Whether you’re enjoying a cocktail infused with cannabidiol (CBD) at a trendy bar or nibbling on your favorite CBD-infused edible at home with a glass of wine, CBD and alcohol can seem like a perfect match.
But is it really a good idea to mix CBD and alcohol? Although research on the subject is skimpy, a few recent studies reveal some surprising—and contradictory—effects from combining CBD with alcoholic beverages of all kinds.
While some health professionals don’t recommend the combination because it may increase sedation, others point to research that suggests CBD may help protect the liver and brain from alcohol’s negative effects.
CBD Regulates Systems & Promotes Health
CBD is one of the two most abundant compounds in the Cannabis sativa plant, right alongside tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the compound that’s responsible for the high folks experience when consuming it.
Though both cannabinoids act on the body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS), a network of receptors found on cells throughout the body and brain, CBD—unlike THC—doesn’t make consumers feel high.
The ECS responds both to cannabinoid-like chemicals that are naturally produced by the body itself, and to cannabinoids from outside sources, mainly from the cannabis plant.
The ECS plays a major role in keeping many of the body’s subsystems in balance, a state called homeostasis. CBD supports processes that contribute to homeostasis, such as:
- Immune responses
- Circadian rhythms
- Signaling among neurons within the brain
For all of these reasons, CBD can help relieve the symptoms of a variety of health conditions. A large body of research from around the world documents the benefits of CBD for helping with:
- Neurological disorders like Parkinson’s disease and epilepsy
- Chronic pain
- Mood disorders such as anxiety and depression
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The cannabinoid’s calming, relaxing effects come from CBD’s ability to support major mood-regulating processes in the brain. CBD can boost the brain’s production of the natural cannabinoid anandamide, which reduces anxiety and promotes positive feelings.
CBD can also inhibit processes that interfere with production of a mood-boosting chemical called GABA. And it can damp down the effects of glutamate, a very abundant excitatory chemical that can cause heightened anxiety and agitation.
Alcohol Is a Feel-Good Toxin
For many people, alcohol also causes feelings of calm and relaxation. Taken in moderation, it can:
- Loosen inhibitions
- Ease social anxiety
- Help people unwind after a long day
But alcohol can also do significant damage to the body and brain when used in excess or over long periods of time. Because alcohol can release inhibitions, it can also contribute to episodes of anger and rage.
Unlike the cannabis-friendly ECS, the human body doesn’t have an alcohol receptor system. When the body metabolizes alcohol, it produces toxins, including acetaldehyde and a form of ethanol.
These toxins can destroy brain cells and damage the liver, causing conditions like cirrhosis and liver steatosis, or fatty liver syndrome.
So, what happens when CBD and alcohol meet each other in the body and brain?
CBD & Alcohol Can Enhance Each Other’s Effects
Folks who love CBD-infused alcoholic drinks say that while the combination promotes a more noticeable feeling of relaxation and enjoyment, the effects of CBD aren’t particularly outstanding.
But some studies suggest that CBD and alcohol together can intensify the effects of both substances. In this way, some people can feel extremely sedated or have somewhat more impairment in cognitive and motor skills.
In general, though, these studies indicate that taking CBD with alcohol may affect people much like alcohol alone does. But these effects also depend on a number of factors, such as:
- A person’s tolerance for CBD and alcohol
- How much they ingest at a given time
CBD Can Protect the Body Against Alcohol’s Harmful Effects
Although not much research has been done specifically on CBD-alcohol interactions, the benefits of CBD as a neuroprotectant and anti-inflammatory are well documented. And these qualities can help protect the body and brain from alcohol’s toxic effects.
CBD can be a potent protector of the brain’s complex and delicate neural networks. So much so, in fact, that CBD can help the brain heal from major trauma and stroke. Some research suggests that it could do the same when taken with alcohol to reduce the damage alcohol can do to the brain’s neural pathways.
CBD is also a powerful anti-inflammatory that can protect cells from oxidation and other damaging processes. In this way, some researchers have found that CBD can also help protect the liver from damage that heavy alcohol consumption can cause.
CBD Can Lower Blood Alcohol Levels
Researchers who compared the effects of CBD plus alcohol to the effects of alcohol alone made a surprising discovery: Even though study subjects in both groups showed about the same effects, the blood alcohol levels of those who took CBD with alcohol were significantly lower than those who had ingested alcohol alone.
Although the reason isn’t clear, it appears that CBD is able to lower levels of alcohol in the bloodstream—or to boost the body’s ability to metabolize alcohol.
Should You Mix CBD & Alcohol?
CBD-infused alcoholic beverages are the latest, hottest trend in CBD consumables. Folks say adding a few drops of a CBD tincture to their favorite drinks simply add an interesting twist.
But if you haven’t tried these drinks, or you haven’t combined CBD with alcohol in some other way before, it’s wise to proceed with caution and keep your consumption low until it’s clear how the combination affects you.
CBD-infused drinks aside, the way you consume other forms of CBD with alcohol also influences how this combination could affect you. CBD can typically interact with alcohol if the two are taken within four to eight hours of each other.
CBD edibles deliver their effects more slowly, because the digestive system must process them. But CBD oils and tinctures work more quickly. So far, science hasn’t explored whether topically applied CBD products may interact with alcohol.
Alcoholic beverages can vary in their alcohol content, too. For example, spirits like whiskey or vodka typically contain more alcohol than beers and wines do, and this can also affect the way different drinks interact with CBD.
Research reveals that mixing CBD with alcohol can bring some unexpected benefits. But it’s still wise to:
- Start slowly
- Know your limits
- Consume both CBD and alcohol as responsibly as you can
Photo credit: Canna Obscura/Shutterstock.com
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