You may be reading this on a Sunday morning, desperate for relief from common hangover symptoms such as nausea or headaches. Could cannabis help overcome these?
Why do we get hangovers?
Hangovers are a common byproduct of alcohol consumption, with as many as 77% of drinkers reporting they have experienced at least one in their lifetime.
When alcohol is consumed, it is processed by the liver into water and carbon dioxide, which is easily excreted. On average, this occurs at a rate of one standard drink (ten grams of ethanol) per hour, although this can vary significantly between individuals.
When you drink alcohol faster than the liver can metabolize it, toxic chemicals such as acetaldehyde and acetate accumulate, causing a hangover to develop.
Although hangovers typically last less than a day, people often seek remedies for the unpleasant symptoms, which can include nausea, fatigue, head and muscle aches, dizziness, low mood, thirst, and loss of appetite. Cannabis has emerged anecdotally as a potential treatment for hangovers, but what does the science say about it?
How does cannabis affect the body?
The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is a complex signaling network that can affect a wide range of high-level body functions, including mood, appetite, motor control, memory, and sleep. Changes in the system occur at the receptors CB1 (mainly found in the brain) and CB2 (mainly found on immune system cells and body tissues). It is active in everyone regardless of cannabis use, as it can respond to self-produced endocannabinoids as well as exocannabinoids, such as those found in cannabis.
Cannabis contains at least 125 different cannabinoids, many of which are poorly understood. Two of the most abundant are tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is the major psychoactive component in cannabis, and cannabidiol (CBD). These act on the ECS differently, causing distinct effects when consumed.
THC can bind to the CH1 receptor very strongly, initiating psychological effects such as changes in mood or consciousness and the processing of memories. It also binds to CH2, which can cause side effects that include anxiety and suppression of the immune system.
CBD doesn’t act directly on CH1 or CH2, but it can prevent THC and other cannabinoids from affecting the system. As a result, CBD consumers don’t get high, but they can experience relief from pain, inflammation, and nausea due to the blocking action of CBD.
Will CBD help a hangover?
Hangovers can vary widely from person to person, but CBD may be able to help with some of the most common effects.
Vomiting is one of the most unpleasant symptoms of a hangover, and this is the main aspect that CBD consumption is thought to help reduce. It’s believed to lower the availability of the hormone serotonin, which reduces the physical urge to be sick.
Increased irritability and anxiety are also present for many hangovers. CBD has been theorized to regulate these emotions by affecting certain parts of the brain.
Much of the research investigating CBD has focused on its anti-inflammatory properties, which may reduce the headaches, muscle pains, and nausea that are common with hangovers. Studies have suggested CBD can act in the brain, digestive system, and blood to decrease inflammation.
In addition, CBD can encourage other behaviors that will help with getting rid of a hangover. CBD can indirectly increase appetite, replacing nutrients lost in alcohol processing. A small number of people may also experience dry mouth following CBD consumption, promoting water intake to relieve hangover effects.
What else can be done?
Unfortunately, the only way to guarantee a hangover-free morning is simply to not drink. However, the standard advice remains the best for preventing and reducing hangover effects. Whether or not you choose to use CBD after drinking alcohol, these actions will help you.
Drinking plenty of water while consuming alcohol, before resting, and after waking up will help to replace lost fluid, relieving the dizziness and headaches that can come from being dehydrated.
Eating food or electrolyte-containing drinks helps to replace nutrients and rebalance blood sugar levels, which in turn reduces fatigue, headaches, and muscle pains.
Resting as much as possible allows your body to recharge itself, which makes it better prepared to counter symptoms of fatigue, nausea, and body aches.
When should I use CBD?
It is not advisable to “cross-fade” by using cannabis before alcohol or at the same time, as alcohol can increase some of the negative side effects of cannabis such as dizziness and vomiting. Cannabis can also delay the feeling of drunkenness, which could lead to impaired driving or alcohol poisoning.
Consuming CBD several hours after drinking alcohol is a much safer option. Both CBD and alcohol are processed in the liver, so giving the alcohol more time to process before using CBD for symptom relief is less likely to overwhelm the liver.
Will using CBD for a hangover make side effects worse?
Although relief from some hangover symptoms may occur following CBD ingestion, a minority of people may experience side effects such as nausea and fatigue, thus making the hangover worse. If you know that you tend to get these side effects from CBD, it’s probably not a great idea to use it as a hangover cure.
However, if you haven’t tried it before, waiting out your hangover and trying it sober is likely a better option to see if you experience side effects. If you’re taking other medications, it’s important to check with your doctor beforehand, as CBD can cause complications if it interacts with some pharmaceuticals.
For those who have used it before without side effects, there is no evidence to suggest that using CBD for hangovers is unsafe, although further research is needed to confirm this.
What is the right dosage to use?
It’s impossible to give an amount that will work universally—CBD affects everyone differently, so a dose that may give one person good relief from some hangover symptoms may not affect another person at all.
Deciding on the amount to use is all down to your own knowledge. What do you know from your usage history? It’s also best to err on the side of caution, using a low dose at first and gradually increasing it on subsequent occasions to find your ideal amount.
What product type?
CBD products are often described in relation to the other cannabinoids in the product, which is an important consideration when deciding which to use for hangover relief.
Full-spectrum products contain all of the naturally occurring active components of cannabis, including THC and CBD. As THC can make the effects of a hangover worse, these products may not be an ideal selection for symptom relief.
Broad-spectrum products include a wide range of active elements, except for THC. These are thought to have an “entourage effect,” where the compounds all work together to cause the body’s response to cannabis. Therefore, these products may not be the first choice for hangover relief, as the other active components may also worsen symptoms.
CBD isolate, as the name suggests, only contains one cannabinoid—CBD. As this is the only active ingredient, these products may provide the symptom improvements described earlier, without other compounds present to work against it.
How should it be taken?
CBD is available in a variety of different forms, including oils, tinctures, edibles, vapes, and nasal inhalers. In this situation, the aim is to provide symptom relief with long-lasting effects as quickly as possible.
Oils containing CBD can reduce pain when applied to specific areas, such as muscle aches. However, this will only absorb into the bloodstream in very small amounts, if at all. Therefore, it will not be useful for relieving other symptoms.
CBD can be inhaled via smoking or vaping, where it is passed to the lungs to enter the bloodstream. This method has a high bioavailability, which means a larger amount of CBD can be ingested and used by the body. It is close to impossible to determine the dose from this method, but unless you are particularly sensitive to CBD, this can be effective.
CBD may also be taken sublingually (under the tongue), where it can be absorbed directly from the blood vessels found there. With a high bioavailability and quick absorption, this can be an effective method with the additional benefit of working out the dose much more accurately.
Edibles are a popular method of consuming CBD. The addition of fats and other compounds can make it more difficult for the body to absorb CBD, so it may produce slower, more mild symptom relief than other forms.
The bottom line
In combination with the tried-and-true advice of drinking plenty of water, resting well, and replacing lost nutrients with food, there is some evidence to suggest that CBD can help relieve hangover symptoms. This can vary with the amount and method of consumption.
More research is needed to conclusively prove this, so it is up to you to see if CBD will act effectively to help your hangover.