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The Science of Being Crossfaded

Six beers? Feels good, man. Six beers and a bong rip? MY BODY AND MIND ARE CASCADING THROUGH TIME AND SPACE!!!

Separately, smoking weed and sipping alcohol can each be super chill. Combined, whoa there, hold onto your seats, because your entire world is about to start spinning violently through the universe.

This disorienting outcome of the too-easy-to-happen kush/booze combo, an experience best known as being crossfaded, is notorious for propelling even the most legendary party animals into a whole new realm of intoxication, one that often sees them curling into a ball on some random bathroom floor and holding on for dear life while the walls turn into ceilings and vice versa. Fortunately, with an understanding of what happens when these two unique substances convene inside your body, you might be able to harness the crossfade to ensure a more pleasurable inebriated adventure. So come along and bring one of those stupid beer/weed bongs with you while we explore some science.

While non-anecdotal research on being crossfaded is somewhat lacking (a result of widespread federal restrictions on cannabis experimentation in general), one 2001 study shows that your body absorbs greater amounts of the psychoactive cannabinoid THC when alcohol is already present in your system. This study — and another more recent one — propose that this phenomenon could be because alcohol expands the blood vessels in your lungs and digestive system, allowing for the absorption of more psychoactive cannabinoids than usual. The study also found that the more alcohol you consume before smoking, the more stoned you can get after a single puff, which explains why I can see six computer screens right now.

Interestingly enough, on the flip side, another study shows that smoking before drinking could have something of the opposite effect, since cannabinoids appear to slow the absorption of alcohol into the bloodstream (although, I should note that some researchers have questioned the veracity of this study). While this might seem like a good thing — or at least preferable to the intergalactic whirlwind that often strikes when you drink before smoking — this study essentially suggests that weed, when consumed before alcohol, delays feelings of drunkenness, which would make it harder to know just how impaired you really are, which could certainly cause you some trouble later in the evening.

One other thing that we know for certain about combining weed and alcohol is, because both inhibit the excitatory neurotransmitter glutamate, a chemical compound central to the learning process, the duo are exceptionally good at making you forget whatever happened while you felt like you were on a runaway roller coaster. In fact, a 2013 study found that rodents provided with a combination of alcohol and weed (which, where can I sign up?) had much more trouble remembering new objects than those given either one of the drugs alone.

Most importantly, though, I want to emphasize once again that most of these studies were small, and therefore, the actual science of being crossfaded is still something of a mystery. To that end, some experts suggest that the combination of these drugs could impact different people in different ways, meaning that coming to one conclusive answer regarding their combined effects would be near impossible. “The experience you’re getting is just your brain trying to make some sense of something as complicated as marijuana and something as relatively simple as alcohol,” says Gary Wenk, cannabis researcher and professor of neuroscience at Ohio State University. “It’s going to be dependent on who’s using the drugs more than anything.”

“Every drug interaction is an interaction between the molecule and you, the human body,” Wenk continues. “We call it the law of initial value: Who are your parents? What are your genes? How old are you? How many times have you used this drug before? All of those things matter, and one person’s enhanced experience may be another person’s bad trip.”

Bad trip or otherwise, some other rodent research shows that cannabis may protect your liver from the negative effects of alcohol. So while you might be begging for your life on some random bathroom floor, at least you can rest easy knowing that your liver might be chilling for once.