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Anyone who partakes in alcoholic beverages is familiar with the after-effects of overindulging. Pounding headaches, nausea, anxiety, and a general sense of exhaustion top the list. Hangovers can be a real inconvenience, especially if you have to be productive.
People all over the world have invented hangover cures that range from practical measures to bizarre and ineffective concoctions. And who hasn’t resorted to the ill-advised “hair of the dog” method in hungover desperation?
But could there be a better way to soothe a hangover? Can CBD help ease your pain after a long night of alcohol-fueled revelry?
Let’s find out.
What Causes a Hangover?
Alcohol is still a harmful toxin despite how elegant bubbly beverages look in champagne flutes or how sleek top-shelf spirits appear in magazine spreads. The active ingredient is ethanol, a volatile and flammable chemical solvent that kills organic matter upon contact. This quality makes alcohol a fantastic disinfectant, but it’s not so good for our health, especially in large quantities.
On average, our bodies can handle alcohol at about the rate of one drink per hour. But when we pass those limits and overindulge, alcohol produces the dreaded hangover and can even be fatal when consumed in excess.
When the body metabolizes alcohol, it produces an even more dangerous toxin: acetaldehyde. If you stick to reasonable limits, your body flushes out acetaldehyde and other toxins before they can do much damage. But when you drink alcohol too quickly, the acetaldehyde builds up. The build-up of acetaldehyde is one of the primary reasons why binge drinking is so dangerous.
Alcohol also acts as a diuretic by inhibiting the body’s release of vasopressin, a hormone that tells your body to recycle water instead of excreting it through urine. One of the body’s ways to rid itself of toxins is to increase urine production. The end result is dehydration, a potentially fatal condition that produces uncomfortable symptoms, such as:
- Dry mouth
Regular inhibition of vasopressin can also result in changes in our blood pressure, kidney function, and the balance of salts in our bodies.
Another problem with alcohol consumption is that the body has to direct its energy away from normal physiological activities to deal with the flood of toxins. This redirection of energy usually results in the person feeling tired, passing out, or even experiencing embarrassing blackouts.
How CBD Can Help Relieve Hangovers
CBD and its sister cannabinoids do their magic by interacting with our body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS). The ECS evolved over 600 million years ago to help living organisms maintain homeostasis. With the exception of insects, nearly every creature on earth has an endocannabinoid system to help preserve internal balance in the face of external environmental changes. In humans, the ECS helps us with a wide range of vital processes, including:
- Maintaining consistent body temperature
- Controlling fertility and other hormonal processes
- Regularizing sleep cycles
- Balancing our emotions
- Regulating inflammation and immune functions
- Helping us handle stress
Phytocannabinoids like CBD and other cannabis-derived compounds can assist the functioning of our endocannabinoid systems. They do this by interacting with CB1 receptors in the central nervous system and CB2 receptors in our immune cells and peripheral nervous system.
Our bodies also produce their own internal cannabinoids, which can become depleted, especially with the stresses of modern life. A pronounced lack of natural endocannabinoids, a syndrome called Clinical Endocannabinoid Deficiency (CECD), has been associated with some of today’s most stubborn and mysterious illnesses, such as fibromyalgia, migraines, and irritable bowel syndrome. CBD helps boosts levels of our endocannabinoids by inhibiting the enzymes that break them down, leaving more circulating in the bloodstream to do the work of keeping us balanced. Furthermore, recent studies have shown that even short-term alcohol exposure can upset our endocannabinoid levels.
Now that you have a better understanding of how cannabinoids work, let’s take a closer peek at how CBD may help us with hangovers.
CBD reduces nausea and vomiting.
It’s no secret that cannabis can help with the nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy. Chemical toxins, including alcohol, trigger the vomiting center of the brain, located in the medulla oblongata. Alcohol also causes the stomach to produce more acid, leading to uncomfortable symptoms like heartburn.
CBD helps soothe digestive symptoms like nausea by indirectly stimulating 5-HT1a neuroreceptors, which become unresponsive with excessive alcohol intake.
CBD helps with body aches and headache pain
The combination of dehydration and loss of electrolytes can create a range of painful symptoms like headache, fatigue, brain fog, and body aches. Although it can be tempting, using over-the-counter pain medications like ibuprofen, aspirin, or acetaminophen for hangovers is a bad idea. These medications add to the toxic load of an already overwhelmed liver and can irritate the stomach, amplifying alcohol-related digestive problems.
In a 2018 research review, published in the peer-reviewed Frontiers in Pharmacology, experts examined all of the available research on the subject and concluded that CBD reduces pain by acting on multiple pain-related targets in the body. In an article published in the May-June 2020 issue of the Journal of Pain, researchers found that cannabis compounds like CBD reduced headache and migraine pain by a full 50%.
CBD helps ease post-alcohol anxiety and depression.
Most people who have over-indulged in alcohol have experienced the “hangover of the soul,” also known as “hangxiety.” It’s that unshakable sad or even panicky feeling we often feel when we over imbibe.
The “high” sensation we get from alcohol comes from an initial dopamine release that results in a general suppression of our nervous systems. Later, the overworked dopamine receptors become less sensitive, creating feelings of depression.
Alcohol consumption also boosts our cortisol levels, especially during the hangover period. Our bodies produce cortisol as a response to a perceived threat in the environment. This fight-or-flight phenomenon is our internal mechanism to prepare us to battle a predator or run away from danger. Cortisol is a highly useful compound in an emergency, but during normal conditions, excessive cortisol in the body can lead to anxiety, panic, high blood pressure, and even weight gain.
CBD can help ease anxiety and depression through several mechanisms. First, CBD helps calm the amygdala, the part of the brain responsible for triggering cortisol release. Secondly, CBD stimulates the neuroreceptors responsible for controlling serotonin production. Boosting serotonin levels is one of the primary purposes of anti-depressant drugs like Prozac.
A third way CBD can help with difficult emotions is by increasing levels of the endocannabinoid, N-arachidonoyl ethanolamine. When the compound was discovered, scientists gave the endocannabinoid the nickname “anandamide” after the Sanskrit word for “bliss.” Anandamide is one of the compounds responsible for the “runner’s high” many athletes experience after strenuous exercise. Elevated anandamide levels are associated with euphoric feelings and reduced anxiety.
CBD Can Help You “Sleep it Off.”
One of the best ways to manage a hangover is to sleep until your body recovers. But when you’re experiencing pain and your nervous system is flooded with cortisol, sleeping it off is easier said than done. As we’ve mentioned earlier, CBD can help with both of these issues.
A large case series, conducted by the Kaiser Permanente group in 2019, concluded that 67% of its participants experienced improved sleep patterns after taking CBD for 90 days. A separate study involving subjects with Parkinson’s disease found that CBD improved the symptoms of REM sleep behavior disorder that typically accompanies the illness.
CBD May Reduce Some of the Damage Caused by Alcohol
CBD reduces inflammation.
Excessive inflammation is at the root of most chronic diseases, and alcohol is a major contributing factor. CBD is particularly effective at reducing inflammation through the unique way the compound interacts with CB2 receptors in the immune system.
CBD combats free radicals.
Some studies have concluded that CBD exhibits up to 50% more antioxidant power than vitamin C. A 2014 study found that rats that ingested CBD thirty minutes before being exposed to alcohol experienced reduced oxidative stress in their liver cells. The research points to CBD’s potential ability to protect liver cells and reduce the chances of fatty liver disease.
CBD has neuroprotective properties.
CBD’s potent antioxidant activity also means that the compound can reduce oxidative stress and protect neurons. A preliminary animal study published in the Journal of Pharmacology Biochemistry and Behavior concluded that CBD could help prevent the neurodegeneration associated with binge drinking.
CBD may help stabilize blood sugar levels.
Alcohol interrupts insulin function and can cause low blood sugar levels. Hangover symptoms resulting from low blood sugar levels include shakiness, irritability, lightheadedness, and brain fog. Several clinical studies have concluded that CBD may help normalize blood sugar levels and could help treat diabetes.
CBD can help with alcohol addiction.
Besides combating some of the more harmful physiological effects of alcohol consumption, CBD has shown promise for addiction recovery. According to a 2021 animal study, alcohol and drug-addicted rats regularly taking CBD showed a significant decrease in drug-seeking behavior. The results have prompted researchers to consider CBD as a useful agent in preventing relapse in recovering addicts, including problem drinkers.
Can I Take CBD and Alcohol Together?
However, CBD and alcohol together can amplify drowsiness. Excessive drowsiness can increase the chances of alcohol-related injuries. Taking CBD and alcohol together may also lead to lightheadedness from a temporary drop in blood pressure. If you plan to ease your hangover by consuming CBD, you may want to wait to take your CBD before bed instead of during your outing.
Best CBD Products for Hangovers
The fastest way to get relief is to vape CBD oil or smoke CBD-rich hemp flower. If you’re using hemp flower, you may want to invest in convenient hemp pre-rolls to have your CBD flower ready to go when you need fast relief.
If you’ll be devoting the day to pure rest and recovery, you might try indica-leaning hemp flower strains like Bubba Kush or CBG varieties like Jack Frost. On the other hand, you’ll want to stick to sativa strains like Lifter, Elektra, or Sour Space Candy on days when you need to be productive despite your hangover.
If inhaling CBD isn’t appropriate for you, you can take CBD in the form of full-spectrum oil tinctures, capsules, or edibles. It takes longer to feel the effects of ingested CBD, but the relief lasts longer.
CBD tinctures formulated for sublingual use can work faster than edibles or capsules. However, some people don’t like the flavor of CBD oil, and a mouth full of oil can be even more of a turn-off during a hangover.
Another option for hangover relief is to rub CBD creams and other topicals directly on the area where you experience pain, such as your temples for headaches. A relaxing soak with a CBD bath bomb can work wonders for hangover pain.
How Much CBD to Take for a Hangover
Each person responds differently to cannabis compounds like CBD. One consumer may need a much lower dose than another person would. The best way to find out where you are on the spectrum is to start with a low dosage and slowly increase the quantity of CBD until you find your sweet spot.
When smoking or vaping CBD, you’ll want to take one or two small puffs and wait 15 minutes to gauge the effects. If you don’t feel any relief from your hangover symptoms, you can take another couple of puffs. For a severe hangover, you’ll want to repeat the process about every two hours.
If it’s your first time taking edibles or tinctures, you’ll want to begin with 5-10 milligrams of CBD and wait at least 90 minutes to see how you feel. It takes longer for ingested CBD to take effect, but the hangover relief will last several hours.
Other Solutions for Hangovers
The best way to combat a hangover is to approach the problem from several angles. Here are a few actions you can take in addition to taking CBD:
- Eat first
- Stick to one alcoholic beverage per hour
- Drink water in between cocktails
- Drink bottled electrolytes or coconut water
- Take magnesium and vitamin B supplements
- Sleep it off
And if all these measures aren’t enough to ease your hangover blues, next time, skip the booze and drink CBD mocktails!