There’s No Such Thing as a Weed Hangover
There’s no disagreement about what it’s like to wake up after a night that involved tequila shots at last call and maybe a few double dry-hopped IPAs too many. The pounding headache, dry mouth, and cartwheeling stomach are universal signs that you overdid it—and that you’re spending the morning squinting at your phone with one eye open and texting “never drinking again” to your group chat.
Booze hangovers are so well documented in clinical studies that there are actual best practices for how researchers should study them. But when it comes to the consequences of overdoing it on weed, there’s far less agreement. While some people swear that they are worse for the wear the morning after they get high, many other people balk at the notion that a so-called “weed hangover” exists. It doesn’t help that some of the most widely cited studies on marijuana’s morning-after effects were conducted nearly three decades ago.
In one—very small—study from 1990, for instance, 16 people were recruited to either smoke a joint, or if they were less fortunate, puff on a placebo containing no THC at all. Then they went to bed. (Sounds like our kind of study.) The following morning, the researchers gave the subjects a bunch of tests to see if their mental or physical abilities were in any way dulled.
For the most part, the subjects who’d smoked weed the night before seemed to be just fine: “No evidence of residual subjective intoxication was found, and most of the behavioral tasks and mood scales were unaffected the morning after,” the authors concluded, adding that “marijuana smoking was not associated with a ‘hangover’ syndrome similar to those reported after use of alcohol or long-acting sedative-hypnotics.”
What those researchers could not have anticipated, however, is the nuclear-grade ganja that your average recreational drug user in 2018 now packs. In the 1990 study, for instance, the strength of the joint participants smoked was around 2.3 percent THC—on par with the average at the time. By 2003, however, that average strength had more than doubled to 6.4 percent. Today, some strains being sold in Colorado are well above 20—and in some cases, even 30—percent THC.
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We know what the implications here would be if we were talking about alcohol, rather than weed: A five-percent (ABV) beer won’t give the average person much of a buzz. Drink the entire six-pack at once, however, and that same person will likely wake up with a crushing headache—and possibly a vague memory of singing “Danny Boy” in the back of a Lyft.
Unlike with alcohol, however, increasing the potency of THC doesn’t necessarily appear to hinder your body’s ability to recover from it. “In our medicinal cannabis studies, it has not been a common complaint to experience side effects from the previous day or evening of dosing,” says Barth Wilsey, an associate physician who works with the University of California’s Center for Medicinal Cannabis research.
But while there’s not much evidence for the existence of a weed hangover, withdrawal symptoms—which are sometimes conflated with hangovers, but aren’t quite the same thing—can still affect longtime users who quit cold turkey. “Over time, they accumulate THC and its metabolites in their body,” Wilsey says. “Stopping the cannabis acutely might lead to symptoms of withdrawal.” Wilsey believes that’s what some people might actually be describing when they complain of a weed “hangover.”
Common cannabis withdrawal symptoms share some things in common with what you might experience after a rough night out—anxiety, restlessness, irritability, and sleep deprivation, for starters. The symptoms usually begin the day after someone stops using after a prolonged period of time. The symptoms peak between two and six days, and can persist for up to two weeks, Wilsey says. To prevent withdrawal, slowly tapering off your cannabis use is the way to go. Gabapentin, a prescription medication, can help ease symptoms if tapering isn’t an option.
But if you’re not a daily user, and you’ve smoked an average dose—roughly a one gram joint—the majority of cannabis’s effects should be long gone within eight hours of use, regardless of its potency, says Mitch Earleywine, a professor of psychology at the State University of New York at Albany and author of Understanding Marijuana. Earleywine also points out that most anecdotal reports of “weed hangovers” often fail to account for the simultaneous use of alcohol, caffeine, nicotine, and antihistamines, or the fact that a big night often means more running around and less sleep.
Even if weed is to blame for your sluggishness, Earleywine suggests a couple of easy time-tested remedies. “Plenty of fluids and an extra dash of caffeine,” he says, “will likely undo what little effect there is.”Most of the time, the effects should be long gone after about eight hours.
Can Weed Cure a Hangover?
Jack swears by smoking weed to treat a hangover. The first time he tried it was in college as a freshman. He’d been drunk before, and he’d been high before, but after one especially rough night, his world-wise roommate told him weed could blunt his aching hangover.
They couldn’t smoke in the dorm, so they went to his roommate’s car. “Almost immediately I wasn’t focused on feeling bad, just being high, and it felt like my headache and upset stomach were gone,” he says. It also gave him an appetite while recovering. Even today he turns to the green after a night of over-drinking.
Jack’s roommate wasn’t a medical pioneer. Weed has been prescribed—and debated—as a hangover treatment going back generations. Nowadays, plenty of weed smokers testify it’s helped them recover from a hangover, with multiple threads on Reddit filled with users praising the technique. “They don’t call it THC for nothing,” says one, “because it’s The Hangover Cure.” Others are more skeptical, saying marijuana might just exacerbate a hangover headache, even if it’s worked before, and worrying that it might cause anxiety or paranoia, or lead to vomiting.
What Mixing Weed and Alcohol Does to Your Mind
There’s also a healthy debate over whether it’s better to smoke or take an edible, and theories about the right choice between sativa and indica, depending on your symptoms. Some warned of the dreaded crossfade that happens when you combine weed and alcohol (“If you are still drunk, don’t smoke”), while others wondered why anyone would drink at all when they could be smoking weed instead.
Beyond street-level anecdotes, though, what does scientific research say about smoking dope to treat a hangover? Does it actually work? Is it any better than the myriad other dubious hangover cures out there?
“There’s actually not a lot of study on this,” said Kent Hutchison, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University of Colorado in Boulder. He’s studied substance use and cannabis for years, including work on the National Academy of Sciences committee that produced a comprehensive study on the effects of cannabis.
He also said there hasn’t been much study on hangovers in general, which makes the question doubly tricky to answer. But looking at how alcohol leads to a hangover, he said, can help us theorize how smoking weed might help.
Alcohol makes you urinate, which can lead to dehydration; produces an inflammatory response in your immune system; irritates the stomach lining, often provoking nausea or vomiting; lowers your blood sugar, which can make you feel fatigued or jittery; and expands your blood vessels, which can cause headaches.
Many of these problems can be addressed with drinking water and eating food, even when you feel sick. But Hutchison noted that there are three areas in which weed might be particularly helpful. There’s evidence that smoking cannabis can quell nausea and alleviate anxiety. As many smokers can attest, those effects may help you better cope with the day after a night of hard drinking—-it’s just that research hasn’t yet caught up with the folk remedies. Most of what we know about weed and hangovers comes from anecdotal evidence. “It’s true of so many questions around marijuana,” said Hutchison.
Hutchison pointed to another potentially helpful effect of weed: pain relief. Right now, there’s anecdotal evidence to suggest it can help with headache disorders, as well, but not enough clinical study to prove it, according to a 2017 review article in Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research.
Everything You Need to Know About Using Weed for Headaches
There’s some evidence it works best as a headache treatment when you get the combination of THC and CBD, rather than using them separately. Without more study, though, researchers can’t be certain under what circumstances it’s helpful, including for hangovers. “We don’t really know the underlying mechanisms by which marijuana might relieve pain,” Hutchison said. “It’s better to know the real underlying mechanism.”
However cannabis can help with your hangover, it’s important to note that it’s not curing anything so much as letting you live with the consequences of too much drinking while your body recovers. “Marijuana treats the symptoms,” said Elaine M. Burns, naturopathic medical doctor. She’s long advised patients and doctors about using weed therapeutically. The best ways to deal with a hangover, she said, are “A, avoid it begin with, then B, treat the symptoms.”
For A, she offered the usual tips—drink a glass of water between every drink, for example, and don’t overdo it. But let’s say you’ve already botched things and wake up with pounding headache, dry mouth, dizziness, and upset stomach. In that case, Burnes recommended trying some weed alongside more conventional, proven measures. “It’s about rehydrating,” she said, “with water and electrolytes.” Magnesium supplements can be useful, as well as Emergen-C packets, which provide vitamin C and potassium, as an alternative to Gatorade, which contains a lot of sugar. The very best solution to the dehydration problem, she said, is an IV drip and some magnesium.
When it comes time to spark up (or however you get your weed), remember that you’re trying to treat your specific symptoms—choose your strain and method of delivery wisely. Burns noted that THC and CBD both seem to help with pain relief, while CBD helps more with anxiety. Indica strains have more CBD, so take that into account.
About the most we can say with certainty is that you’ll probably feel better while you’re high, recovering from your previous bad decisions, and honestly, it probably won’t hurt. But right now, the science around cannabis is largely unsettled—we’re still in unfamiliar territory, grasping around with anecdotal evidence. If you’re going to use weed to treat a hangover, congratulations, you’re part of the collective experiment.Cannabis can quell nausea, alleviate anxiety, and dull pain—so we looked at the evidence for it as a hangover cure. ]]>