Mixing Cannabis and Alcohol: The Dangers of Cross-Fading

The consumption of alcohol in the form of ethanol, the primary psychoactive component of alcoholic beverages, and delta-9 THC, the principal psychoactive cannabinoid in cannabis, represents a growing public health concern when taken together. While the independent effects of each substance are well documented, their combined consumption results in a strong, often unexpected form of intoxication.

We don’t want to be buzzkills; however, we feel it’s important for the growing cannabis community to be educated on the neurobiological underpinnings of cross-fading. Below, we’ll also explore the synergistic interactions that intensify a wide range of adverse physiological and psychological conditions.

What Is Cross-Fading?

Before cannabis found its way back to medical and social acceptance, the cannabis community had already established an assortment of slang and nomenclature used for fun and stealthy conversations. The terms “cross-fade,” “cross-faded,” or “cross-fading” have become popular additions to the range of cannabis jargon, which begs the question, “What is cross-fading?”

Four young adults, two girls and two guys, are drinking alcohol and getting intoxicated.
Consuming alcohol and THC together heightens intoxication. A fun night out with friends could have tragic outcomes if consumers are not aware of the combined effects of cross-fading.

Although not difficult to distill, let’s break the word down. Historically, the term “faded” was synonymous with being very intoxicated with alcohol. Later, it came to include using cannabis to get high. When someone chooses to become intoxicated by both alcohol and cannabis, they are crossing (or combining) the intoxicating effects of both substances — hence, crossfading.

Neurobiological Convergence and Cognitive Dysfunction

The root of the cross-fade problem lies in the convergence of EtOH (alcohol) and THC within the central nervous system (CNS). Also of note, cross-fading has been found to greatly increase the amount of THC in the bloodstream. This, in turn, increases one’s overall intoxication.

Alcohol is an effective, natural solvent for cannabinoids, as every cannabis processor is aware. Whether you’re consuming edibles or inhaling cannabis, alcohol increases the uptake of THC. Then, the two begin to interact in your body on a microbiological level.

The Effects of Alcohol (Ethanol, EtOH)

Alcohol acts as a potent “negative allosteric modulator” of GABA type A receptors. In other words, alcohol strongly reduces brain cell activity by affecting certain receptors. As a central nervous system depressant, alcohol is known to:

  • Slow down brain function and neural activity. (As we mentioned above.)
  • Lower inhibitions, leading to potential risk-taking or dangerous behaviors.
  • Inhibit motor skills, resulting in impaired coordination and slowed reaction time.
  • Cause respiratory depression in high doses.
  • Disrupt normal sleep patterns, impacting overall health and wellbeing.

Chronic alcohol use may lead to a spectrum of health issues, including liver disease, cardiovascular problems, and neurological impairments. Understanding these effects is crucial when evaluating the compounded risks of combining alcohol with cannabis.

The Effects of Delta-9-THC

Meanwhile, THC exerts its psychoactive effects by binding to cannabinoid receptors (CB1Rs) throughout the CNS, triggering a cascade of intracellular communication. This interaction with our endocannabinoid system can result in the following:

  • Altered perception and mood
  • Impaired coordination
  • Difficulty with thinking and problem-solving
  • Disrupted learning and memory
  • Increased heart rate, potentially increasing the risk of a heart attack
  • Respiratory issues if smoked, such as chronic bronchitis

For some consumers, long-term cannabis use may lead to psychological dependency, cannabis use disorder (addiction), and altered brain development when used by adolescents. Cannabis can also influence the metabolism of other substances, such as alcohol, leading to compounded health risks when used concurrently.

Double Trouble

When consumed together, these substances demonstrate a synergistic dampening of cognitive functions that can greatly exceed the intoxicating effects experienced when consuming either substance alone. Research has shown a decrease in attention, memory formation, and decision-making skills, likely as a result of the combined adjustments of GABA and glutamate neurotransmitters.

The cascade of cognitive impairments results in a heightened risk of decreased motor function, which increases the likelihood of accidental physical injury, such as an automotive accident.

Cardiovascular Complications

In addition to impaired cognition, the co-ingestion of alcohol and THC poses a significant threat to cardiovascular health. Both substances have vasodilating effects, achieved by altering calcium channels and the nitric oxide signaling pathway. This combined action results in a rapid drop in blood pressure. Blood pressure medications such as Lisinopril work much the same way.

Unfortunately, for a healthy individual, orthostatic hypotension (a sudden drop in blood pressure) can be dangerous, causing dizziness and fainting, which can lead to injuries. As a result, cross-fading can slow blood flow, increasing the susceptibility to both thrombotic (blood clots) and hemorrhagic (bleeding) complications.

Decreased Liver Function

The way alcohol and THC interact in the body can potentially exacerbate damage to the liver already being inflicted by alcohol alone. Chronic alcohol use reduces the activity of important liver enzymes called cytochrome P450 (CYP), which help break down drugs in the liver. THC, by interacting with a receptor called the pregnane X receptor (PXR), can also further decrease the activity of specific CYP enzymes. This reduces your body’s natural ability to detox itself, resulting in a dangerous buildup of toxins in the blood.

An image of an animated, 3D xray of a human torso, with a red circle around the liver.
While some studies cite that THC contributes to liver disease, other studies have found that when consuming cannabis, the entourage effect of its cannabinoids can help reduce liver inflammation.

It’s only fair to say, cannabis has also been associated with reducing inflammation in the liver, with some studies concluding that cannabis can protect the liver, reducing some of the damage inflicted by alcohol use. This is primarily due to the anti-inflammatory effects of cannabinoids, as the majority of liver disease results from some form of excessive, chronic inflammation.

Of course, there is a lot more research that needs to be conducted before the medical community can leverage cannabis as a widely accepted treatment for various liver and metabolic diseases.

Neurochemical Alterations and Psychiatric Vulnerabilities

Cross-fading alcohol and THC may also represent a substantial threat to mental health. Chronic, concurrent consumption is associated with an increased vulnerability to the development of mood disorders, such as depression and anxiety. Moreover, these substances may exacerbate pre-existing psychotic symptomatology and increase the risk of substance-induced psychosis.

A person is sitting at a small park with a bottle of alcohol. They look depressed as the onset of combining cannabis and alcohol set in.
People often find that their bodies are affected by alcohol and cannabinoids differently. It’s recommended that individuals avoid cross-fading, especially if they are predisposed to psychological disorders.

The combined neurochemical alterations induced by alcohol and THC, coupled with potential genetic predispositions and environmental stressors, may synergistically contribute to the development or progression of various psychiatric pathologies.

Education and Safety Are Key

Consuming substances in moderation and responsibly is essential to the cannabis community’s progress towards building public trust. Mixing alcohol and THC leads to unique, higher levels of intoxication and can result in a new array of adverse effects, both physical and psychological. It’s important to understand and properly manage these effects to reflect the cannabis community’s dedication to social responsibility and public safety.

One can understand why local governments have, in most instances, banned the sale of alcohol and cannabis in the same establishment. Additional research and heightened awareness of the potential hazards are necessary to inform public health initiatives, develop consumer support programs, and mitigate the negative impacts on both individual and community safety.

Feel free to jump into the conversation by leaving a comment below. Stay informed and be safe!

SAMHSA National Helpline

If you suspect a loved one is struggling with substance abuse, visit SAMHSA’s National Helpline for confidential support and treatment. You can find their number by visiting their website at: https://www.samhsa.gov/find-help/national-helpline.

Note: This article is for educational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.

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