Both the effects of marijuana and alcohol have on the human brain have been widely studied, but the same thing can’t be said about the combination of the two, which is rather odd considering a lot of people enjoy a drink or two while packing a bowl. Scott Lukas, a professor at Harvard Medical School, investigated what happens in the brain while cross-faded in 2011 and came to some surprising conclusions.

First off, it’s important to note that marijuana (THC to be more specific) and alcohol are two psychoactive substances that are far from being similar to one another. THC acts upon the brain’s cannabinoid receptors, sparking intense cognitive effects like paranoia, a distorted sense of time, attention deficit and more. Alcohol, on the other hand, depresses the nervous system with significant consequences to motor skills – walking in a straight line can be the arduous quest while in the drunken haze.

So, one might think that if you smoke and drink at the same time, the two effects will combine. Neurochemistry is far more complicated than adding left and right, though. Lukas found that not only did the two effects combine, but in some instances, the effects considerably became amplified. For instance, Lukas noticed that people who smoked a joint and also drank a lot of alcohol (a couple of shots) had twice as much THC in their blood and those who didn’t drink at all. Also, those who smoked and drank self-reported the high effects much sooner and rated their high as ‘better’.

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It’s not yet clear why this happens, but one plausible explanation may be that getting buzzed causes more THC to reach the brain via the bloodstream since alcohol can change how blood vessels absorb inhaled THC.

While all this may sound pretty impressive, it’s important to note that combining alcohol and marijuana enhances not only the high but also the lows. Impaired judgment and increased heart rate – usual symptoms while high on weed – are stronger. This could be potentially dangerous for people with heart problems and also increases the risk of accidents.

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