The Science of ‘Crossfading’: Mixing Alcohol and Cannabis

A Disclaimer: Alcohol and Cannabis are powerful vices, best governed by the rule of moderation. This article does not promote concurrent poly-drug use. It has been written for information and harm reduction purposes. It’s generally wise (read: not stupid) to stay well within your personal limits when consuming multiple drugs in one sitting – regardless, we at F.A.B recognise that responsible adults will ultimately decide what is best for their own wellbeing.

Mixing Australia’s Two Favourite Intoxicants

Alcohol and cannabis are tried and true experiences for human beings. Their dual name recognition is unparalleled, in part because they are among the most ubiquitous and accessible of drugs. In many circumstances, it’s an underlying “part of the culture” down under to smoke and drink simultaneously. [6] In fact, most studies on cannabis and alcohol use in civilian populations conclude that concurrent use of both drugs is remarkably common. [6]

The pairing is somewhat legendary in its synergy. The experienced stoners and partygoers who reach all new heights by combining these two psychoactives know it as “crossfading“. Researchers are only just beginning to analyse the properties of this blissed-out state of mind. Of course, this means that most people mixing the two substances in social contexts aren’t really aware of how it’s interacting inside of their own bodies…

Which begs the question: if you’re going to be mixing these two powerful substances, what positive and negative subjective effects can you expect? Are there any potentials for serious harm; and if so, what are they? How can you avoid them? In this article, we’ve compiled some of the evidence floating around which manages to address these questions, and much more.

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TL;DR: The old saying of “Beer before grass, you’re on your arse; grass before beer, you’re in the clear” has some accuracy to it. Evidence indicates that drinking before smoking will ‘pot-entiate’ psychoactive effects more than smoking before drinking will. Cheers!

How “Crossfading” Works

If you’re going to be smoking and drinking simultaneously, the order in which you consume actually matters. It can be the difference between an overwhelmingly positive experience, and “greening out” – vomiting everywhere.

It’s well established (at least in folk understanding) that cannabis and alcohol are highly potent substances that intensify one another. The parroted hearsay from most experienced Aussie stoners goes something along the lines of:

“Beer before grass, you’re on your arse;
Grass before beer, you’re in the clear”

– Wisdom Of The Ages

This is surprisingly true – not just because the majority of stoners believe it – but because it has been researched and documented by scientific studies, the most pertinent of which conducted by Scott Lukas et al. at Harvard Medical School in 2001. One of Lukas’ studies looked at how smoking weed affects the absorption of alcohol, and the other looked at how drinking alcohol affects the absorption of THC.

The Harvard Research

To cut a long story short: the 2001 study utilised blood samples and subjective reports of euphoria or dysphoria from the participants to determine that the consumption of alcohol and cannabis together has a significant impact on the pharmacokinetics of both substances. [5] Pharmacokinetics tracks the way a given substance interacts with and moves throughout the body.

“not everyone responds to alcohol and marijuana the same [way].”

– Scott Lukas, Harvard Researcher [2]

Participants in the Harvard study were purported to have felt a longer, more intense high after consuming alcohol. [6] The study also noted that the strength of the weed had a significant impact on the results – the study in question was conducted using cannabis that had a comparatively very low THC content (1.26% and 2.53%, respectively). [6]

Pictured above: Graphs of the blood THC levels during given periods of the test. [5]
These results suggest that consuming alcohol before smoking may make you uncomfortably inebriated, particularly if you are unaware of how the effects of cannabis are intensified. A surprising finding was that was that smoking seemed to decrease the blood alcohol content of participants. [5] Smoking cannabis activates the body’s Cannabinoid 2 receptors (CB2), which affects how quickly alcohol is absorbed into the body. [5]

Alcohol has the inverse effect on THC in the human body, when comparing it to how THC influences alcohol – if you drink first and then smoke, it causes the levels of THC in your plasma to skyrocket, intensifying your high. If you smoke first, then drink, the alcohol in your plasma will be lower than if you just consumed alcohol on its own. This means that cannabis mutes the effects of alcohol, while alcohol intensifies the effects of cannabis.

It is important to acknowledge that this data is coming from blood alcohol measurements, rather than the subjective effects of the alcohol as reported by participants. Still, with this understanding, we hope people out there can perhaps act with a little more caution, and hopefully avoid making any regrettable choices.

Why Does Alcohol Potentiate Pot?

Alcohol is known to increase vasodilation – the widening of veins and arteries. [8] This is particularly true within the digestive system and the lungs, which absorb far more THC and allow you to get much more stoned than you otherwise would. [6] Vasodilation assists the absorption of THC within the body—a finding confirmed in a more recent study done in 2015. [8] The increased “buzz” of combining alcohol and weed also suggests a complex pharmacokinetic relationship involving the co-potentiation of “feel-good” neural pathways used by both drugs. Our understanding of this is still pretty hazy, though.

“Marijuana does a unique thing to your small intestine that alters the motility [the way things move through your intestines] of your GI tract in such a way that it causes your blood alcohol levels to actually be lower than… if you had just consumed alcohol by itself,”

– Scott Lukas, Harvard Researcher [2]

Drinking first is far more ‘synergistic’. It can increase the body’s ability to absorb THC up to twice as fast. In other words, you can potentially double the effects of THC in your system if you have a drink before you smoke. [1]

Drinking Alcohol With Your Bud

Okay, so we’ve established that if you’re gonna do this, you should probably smoke first.

Still, there remains the question of timing – for how long should one wait to drink after a smoke? The answer is… you’ll probably be alright if you do it immediately, because alcohol takes approximately 20 minutes to absorb. [1] But in the name of harm reduction (and a good time), a rule of thumb is to wait between 15 to 30 minutes. This gives your body plenty of time to adjust to the cannabis.

The specific manner in which you choose to combine alcohol with cannabis makes all the difference. Of relevance to your experience is the variety and potency of your alcohol, and the quality of your cannabis – both in terms of the strain, and the levels of THC, CBD and other cannabinoids. Many of these variables are left unknown in the black market throughout Australia – so, be careful. And avoid PGR like the plague (as per usual), unless you want a mega hangover the next morning.

“if you’re sitting alone in your bedroom, and you’ve got pillows all around you, and you’re well hydrated, and the bed’s not too far off the ground, the risk is low.”

– Scott Lukas, Harvard Researcher [2]

Alcohol And Cannabis: Knowing Your Limits

The limited research that has been done on the topic of combining alcohol and marijuana indicates that doing so can be highly hazardous depending on the circumstances; particularly if one is unaware of the major risks.

As we covered earlier, preliminary studies have shown that alcohol consumption significantly increases the ability of the human body to absorb THC, which makes drinking first seem like a “budget” way of stretching the impact of your cannabis high. If you do this, it’s advised that you pace yourself and partake with people you trust in a safe, comfortable environment. Once the unusually high levels of THC have reached your brain, your mental functions will have already taken a beating from the booze. Do yourself a solid.

Set and setting are very important to the outcome of the experience. Under certain circumstances, alcohol and cannabis can incite paranoia, causing people to make flawed or even fatal choices. The magnified effects of using these substances together can be very unpredictable, and may cause panic, anxiety, or terror.

One of the most prevalent dangers of drinking before smoking is severe illness, which is not the goal of any responsible cannabis user. [1] The conventional methods of ingesting cannabis, such as smoking, vaping, dabbing, and consumption through edibles, can still be quite risky in combination with alcoholic drinks.

The interactions between cannabis and alcohol are complex and unpredictable, and each individual will have a unique subjective and physiological reaction fitted to them. Alcohol is known as a depressant. In low doses, it causes emotional release and lowers inhibitions. Marijuana is also known for its calming, relaxing qualities; even though cannabis acts on different systems in the body. Cannabis produces variable effects from strain to strain and person to person. [2] To really know yourself and your limits, you’ll need to experiment.

‘Greening Out’

As we’ve already covered in this article, combining both cannabis and alcohol together can induce an elevated high. Overdo the mix, however, and it’s more than likely that you’ll experience the displeasure of greening out. This unfortunate fate may just mean throwing up, but it may also result in a long, drawn out nauseous sensation. [2] Dizziness, sweating, and other nasty symptoms may ensue. [1]

Indeed, cannabis and turps can prove to be quite a dangerous combination – especially if too much alcohol is consumed at once. Of course, it’s possible that you end up spewing your guts in someone’s front yard, but it’s also possible that the anti-emetic effects of cannabis help offset the upset stomach that accompany a night of drinking.

That sounds good, but it may actually be preferable for someone to throw up when too much alcohol has been consumed; a common occurrence in a night of binge drinking and drug use. Excessive cannabis and alcohol consumption can lead to death, as it is easier to drink excessively and risk alcohol poisoning. When it comes to alcohol poisoning, vomiting is the body’s best defence. While this aspect of the cannabis/alcohol interaction hasn’t been studied, common sense suggests that not throwing up could increase the chances of overdosing on alcohol.

Once again: falling ill is more likely to occur if a person drinks alcohol before smoking. So, choof first if you really don’t want to get wrecked!

Ways To Mix Alcohol And Cannabis

Cannabis Infused Beers, Wines and Spirits

It may surprise you to know that hops and cannabis are cousins in the plant world, and contain a great many similarities. Pairing cannabis and beer is becoming increasingly popular for this reason, particularly in Europe. This phenomenon has only been heightened by the advent of cannabis-infused beer. However, this kind of beer usually has trace elements of THC at best. The intoxicant here is the alcohol, for the most part. Cannabis-infused wine is another obvious idea. However, due to regulations of all kinds, there are very few places in the world where you can buy this commercially.

Infusing any kind of liquor with cannabis is one way to guarantee a drink that packs a significant punch of potency, if not flavour. There are no commercial varieties of a cannabis-infused spirit available anywhere right now, let alone Australia. With that said, making your own at home is very easy to do. Simply infuse your cannabis by soaking it in your favourite liquor. Marijuana margaritas are a popular choice. Any combination with fruit and alcohol is likely to be not only tasty, but highly intoxicating.

Beer And Cannabis

When deciding to smoke a THC-laden joint, beer can heighten the experience in a number of ways. The trick here is to pick the right kind of strain. Hybrids or sativas tend to go better with alcohol simply because it is a depressant. The couch-lock effect of a heavy indica might send you off to sleep with the first swig.

There are some beers with a low-alcohol volume that can perfectly complement such endeavours, however. Sour beers are a good choice, and can also reduce the feeling of cotton mouth.

Wine And Cannabis

Wine offers an intriguing, unique and fun experience when paired with cannabis. With that being said, the same rules concerning alcohol content still apply here.

Wine has a more complex molecular structure than cannabis. This is the scientific reason why there are more discernible aromas in wine. The tongue is also better suited to determine distinct tastes. Smoke, on the other hand, is discerned via the palate and respiratory system. When combined, however, the entire olfactory experience is elevated in the presence of both substances.

Lemon-y strains of cannabis go well with dry whites such as sauvignon, pinot, and chardonnay. Many smokers also prefer merlot, cabernet, and pinot noir because of the low tannins. Sparkling wines like Champagne or prosecco can aid as refreshing cleanse for a smokers’ dry mouth and throat.

Spirits and Cannabis

This may sound like throwing gasoline on a bonfire… and to be honest, it kind of is.


Alcohol takes longer to ‘kick in’ than cannabis. It can also take a lot longer to wear off, as regular drinkers know. The key here is to predict the delayed response to alcohol in your own perception when experimenting with hard liquors, which have a relatively quick and unexpected onset.

And maybe use a vaporiser, instead – it only makes sense, thematically.

Applications In Medicine

Cannabinoids are frequently mixed with alcohol for medical purposes. Along with fat-infused extraction, alcohol-based extraction is a safe way to isolate cannabinoids from plant matter. [1] Additionally, since the consumption of alcohol increases the ability of the body to absorb THC, alcohol may eventually become a useful tool for augmenting the impact of cannabinoid treatments on medicinal patients.

Alcohol Based Tinctures

Much of what appears on the edible and medical cannabis scene today contains an alcohol-based extraction of cannabinoids. The reason? There are many recipes and formulas where fat-based concentrates simply do not work. See: cannabis water or soda. Or gum. Or candy. Or even medical drops. [1]

Regarding the above recipes, cannabinoids can be extracted by soaking cannabis plant matter in a high-proof, edible alcohol. Cannabinoids and terpenes are isolated, purified, then later mixed into recipes, or combined with other elements. [1]

Don’t Drink And Drive…

‘Crossfading’ can have especially dangerous implications on the road. In Random Drug Tests across Australia, police found that 40% of those who indicated the presence of cannabis in their system were simultaneously intoxicated with alcohol. A study found that on average, driving ability was moderately impaired by cannabis, but severely impaired when alcohol and cannabis were mixed together. People who may feel comfortable driving after drinking a beer or smoking a joint may find themselves severely impaired from the combination of both substances.

A surprising finding in the Harvard studies was that was that smoking seemed to decrease the participants’ blood alcohol content. [5] In other words, smoking might, in one sense, “sober you up”.

“Marijuana does a unique thing to your small intestine that alters the motility [the way things move through your intestines] of your GI tract in such a way that it causes your blood alcohol levels to actually be lower than… if you had just consumed alcohol by itself,” Lukas says. [2]

It’s important to acknowledge that this data is coming from blood alcohol measurements, rather than the subjective effects of the alcohol. This finding doesn’t necessarily contradict the evidence for increased impairment on the road when alcohol and cannabis are mixed.

Mixing Alcohol and Cannabis: A Summary

Thousands regularly combine cannabis and alcohol safely, responsibly and without ‘incident’. With that said, protracted use of both drugs makes it significantly more likely for long term health impacts to emerge.

There are ways in which you can mitigate all kinds of risk when ‘crossfading’. Play it safe, and try to smoke before you drink. Using common sense will take you a long way.

It is important to know your own limits, and to keep an eye on others who perhaps don’t. In this case, it’s the dose that makes the poison. Where one is usually accustomed to consuming more of the substances in isolation, a little of both tends to go a long way. If you are new to combining these two substances, do so with extreme caution and moderation.

This article was written in tandem with Matt, who wrote beautifully and brought a lot of great information to the table with his writeup. Thanks for letting us use your words, Matt!

Sources Cited

[1] Royal Queen Seeds – Can You Ever Mix Alcohol With Cannabis?

[2] Vice – What Mixing Alcohol and Weed Does To Your Mind

[3] Greenstate – Can I Combine Alcohol and Marijuana?

[4] Honi Soit – Harvard Researchers Get High, Then Drunk

[5] Ethanol increases plasma Delta(9)-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) Levels and Subjective Effects After Marihuana Smoking in Human Volunteers

[6] Lukas, S. E., & Orozco, S. (2001). Ethanol increases plasma Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) levels and subjective effects after marihuana smoking in human volunteers. Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 64(2), 143–149. doi: 10.1016/s0376-8716(01)00118-1

[7] Subbaraman, M. S., & Kerr, W. C. (2015). Simultaneous Versus Concurrent Use of Alcohol and Cannabis in the National Alcohol Survey. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, 39(5), 872–879. doi: 10.1111/acer.12698

[8] Any Dose of Alcohol Combined With Cannabis Signficantly Increases Levels of THC In Blood


Author: Mitch

Mitch Keys is a young writer from Brisbane, Australia unfolding in a dynamic process of becoming (like everyone else, so don’t go thinking he’s special or anything). He likes being alive.

Mitch Keys is a young writer from Brisbane, Australia unfolding in a dynamic process of becoming (like everyone else, so don’t go thinking he’s special or anything). He likes being alive.


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1 year ago

I’m intrigued by this article enough to plan out my next sesh around trying a cross fade. I’ll keep it safe but also excited to trying different drinks to compliment my buds.

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