroprotective and antioxidant properties make it a promising choice for nursing a hangover.
May Protect Against Cell and Liver Damage
Several animal studies have shown that the anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties of CBD can mitigate neurodegenerative and oxidative liver damage associated with alcohol use. For example, one 2013 study from the “Journal of Pharmacology Biochemistry and Behavior” found that rodents who were given CBD gel and injections as well as alcohol experienced less alcohol-induced brain cell damage and neurodegeneration.
Another study from 2014 concluded that rodents injected with CBD 30 minutes before being given alcohol were less likely to experience oxidative stress on the liver. The CBD proved to increase autophagy – the mechanism of the cell that removes unnecessary or disfunctional components – in the mouse liver, which helped protect it against things like alcohol-induced fatty liver, hepatitis, and inflammation.
Of course, these are studies performed on animals, so it’s difficult to tell whether these benefits would also translate to humans, but they do provide some hopeful evidence that CBD could potentially mitigate some of the most damaging aspects of human alcohol consumption.
Summary: CBD has anti-inflammatory properties that have proven to be beneficial in protecting against neurodegeneration associated with alcohol in animals.
Can CBD Help With Alcohol Addiction?
CBD has become a strong candidate for treating addictive behaviors such as alcoholism. One thing that excessive drinking does is disrupt the natural neurochemical balance in the brain, and
CBD may be able to not only soften the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal but also promote an internal balance in the endocannabinoid system (ECS) that could help prevent a relapse.
One recent study observed the effects of CBD in alcohol addicted rats to evaluate “anti-relapse potential of a transdermal CBD preparation in relation to drug-seeking, anxiety, and impulsivity.”
It found that CBD helped reduce alcohol intake and reduced the motivation to consume more alcohol.
Studies among humans are still lacking, but in a recent randomized clinical trial, 24 smokers who were given a CBD inhaler found that they were able to significantly reduce the amount of cigarettes they smoked (by up to 40%). Other therapeutic effects of CBD that may help curb addictive behavior include:
- It can help increase your level of concentration and focus by releasing tension that may otherwise contribute to a relapse
- It interacts with the body’s endocannabinoid system – which is largely responsibly for maintaining the body’s internal balance, or homeostasis
Summary: While we need more concrete evidence on how CBD can physiologically curb addictive behaviors in human beings, its therapeutic effects may be able to reduce cravings and fortify the body’s defenses against alcoholism.
As it stands, more research is needed to determine whether combining CBD with alcohol is 100% safe. However, the research that does exist at least points in a generally positive direction, especially in areas like reducing blood alcohol levels and protecting against brain and liver damage associated with alcohol intake.
Still, a lot of these promising results have come from animals receiving high doses of CBD, so there is still a scarcity of data in humans, and future research needs to focus on verifying those results with smaller doses.
If you’re planning on taking CBD and alcohol together, the one thing experts can generally agree on is that moderation is key: stick to low doses and make sure to try each substance independently first before you try to mix them.
Also, if you already know you like the effects of CBD on its own, you can always enjoy a CBD-infused “mocktail” – without the liquor. Just add a couple of drops of CBD oil instead and you’re on your way to a much mellower buzz.