We’ve all been there: a dry mouth, pounding head, and unsettled stomach – the unfortunate consequences of having ‘one too many’.
No one likes a hangover, so what can we do to stop them? Whether you prefer to nurse your hangover with a greasy fry up, a fresh green juice, or a couple of paracetamol, CBD could be another option to consider.
The science behind a hangover
We already know that alcohol is the culprit behind a hangover, but exactly how does alcohol make us feel so rough?
Firstly, alcohol is a diuretic – it makes us produce more urine than usual. Naturally, this means that the body loses a lot of fluid. Plus, when we’re out drinking, we tend not to be taking in much water. This is a recipe for dehydration; it’s why we often wake up thirsty, dizzy, and with a pounding headache after a night on the town.
Secondly, the body breaks down alcohol into acetaldehyde, which is actually between 10 to 30 times more toxic than alcohol itself. Over time, the liver helps the body to flush out these toxins, but acetaldehyde lingers long enough to make us feel unwell. This is the reason behind the sweating, nausea, and vomiting that a hangover can cause.
There’s not really any such thing as a hangover ‘cure’. Common advice is to simply stay hydrated, eat, get plenty of rest, and just ride it out – or drink it off (‘hair of the dog’, and all that).
Alcohol and the ECS
Our endocannabinoid system (ECS) is in charge of keeping countless biological systems in balance; it is often called our ‘universal regulator’. The ECS helps to coordinate our nervous system and our immune system, and their subsequent influence on our mood, sleep, appetite, and general physical health.
Heavy alcohol use can negatively impact this system and can even lead to endocannabinoid deficiencies. It might therefore be a good idea to supplement our ECS with CBD to negate some of the effects of alcohol.
What is CBD?
Cannabidiol (CBD) is one of over 100 natural cannabinoids found in the Cannabis sativa plant. CBD is non-psychoactive; it cannot get you high, so it is not to be confused with tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the mind-altering molecule in cannabis.
Through its interaction with our ECS, CBD can have powerful therapeutic action. It is a recognised treatment for rare forms of epilepsy and shows promise in the clinical treatment of numerous other conditions.
CBD can naturally boost levels of the endocannabinoid, anandamide. It does this by inhibiting the activity of the FAAH enzyme and subsequently prevents the breakdown of anandamide. This could, in theory, help our ECS to rebalance the body and improve hangover symptoms.
How CBD could help with a hangover
Scientists haven’t explicitly looked into the effects of CBD on a hangover. The evidence is all based on speculation and anecdotal reports. It may not be an immediate fix, but CBD can be a great addition to a hungover morning routine. Here’s how it could help:
Trials of CBD and THC extracts, when taken together, have shown positive results in the reduction of chemotherapy-induced nausea in cancer patients. Although scientists believe that THC is the more effective cannabinoid at suppressing nausea, CBD can have similar (but more indirect) interactions with the ‘vomiting centre’ in the brain.
THC can directly activate CB1 receptors in the brainstem, which blocks nausea and vomiting. CBD does not directly activate CB1 receptors, but it can indirectly increase levels of anandamide – which does activate CB1 receptors.
CBD can also indirectly activate serotonin 1A receptors in the brainstem which, in animal models, is the mechanism by which CBD has been shown to suppress nausea and vomiting. So, taking some CBD after a night out may help to relieve that queasy hungover feeling.
Heavy drinking can increase inflammation in the body. Researchers have shown that hangover severity correlates with cytokine production, which are the molecules that modulate the body’s inflammatory response.
CBD is anti-inflammatory. It has been shown to reduce levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines so can therefore help to reduce inflammatory pain, such as headaches and migraines.
Alcohol is a well-known migraine trigger, but there is also a theory that a deficiency of endocannabinoids can contribute to migraine headaches. Since CBD can increase anandamide levels, it may help to supplement the ECS and prevent this throbbing pain.
As well as drinking lots of water, a dose of CBD may be your best bet for fighting off a hangover-induced headache.
It’s not uncommon to feel low and anxious after a few too many drinks. As we recall hazy memories from the night before, we may cringe at things we have said and done. But fear not, it’s probably just the booze talking; alcohol can cause chemical imbalances in our brain that mess with how we think and feel.
There are many theories behind the cause of hungover anxiety, or ‘hangxiety’. In short, alcohol interferes with the levels of our neurotransmitters and hormones. The body tries to reverse these imbalances when we stop drinking, which can heighten feelings of stress and anxiety.
Heavy drinking and alcohol withdrawal increases levels of cortisol, the stress hormone responsible for initiating our body’s ‘fight-or-flight’ response. In some experimental settings, CBD has been shown to reduce levels of cortisol in human volunteers. Though it hasn’t been explicitly tested in the context of anxiety, CBD could help to attenuate an alcohol-induced stress response.
CBD can also activate serotonin receptors. Serotonin is the neurotransmitter responsible for regulating our mood, so by increasing its signalling, CBD can help to alleviate anxiety. For this reason, CBD shows immeasurable promise in the treatment of anxiety disorders and may help to ease feelings of ‘hangxiety’.
Help to sleep it off
Despite alcohol being a sedative, it can actually disrupt our sleep quality. Drinking in excess can suppress REM sleep and shorten sleep duration, which is why we often wake up (a bit too) bright and early after a long night of drinking.
Annoyingly, sleeping doesn’t speed up the process of alcohol metabolism. A nap can certainly pass the time and make the symptoms more bearable, but a hangover can’t really be ‘slept off’.
But CBD can be used as a natural sleep aid. It has been shown to increase the time spent in REM sleep, which could negate some of the sleep disruptions that alcohol causes. So, CBD may be the answer to getting some much-needed rest after a heavy night.
Is CBD safe?
CBD is a safe, non-psychoactive substance that, in most people, it is well-tolerated. Though in rare cases and at very high doses, it can cause mild side effects, such as tiredness, diarrhoea or appetite changes. This could potentially make a hangover worse, so it’s important to start with a low dosage if you’re new to CBD.
There have been no long-term studies into the effects of taking CBD and alcohol together. Some mild interactions have been noted; CBD appears to enhance some of the effects of alcohol, but this is unlikely to have severe consequences. However, the dangers of excessive alcohol use should also not be ignored. Always seek support if you feel that drinking becomes a problem.
How to take CBD
There are countless ways to take CBD and hundreds of CBD products available. If you don’t think you could stomach the taste of CBD oil on a hangover, there are plenty of other options.
You could try CBD patches, gummies, capsules, or a CBD vape. Alternatively, you could add some CBD oil to a coffee or fresh smoothie for the ultimate hangover remedy.
If you’re confused about where to buy CBD and what products will work best for you, take a look at our beginner’s guide to CBD.
CBD is not a magic potion. It won’t immediately cure your hangover, but it may help to reduce some of the symptoms. Are you looking forward to your first stiff drink after Dry January? Be sure to stock up on some CBD before your first big night out.