In This Article
Life offers many things worth indulging in. But when it comes to alcohol, having one too many drinks doesn’t necessarily feel all that nice once the party is over. Your head is pounding, your stomach is tied in knots, and your ability to get up and go is gone—all of which best describes the dreaded hangover.
The term can basically be defined as veisalgia, a cluster of symptoms that occur after drinking too much alcohol, but they don’t happen immediately after. Instead, they show themselves the next day, typically when your blood alcohol concentration levels drop near zero. Why do they suck so much? Because you don’t feel symptoms right away, this delayed response might cause you to drink more (which can cause your body even more issues).
Thankfully, nature offers a pretty awesome solution for helping with a hangover's mentally and physically draining symptoms. No, it's not burned toast or shrimp, remedies that have been rumored as hangover cure-alls in the past. It’s CBD, aka cannabidiol. Not that we need reminding, but the key signs of a hangover often include low blood sugar, nausea, dehydration, anxiety, fatigue, a lowered immunity, and many others. If you overdid it last night and are looking for a natural alternative, CBD may be able to help you rebound quickly. Up and at 'em, right?
The Morning-After Science of Hangovers
Ah yes, the hangover, a phenomenon experts still surprisingly know very little about. Some have theorized alcohol disrupts the flow of our biological functioning, while others believe alcohol withdrawal is to blame. Whatever the cause, one thing’s for certain, it's a shitshow. And it starts with the liver. Once metabolized, alcohol’s ethanol converts into a hangover-inducing toxin called acetaldehyde, which causes liver detoxification. In a nutshell, this ethanol metabolic process is split into two main phases.
In phase one, alcohol travels through a series of (rather complex) enzymatic pathways, and will eventually get detoxified (or made less toxic) by cytochrome P450, an enigmatic enzyme largely present in the liver. During this process, free radicals are typically formed and quarried by antioxidants in a normally functioning body. However, the overindulgence of alcohol causes increased toxicity, which causes the liver to work a little harder. During phase two, chemicals like acetaldehyde produced in the first phase are mixed in with metabolites by liver cells and rendered into water-soluble or “low-weight” compounds. That way, they can be excreted safely from the body to prevent increased toxicity.
These symptoms oftentimes depend on the person. Some people are blessed with a life of little to no hangover symptoms, while others suffer without mercy. Water, sugary drinks, electrolytic drinks, medications, waiting it out, sweating it out, sleeping it off, eating healthy (or unhealthy) foods, and even having another alcoholic beverage are a few commonly used homespun remedies for curing a hangover. However, sometimes they aren’t efficient enough to get the job done (and can even do more harm than help for replenishing all that was lost overnight). Though we are in the beginning stages of research, many studies already confirm what the researchers suspected for a long time: Cannabis possesses great healing power. The plant offers the kind of natural relief that can reverse these metabolic consequences of ethanol and minimize your suffering without adding any negative side effects into the mix.
The Relief Without the High
Cannabis is a very complex plant, with a vast amount of bioactive chemicals that act in synergy. One of 113 cannabinoids abundantly found in cannabis is CBD (short for cannabidiol), which is mainly found in hemp plants. Unlike THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), it’s non-psychoactive, meaning it won’t cause the mind-altering effects normally associated with marijuana. Instead of being consumed recreationally like THC, CBD is mainly used for medicinal purposes, all credit due to its anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antioxidant, anti-anxiolytic, and antiepileptic properties.
The effectiveness of cannabis for hangovers is best explained by the existence of the endocannabinoid system (ECS), endo meaning "within." Discovered back in the early '90s, this extraordinary biological system exists in all living vertebrates and mainly consists of cannabinoid (CB) receptors known as CB1 and CB2. Researchers suggest they help regulate vital health functions in the body, such as sleep, appetite, pain, or the immune response. But the overconsumption of alcohol can greatly affect the functionality of these CB receptors (and several others), which puts your ECS off-balance. When you really think about it, most health problems are the result of an imbalance. But cannabis’ CBD has been shown to get ECS back on track by restoring homeostasis, or balance, through its indirect interaction with CB1 and CB2 receptors—the root of its many health benefits.
#1 Brain Fog
A 2013 study found that large amounts of alcohol causes extreme neurodegeneration, however, the transdermal application of CBD was able to decrease neurodegeneration by nearly 50%.
#2 Dehydration and Related Symptoms
Your monster migraine comes from dehydration and an imbalanced endocannabinoid system (or Clinical Endocannabinoid Deficiency (CED), as theorized by researcher Ethan Russo M.D of the International Cannabis and Cannabinoids Institute). Alcohol is a diuretic that causes your body to have an inflammatory response in your immune system. Like Tylenol, CBD’s anti-inflammatory properties have a positive effect on aches and pains after a night of partying. Even better is the fact that CBD doesn’t produce any negative effects when consumed with alcohol like some other medications.
#3 Nausea and Vomiting
Feeling nauseous after too many tequila shots? We’ve all been there. Alcohol is an irritant in your system and can increase acid in the stomach as well as an inflamed stomach lining, but studies show that CBD can help quell the queasy storm.
#4 Anxiety and Depression
Anxiety and depression following a night of drinking can be due at least in part to increased cortisol levels in your brain and other alcohol-induced symptoms. The anxiolytic effect of CBD is similar in efficacy to anti-anxiety medications or antidepressants through its interaction with serotonin 5HT1-A receptors (they regulate anxiety and fear, specifically). The CBD helps you get past worrying about all the wrong things, by easing your brain’s response to stress and maintaining your cortisol levels.
#5 Alcohol Toxicity
When we are hungover, our bodies are in serious need of a boost. As mentioned, CBD is a powerful antioxidant—some suggest even more powerful than vitamin C and E—that when consumed after drinking could put vitamins back into your body and help reduce free radical damage by flushing out toxins (such as acetaldehyde).
Dosing with CBD
Let’s just face it, hangovers are kind of the worst and can make you vow to never to drink alcohol again. While there isn’t enough evidence to say with absolute certainty that CBD is a cure for a hangover, science seems to show that the cannabinoid can help the body in more ways than one—hangover or not. To find out if it’s worth adding to your self-care arsenal, between your snoozing and rehydrating, it may be worth the experimentation to help you stay on top of your cleansing and detoxification needs after a long night of drinking.
The cannabinoid can be vaporized, added to foods and beverages as a tincture, or used topically in creams, balms, and salves. Though it’s important to note that everyone metabolizes CBD differently, thus, it will affect everyone differently. CBD is a personal experience, which can make dosing a bit tricky to gauge, however, the standard is around 5 mg. A good rule of thumb: start low and slowly increase until you find your sweet spot.
Zlotnik Y, Plakht Y, Aven A, Engel Y, Am NB, Ifergane G. Alcohol consumption and hangover patterns among migraine sufferers. J Neurosci Rural Pract. 2014;5(2):128–134. doi:10.4103/0976-3147.131652
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Hangovers. Updated March 2019.
Molbak ML, Schou AL, Tolstrup JS. Alcohol hangover and risk of drinking problems and alcohol use disorder: a systematic review. J Alcohol Drug Depend. 2017;5(1):255. doi:10.4172/2329-6488.1000255
Cederbaum AI. Alcohol metabolism. Clin Liver Dis. 2012;16(4):667–685. doi:10.1016/j.cld.2012.08.002
UCLA Health. Learn about cannabis: cannabis and its compounds.
Fine PG, Rosenfeld MJ. The endocannabinoid system, cannabinoids, and pain. Rambam Maimonides Med J. 2013;4(4):e0022. doi:10.5041/RMMJ.10129
Alger BE. Getting high on the endocannabinoid system. Cerebrum. 2013;2013:14.
Russo EB. Clinical endocannabinoid deficiency reconsidered: current research supports the theory in migraine, fibromyalgia, irritable bowel, and other treatment-resistant syndromes. Cannabis Cannabinoid Res. 2016;1(1):154–165. doi:10.1089/can.2016.0009
Booz GW. Cannabidiol as an emergent therapeutic strategy for lessening the impact of inflammation on oxidative stress. Free Radic Biol Med. 2011;51(5):1054–1061. doi:10.1016/j.freeradbiomed.2011.01.007
Parker LA, Rock EM, Limebeer CL. Regulation of nausea and vomiting by cannabinoids. Br J Pharmacol. 2011;163(7):1411–1422. doi:10.1111/j.1476-5381.2010.01176.x
De Gregorio D, McLaughlin RJ, Posa L, et al. Cannabidiol modulates serotonergic transmission and reverses both allodynia and anxiety-like behavior in a model of neuropathic pain. Pain. 2019;160(1):136–150. doi:10.1097/j.pain.0000000000001386