At a Glance:
- Hangovers are a series of unpleasant symptoms felt the next day, such as: dizziness, migraines, dehydration, vomiting, and fatigue.
- A hangover is thought to be caused by an increase in acetaldehyde toxicity (created by ingesting alcohol), inflammatory response, sleep deprivation, malnutrition, and your body's inability to absorb water (leading to increased urination and dehydration).
- Cannabis does not cure a hangover, but may relieve certain symptoms by making them more tolerable.
Excessive drinking is an unpredictable thing. The effects of alcohol just get stronger and stronger for each beer, cocktail or shot we have. Hopefully, all ends well and you don’t end up hurt or arrested. We all know the old adage, “only two things are certain: death and taxes”. Well, when it comes to overdrinking, one thing is certain: the dreaded hangover.
Hangovers vary in severity (again, depending on alcohol consumption), but their effects are far from pleasant. The nausea, headaches and lack of sleep are just a few reasons people wake up the next day, look in the mirror and say “I’m never drinking again.” Of course, we all know that never actually works out, as down the road, some big social event will cause us to hit the bottle pretty hard as the cycle begins again.
But what if there were a way to have our cake (or beer) and eat (or drink) it too? We all know by now that marijuana is effective at mitigating things like nausea, pain and insomnia – all of which are classic hangover symptoms. Can lighting up make the next day make the consequences of drinking more bearable, and, more importantly, could it potentially even prevent a hangover?
What is a Hangover?
Before we look into how marijuana could help, we need to establish what a hangover is. On the surface, it’s a bunch of unpleasant symptoms, but the actual mechanism is surprisingly complex.
The Science Behind the Sickness
According to Dr. Ariel Fenster, alcohol turns into a chemical called acetaldehyde after passing through the liver. This compound then gets processed into acetic acid by an enzyme, ultimately turning into carbon dioxide and water. Unfortunately, there’s a limited amount of this enzyme. If the alcohol intake is higher than the amount of enzymes available, the acetaldehyde – a carcinogen – builds up in the body, leading to acetaldehyde toxicity. It’s this poisoning that contributes to a hangover.
Dr. Fenster goes on to explain that alcohol’s role as a diuretic affects the pituitary gland, reducing its ability to produce vasopressin, a hormone that allows water to be reabsorbed into the body. Consequently, water bypasses the body entirely and gets a one-way ticket to the bladder. This is why drinking leads to frequent urination. Since our bodies don’t absorb water, dehydration is inevitable, hence the dry mouth and headache the next morning; but it doesn’t stop there.
Alcohol’s diuretic effect also causes us to expel ionic salts through the urine. Alcohol then gets rid of energy stored in the liver, leading to the sense of exhaustion and dizziness among the myriad of hangover symptoms.
Dr. Adam Simon reveals that dehydration “…[means] your organs have to grab water from wherever they can the next day”. Your brain, according to Simon, is the one that ultimately suffers. It literally shrinks, pulling the tissues around it that are responsible for attaching your brain to your skull. That being said, it’s no surprise that a pounding headache is inevitable.
Then there’s nausea – arguably one of the most unpleasant things to deal with in any situation. Dr. Simon states that alcohol “irritates your stomach lining and increases the amount of acid it produces…and tells your brain that all is not well [in your stomach]”.
Despite the fact that alcohol makes you feel tired, it’s the farthest thing from a sleep aid. According to Simon, alcohol leaves you in the “less effective state of REM (rapid eye movement) sleep”. This is why fatigue is a common hangover symptom.
Inflammation is another inevitable result of excessive drinking. This happens when the immune system triggers an inflammatory response to the toxins running through your body. Ultimately, it leads to things like memory loss, cognitive issues, loss of appetite and a general sense of malaise.
Is There a Conventional Cure?
Nope. While there are many different “cures” out there, Dr. Simon explains that they’re ineffective – and even dangerous. Continuing to drink the next morning, for instance, isn’t just unhealthy; it could also lead to addiction. Some less insane treatments include high-carb meals, exercise (which is arguably the least damaging, as long as you go easy and drink plenty of water) and coffee.
The only thing you can do is aid your body in its natural recovery by rehydrating yourself. Water is absolutely critical here for restoring the damage you’ve done. After that, you just have to let nature take its course.
Preventing a Hangover
Like with many forms of illness, hangovers can only be prevented. The aforementioned high-carb meal, for instance, is actually not a bad idea on the night of drinking. Food slows down alcohol absorption and makes it easier for your body to process it; however, Simon warns that fatty foods could actually exacerbate nausea, so be careful.
Pacing yourself is also a good idea. Switch back and forth between alcohol and water, as this not only gives your poor liver a breather, but also keeps you hydrated.
But of course, the best solution is often the simplest one – drink less. It’s better for your body, your safety and, of course, a common sense way to prevent a hangover.
So where does marijuana fit into all of this? Let’s see how – or if – it can help.
We know by now that cannabis has a slew of beneficial effects that helped millions of people worldwide with a variety of illnesses and symptoms. Given that the effects of a hangover do overlap with some of the things marijuana treats, it only makes sense to assume that pot can help in this area as well; however, the answer isn’t simple.
Can Cannabis Cure a Hangover?
Earlier, we went over the details of how alcohol causes a hangover. We didn’t do this for the sake of just a science lesson. It’s important to establish how hangovers work to see whether marijuana fixes these issues. So will it literally cure a hangover? The simple answer is “no”.
Much like marijuana doesn’t cure cancer, arthritis, glaucoma or any other diseases, hangovers also can’t be effectively erased. The way cannabis interacts with out bodies is radically different from that of alcohol. While alcohol figuratively attacks our organs with a slew of nasty chemicals, pot interacts with the endocannabinoid system – a network of receptors that allow us to experience the benefits of cannabis. But while weed won’t cure a hangover, it can do a pretty good job of handling the symptoms.
Not Curing - But More Tolerable...
Think of it this way. When you have a cold, you use over-the-counter medications to deal with runny nose, sore throat, fever, etc. After taking it, you feel great, but that nasty virus is still roaming freely inside you. Only your immune system can take care of that. The same applies with hangovers. While you may feel vastly better after using marijuana following a night of heavy drinking, your body is still internally reeling from the alcohol.
Marijuana also doesn’t help with certain symptoms at all. For instance, smoking a joint won’t fix dehydration. In fact, this could make it worse – hence the dry mouth that commonly occurs as a result of marijuana use.
Furthermore, too much marijuana can actually cause nausea and vomiting, an experience colloquially referred to as “greening out”.
Cannabis also won’t do you any favors when it comes to cognitive impairment from your hangover. Anyone who’s been high knows this, and usually smokes marijuana for that very reason.
However, when used properly, it will help you sleep, stop nausea and reduce pain, helping mask the symptoms until your body manages to recover – like Nyquil does with a cold.
Can Marijuana Prevent a Hangover?
As we said earlier, prevention is the best “cure” for hangovers; however, if you plan to use marijuana as a barrier to the consequences of heavy drinking, then we have some bad news.
The body’s cannabinoid receptors don’t interact with alcohol in any way, so there’s nothing marijuana can do to act as a barrier to the former’s ill effects. If anything, getting drunk and high could just compound the problem on the night of drinking. The only difference is that marijuana won’t actually contribute to how badly you feel the next day.
If you want to feel intoxicated for fun, then it’s best to forego alcohol and use marijuana instead. Unlike its liquid counterpart, marijuana doesn’t leave any ill effects the next morning.
If there’s one thing true about humans, it’s that we like to do things without consequences. Unfortunately, this isn’t the reality with alcohol. Overdoing it on the booze is a bad idea, which we all know from the beginning. Marijuana can definitely make your life easier during a hangover, but if you want to stop it altogether, then the only option is to drink responsibly – or not at all.